Archive (2017): Ecuador’s sharks face threats from within

Archive (2017): Ecuador’s sharks face threats from within

Alex R. Hearn and Santiago J. Bucaram
November 2017

In their Letters, J. J. Alava and F. Paladines (“Illegal fishing on the Galápagos high seas,” 29 September, p. 1362) and L. R. Gerber and D. Quiroga (“Incentives for Galápagos protection,” 20 October, p. 313) referred to the threat posed by foreign vessels to highly migratory endangered species, such as sharks, in Ecuadorian waters. The Letters were prompted by Galápagos National Park and Navy operatives’ recent seizure of a Chinese vessel carrying more than 6000 sharks inside the protected waters of the Galápagos Marine Reserve (1).

It is true that foreign fleets operating in and adjacent to Ecuador’s exclusive economic zone (including Galápagos Marine Reserve waters) are a threat to sharks. However, the effect of Ecuador’s own artisanal longline fleet on these species should not be overlooked. Ecuador’s artisanal fleet is made up of more than 45,000 vessels, which are allowed to land sharks as “by-catch.” At least 250,000 sharks are landed annually, with a substantial portion of the effort concentrated along the Galápagos Marine Reserve border (2).

Many of these sharks are both threatened and migratory, and they belong to populations that use the Galápagos Marine Reserve. Ecuador’s artisanal vessels are not obliged to carry automatic tracking systems (3), so they could potentially slip into Galápagos Marine Reserve waters undetected. Furthermore, in 2016, an experimental longline fishery was approved within the Galápagos Marine Reserve, involving local fishing boats (4).

This is the fifth experiment of its kind since 1997, and all previous experiments resulted in unacceptable levels of by-catch (5). The hard work of the Galápagos National Park rangers to protect sharks is thus also under threat from within. Fortunately, a new Fisheries Law is under discussion in Ecuador. The current draft of this law is promising (6).

If approved, it will require artisanal vessels to have satellite tracking mechanisms to monitor their fishing activities and preserve their safety. This is an encouraging step forward. However, it is still necessary to strengthen national regulations to protect sharks through providing an unambiguous definition of by-catch and putting an end to the string of longlining experiments in the Galápagos Marine Reserve.

Alex R. Hearn, Galápagos Science Center, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Diego de Robles s/n y Pampite, Cumbayá, Quito, Ecuador.

Santiago J. Bucaram, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales y Humanísticas, Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL), Guayaquil, Ecuador.

*Corresponding author. Email:


  1. “Ecuador jails Chinese fishermen foundwith 6,000 sharks,”Reuters (2017); us-ecuador-environment-galapagos/ecuador-jailschinese-fishermen-found-with-6000-sharksidUSKCN1B81TS.
  2. J. Martínez-Ortiz, A.M.Aires-da-Silva,C.E.Lennert-Cody, M. N. Maunder,PLOS ONE 10, e0135136 (2015).
  3. Reglamento a la Ley de Pesca Y Desarrollo Pesquero, Decreto Ejecutivo 3198, Registro Oficial 690 (2016); downloads/2016/12/Reglamento-a-la-Ley-dePesca-2016.pdf [in Spanish].
  4. Ministerio de Agricultura, Ganadería,Acuicultura y Pesca, Instituto Nacional de Pesca,“Evaluación de las artes de pesca experimentales para la captura sostenible de peces pelágicos grandes en la ReservaMarina de Galápagos” (2016); [In Spanish].
  5. J. C. Murillo, H. Reyes, P. Zarate, S. Banks, E. Danulat, “Evaluación de la captura incidental durante el Plan Piloto de Pesca de Altura con Palangre en la Reserva Marina de Galápagos”(Dirección Parque Nacional Galápagos/ Fundación Charles Darwin, Galapagos, Ecuador, 2004) [in Spanish]. 6. Draft of the Ecuadorian Fishery Law (www.acuaculturay [in Spanish]. 10.1126/science.aar4109

Hearn, Alex & Bucaram, Santiago. (2017). Ecuador’s sharks face threats from within. Science. 358. 1009-1009. 10.1126/science.aar4109.’s_sharks_face_threats_from_within

Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021

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