Quotes on Galapagos fishing industry
Combined reports on fishermen¡¦s strike
The total take wasn't supposed to exceed 550,000 cucumbers.
But in the first two months alone, an incredible 800 fishermen swarmed the Galapagos and snatched seven million cucumbers
from the sea floor. Researchers stationed on the islands were outraged. They
weren't worried about the sea cucumbers themselves--they're as common as
earthworms--but about the
After protests from tour operators and scientists, the
Ecuadorian government halted the fishing season a month early. On January 3,
several dozen fishermen, some armed with clubs and machetes, blocked the only
road to the Charles Darwin research station on
The pepineros--who fish for sea
cucumbers, or pepinos, that lie in beds off the Ecuadoran coast--said they were desperate: The government
of Ecuador had just prohibited them from fishing off the Galapagos, in response to protests
from scientists and tour operators who claimed the pepineros
were harming one of the world's most fragile, and famous, ecosystems. Carmen Angermeyer, a resident of
The government bowed to the demands, opening Galapagos waters to harvesting on 15 October for a 3-month trial period. It set total catch limit at 550,000 sea cucumbers, but "no effective controls and enforcement were ever applied," claims Johannah Barry, an official of the Charles Darwin Foundation Inc., which raises funds for Darwin Station. The foundation estimates the pepineros took at least 6 million sea cucumbers in just 2 months. The Ecuadoran press began airing concerns about overharvesting, and as public criticism mounted, the government halted the sea cucumber season on 15 December, a month early, ¡K
The illegal seizure of national park and research facilities
Although the takeover ended when the Ecuadorian government
agreed to negotiate, this threat to the islands was the second within a year.
Last January, fishermen armed with clubs and machetes, seized the Charles
Darwin Research Station and the national park headquarters on
Last January's protest followed the government's decision to shut down the sea cucumber season one month early. A fishing spree from October to December had left Galapagos waters almost devoid of sea cucumbers. An estimated 6-10 million had been taken during the season, more than ten times the legal limit.
In the last few months there have been armed confrontations between National Park staff and the illegal fishing groups.
"If the high consumption of products from endangered species is not stopped internationally, then little can be done on a local level," warned Cayot. Illegal fishing "is a poverty-related problem," she added.
"They completely destroyed our office and burned
absolutely everything," says park spokesperson Desiree Cruz in an e-mail.
They also threatened Chavez's life and trashed his home. In other areas,
fishers blocked tourist boats from landing, and a local school official who
sided with the fishers threatened high school students who had written letters
supporting conservation efforts. "Some of this protest activity approaches
terrorism," says Darwin Station ecologist Howard Snell, who also teaches
Some research at the station was affected. During a 10-day occupation of station offices on Isabela, hair dryers that kept tortoise eggs warm enough for embryos to develop were taken. Many of the eggs "will possibly die," including several embryos of critically endangered populations, according to recent e-mails to Snell from Ecuadorian herpetologist Cruz Marquez. The fishers also destroyed tortoise pedigree records, which ensure that the different island tortoise subspecies remain purebred. But because the breeding program hatches several hundred tortoises a year, Snell says, the damage was relatively minor.
One environmental group, the Sea Shepherd Conservation
Society, is taking action. Society president Paul Watson and his crew set sail
for the Galapagos on 7 December
KASTE: At the main station of the
But to young park volunteer Freddy Jimenez, the worst moment came when the mob burst into a tortoise breeding center and, in front of a group of startled tourists, kidnapped some baby tortoises.
Mr. FREDDY JIMENEZ (Park Volunteer): (Foreign language spoken)
KASTE: `They threatened to kill the little tortoises,'
Jimenez recalls. There were even some rumors of a tortoise barbecue. The mere
thought of baby tortoise hostages still brings Jimenez to the verge of tears.
In the end, the tortoises were released unharmed, but the mere fact that
animals were threatened has scandalized the conservation-minded residents of
As The New York Times reports, in recent months fishermen agitated over 1998 laws limiting the catch of sharks, lobsters and sea cucumbers have attacked conservation centers, harassed tourists and even kidnapped some of the islands' emblematic giant tortoises.
These are dangerous times for conservationists in the
In 1959, the government of
In 1996, UNESCO warned that large-scale fishing, the high rate of immigration and the introduction of non-endemic species -- including cattle, pigs and other domestic animals as well as rats -- were threatening the archipelago's biodiversity.
The U.N. body warned that if Ecuadorian authorities failed to adopt urgent measures, it would include the islands on its list of "endangered world heritage sites," which would mean even more stringent controls.
Valverde said the move was in response to a request made by the Ecuadoran authorities in March.
Importance of sea cucumbers
The threat to the sea cucumbers is being driven by culinary demand. Sea cucumbers are highly prized delicacies in many East Asian cuisines, says David Challinor, the Smithsonian Institution's science adviser. A high-quality food, sea cucumber flesh is 50%-60% protein.
Of approximately 1200 species found worldwide, approximately two dozen are considered edible. In the Galapagos, only Stichopus fuscus is fished commercially.
The soft-bodied echinoderms live on the ocean floor,
ingesting mud and other sediments from with they extract their food. In bottom
sediments rich in organic matter, sea cucumbers can account for 90% of the
biomass, according to Elliott Norse, chief scientist of the Center for Marine
Sea cucumbers play a vital role in ocean ecology, says David Pawson, a scientist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Like earthworms on land, they turn over bottom sediments, which helps free nutrients. In the food chain, the sperm, eggs, and larvae of sea cucumbers are eaten by organisms from single-celled animals to fish, Pawson adds.
Scientists are concerned by the sea cucumber harvesting,
because studies show that when there is overfishing
or when a natural die-off occurs, sea cucumber numbers can be depressed for
years. At Chuuk Atoll in
Economic reasons why people exploit the place
Responding to what MacFarland
calls "gold rush fever," the Ecuadorians found they could make $100 a
day compared with $71 a month from the overfished
Scientists and conservationists remain concerned. Even
though proposals have been made to raise sea cucumbers in captivity as
Foreign illegal fishing
Conservationists also are worried about proposals to allow
long-line fishing in deep waters near the Galapagos. Up to 80 major vessels from
Sea cucumbers and takeovers of scientific institutions
Cohn, Jeffrey P. Bioscience.
Galapagos station survives latest attack by fishers
Dan Ferber. Science.
Showdown in the Galapagos
Robert. Popular Science.
Mario Gonzalez. Inter Press Service.
Fishing for trouble
Jim Motavalli. E : the Environmental Magazine.
Profile: Local Galapagos island gishermen resort to violence in protest of fishing regulations there, causing concern about conservation efforts and tourism on the islands
Fishermen threaten Galapagos
Stone, Richard. Science.