Fishing threatens Galapagos Islands

Issue 

Reprinted here are parts of a faxed letter to Matthew J. James, associate professor and chair of the Department of Geology at Sonoma State University in California. It was sent by Macarena Green, a biologist now in the Galapagos Islands. The islands, administered by Ecuador, are famous for having provided much information for Charles Darwin when he was developing his theory of evolution. We have made minor changes to the writer's English.

Since October 15, 1994, the sea cucumber fisheries were legally opened in the Islands. Until December 15 there were over 800 fishermen working on the exploitation of the sea cucumber, Isostichopus fuscus, in that area. It was calculated that each of them was collecting over 1500 sea cucumbers daily.

Besides that, these people lived in small boats on which they carried live chickens, unwashed vegetables and other introduced organisms that, if they landed by chance on one of the islands, could germinate. On board the boats there were rats, mice and introduced insects. They were cleaning their bilges and throwing all their garbage overboard. Most of them were anchored only 20 feet from the shore line of Fernandina Island.

When the cucumber fisheries were opened, a limit of 550,000 sea cucumbers in a three-month season was established. However, in two months [the catch] exceeded 7 million. By the beginning of December reports on the abuse of the resource went to different officials and to the press. There were reports that the fishermen were not only collecting sea cucumbers, but sea horses, snails, sea urchins and black coral. One fisherman admitted that they had already sent to Japan sea lion penises as a try-out for a new aphrodisiac.

On December 15 the sea cucumber fisheries were officially closed until technical and scientific studies were done, due to the abuse that had occurred in the first two months.

The [fishermen] in the first days of January took over the installations of the Park Service and Darwin Station. They kept all the people inside as hostages, including the wives and children of many of the workers. They threatened to kill all the tortoises in captivity at the station and to start fires on little islands. It was quite strange to see the total absence of the police and military help.

On January 6, the director of the National Institute of Fisheries went to Puerto Ayora and offered the fishermen that by January 13 they could start catching sea cucumbers again. The minister of fisheries, after pressure from all the environmental groups, the association of travel agents, the association of ecotourism, the association of tour operators in Galapagos, and the government of Spain, felt in position to close the fisheries until October.

Our aim is to persuade the government to close all industrial fisheries in the Galapagos, to stop all export of any resource that comes from the islands and to include the marine area within the National Park. There is a master plan to manage the marine resources reserve, but it is completely ignored.

If you could get together in the States and write a letter to the president of Ecuador, I think that they may think twice about opening [sea cucumber] or any other type of fisheries in the Galapagos ... The address of the president is: Arq. Sixto Duran Ballen, Presidente Constitucional de la Republica de Ecuador, Palacia de Gobierna, Quito, Ecuador.

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