Stop ‘bleeding’ of Galapagos, activists ask; industrialists say that “there is no scientific proof”
November 22, 2020
The message in the middle of the square in the center of Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, was clear: “We Galapagueños do not want our sea to bleed to death.” The posters are accompanied by waste such as plastic bottles and tanks, used sandals, pans, nets, microplastic, fish aggregating devices.
Driven by currents, all this reaches the archipelago. In addition, there were paper figures that pretended to be sharks caught by fishing gear.
It was a way of protesting against the different pressures that the Galapagos Marine Reserve (RMG) supports. Volunteers from the Insular Front and the Más Galapagos collective held this representation last Wednesday.
All present, including the President of the Government of Galapagos, Norman Wray, support the idea of expanding the RMG. They claim that it is a way to protect the more than 3,000 marine species, including about 500 endemic ones, that inhabit this 40-nautical-mile zone.
Eliécer Cruz, coordinator of Más Galapagos, a group that has the support of more than 130 organizations, indicates that currently the RMG has problems of pollution, overfishing and illegal fishing, and that with the arrival of climate change the pressure on the archipelago would be “ disastrous ”.
He states that the national industrial tuna fleet currently has 115 purse-seine vessels. A considerable increase compared to 1998, when there were 45. In addition, according to Cruz, the catch capacity increased from 300 or 600 tons per boat to 2,000.
The use of fish aggregating devices, better known as FADs, also increased. “To this must be added 99 longliners that also approach the Exclusive Insular Zone and the almost 300 motherships that arrive,” he says.
IMG 2 Galápagos fishermen collecting a fish aggregating device within the GMR.
According to Más Galapagos, in 2019, 97 longline vessels landed in Manta, Jaramijó and Anconcito sharks caught (incidentally) in the east of the archipelago. The boats made 743 fishing trips, used more than seven million hooks and caught more than six thousand tons of sharks. “This is the pressure we are facing,” adds Cruz.
All these data were delivered to the National Assembly, but Cruz regrets the treatment they have received in the Legislative. It states that even the time given to organizations for their interventions in various legislative committees has been less than that given to representatives of the fishing sector.
In fact, the Food Sovereignty Commission and the Sovereignty, International Relations and Security Commission spoke out against a possible expansion of the RMG.
Cruz indicates that if they do not achieve the expansion through the Assembly, they will seek the Executive to create a new marine reserve next to the current RMG and if they do not succeed they will analyze the mechanisms to organize a popular consultation at the national level.
Since 2018, 136 industrial fishing vessels with the Ecuadorian flag have entered the GMR, some of them were retained with illegal fishing on board, indicates Danny Rueda, director of the Galapagos National Park (PNG). These boats are not on the archipelago’s own fishing register.
However, Rueda clarifies that many times the income from these vessels is not necessarily from illegal fishing, but affirms that no income is allowed. The registry has been lifted thanks to a surveillance system implemented by the PNG.
These statements have caused astonishment and concern in the industrial fishing sector, indicates Guillermo Morán, manager of Tuna Conservation Group (Tunacons).
He points out that in various forums on the GMR in which authorities have participated and in the accountability of the PNG in recent years, “never” has this number of ships been discussed.
For this reason, they have requested detailed information on these revenues: “In the current director’s accountability, they speak of monitoring and retained tourist vessels, foreign and national fishing boats, but it does not reach that figure,” he says.
According to the executive, these types of figures and news “hurt” the national fishing sector worldwide, since this industry is “collaborating” to improve fisheries. Although if any type of illegal fishing were to be verified, it should be sanctioned, indicates Morán.
He also rejects that there is talk of a “bleeding” of the RMG: “There has never been talk of bleeding and they have never shown it,” he refutes.
In addition, he points out that the industrial fishing sector will oppose an extension of the GMR or the creation of a marine corridor as long as there is no scientific evidence that demonstrates the need to increase and restrict fishing activities.
He says that protecting species in a pragmatic way is working with fishermen to return all incidentally caught species to the sea alive, teaching good fishing practices and “not closing an area”.
Cruz affirms that the studies will be at the end of next December: “The need to extend the 40 miles or the creation of a new reserve will be very clear.”
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© SOS Galápagos, 2020