‘Plantados’ cause great environmental impact in Galapagos, say organizations; industrialists claim that it is ‘minimal’
A 20-minute boat ride from Puerto Ayora, within the marine reserve, a team from EL UNIVERSO was able to see a plantado adrift. Ricardo Zambrano
25 Nov 2020 – 06:35
Just 20 minutes after leaving Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, a small black platform that floats adrift gives the alert. “Plantado!” yells the captain of the boat.
The boat approaches and a fishing net is visualized, in detail, that surrounds the structure built with wood, plastic and buoys.
In addition, a long rope connects the platform with a capsule or saucer where the location system that works with mini solar panels is located. However, the most important thing is what is underneath.
The device has a capsule that protects the GPS system.
The fishing net extends at least ten meters and, tied, as a kind of anchor, is a plastic tank with dozens of holes. Inside the tank there is bait. The idea is that, little by little, the smell and the liquids come out through the holes to attract fish.
These structures are called fish aggregating devices (FADs), better known as FADs, and are launched by industrial vessels outside the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR), but due to ocean currents entering the GMR and leaving with the shoals following them, activists say.
The boats arrive, cast the purse seines, and carry off the catch.
But FADs not only add commercial species such as tuna, but also “catch” sharks, turtles, rays or “immature” specimens that are later discarded by the industry, which generates a great environmental impact to the GMR, says Eliécer Cruz, coordinator from the Más Galapagos collective.
Although the use of FADs is not new, the amount of FADs within the GMR has currently increased, says Walter Borbor, an artisanal fisherman from the archipelago.
He states that this puts pressure on the biomass of species and that it contributes to the risk of diminishing food sovereignty. In 20 years of sailing the islands’ sea, Walter has found at least 30 of these devices.
In addition, a kind of resale market has been created, since artisanal fishermen when they find these devices take them out of the sea and look for intermediaries who buy the fishing net and the saucer.
The capsule with the tracking system sells for between $ 25 and $ 40, says Borbor. Buoys and deck material is used to build chicken coops, for example.
Another problem is that many of the FADs reach the coasts of the archipelago and make them a danger to the species that end up entangled in them. In addition, they contribute to the environmental pollution that the islands already suffer, alerts Alberto Andrade of the Insular Front.
The activist affirms that the capsules with the GPS system previously had the name of the boat to which they belonged, but now they only come with codes of letters and numbers, which makes it difficult to know if the plantado is from a national or foreign boat.
He adds that this “fishing gear is not regulated in Ecuador, they are ghost gear.” Like Cruz, he thinks that an extension of the GMR would further remove this type of “danger” for species: “When the 40 miles were established in 1998 there was no this technology and the huge ships that we currently have.”
The national industrial fishing sector does not deny the use of FAD, however it affirms that the percentage of devices that enter the GMR is “minimal” and would not reach 1% of the total used, says Guillermo Morán, manager of Tuna Conservation Group (Tunacons ).
He adds that their objective or strategy is not to locate FADs to enter the GMR. He emphasizes that although there is incidental fishing in this system, the percentage is also minimal and that they seek to return the species to the sea: “FADs are not launched to enter the GMR.”
The industrial sector proposed, eight months ago, to the Galapagos National Park a cooperation agreement to collect the “few” FADs that enter “involuntarily” into the GMR, but so far they have not received a response, says Morán: “We are working to eliminate this impact, which is minimal”.
It also points out that the use of FAD has a regulation stipulated by the Tuna Commission and that it is accepted by the Undersecretariat of Fisheries of Ecuador: “The country, since last year, has a FAD management plan.”
However, Cruz and Andrade insist on greater regulation and expansion of the reserve to mitigate the impacts.
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