EJN-Supported Stories Reveal the Impact of IUU Fishing in the Galapagos

two men at sea

EJN-Supported Stories Reveal the Impact of IUU Fishing in the Galapagos

From June 2021 to February 2022, EJN joined with Internews’ Americas Program to lead a project aimed at improving the quality and quantity of environmental reporting in the Galápagos – with a focus on deepening coverage of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. 

Ecuador, with its rich waters, is a hotspot for IUU fishing, an activity that nets estimated annual revenues of $15 to 36 billion, according to this 2017 report.  

To better inform the Ecuadorian people about the full impact of IUU fishing on marine ecosystems, fishers’ livelihoods and the nation’s food security, EJN supported the production of seven in-depth stories on illegal fishing.  

sharks mutilated on the shore
Illegal fishing catch such as sharks from the waters near Galapagos are marketed in Manta, on the mainland coast of Ecuador / Credit: Franklin Vega. 

Journalist Franklin Vega reported on the current registry of active fishers in the Galapagos Islands, which includes fishermen who have died and many others who have never fished. This has several consequences for fishing communities, his story reveals.  

Vega also takes us on a tour of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, two of the most visited islands in Galapagos, where illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, both Ecuadorian and international, is rampant. 

Isabel Alarcón took a closer look at Galapagos’ growing trash problem. She cited research that traced 30% of the garbage collected during coastal cleanups to Chinese fleets fishing off Ecuador's islands. Although there are regulations against fishing vessels dumping plastic waste at sea, they are rarely enforced, leaving one of the world's most important marine sanctuaries increasingly overrun with litter.  

scientist holds up an eel trap
Researcher Juan Pablo Muñoz-Pérez holds an eel trap, a fishing gear not used in the archipelago and associated with Asian fishermen / Credit: Isabel Alarcón.

In addition to plastic pollution, Galapagos is also being impacted by piracy and ghost nets, reported Martha Luz Forero. In the last five years, 850 outboard motors have been reported stolen at sea, which are then used in illicit activities related to drug trafficking. Faced with an imminent pirate assault, artisanal fishermen are forced to cut their nets to flee and safeguard their lives. Piracy is one of the main causes of the abandonment of fishing gear, which is seriously affecting the ecosystem, biodiversity and fishing sustainability. 

Gabriela Verdozoto interviewed the crabbers of Manglares Churute, a protected area that has no established physical boundaries; a no man's land. Her story found that this poorly regulated area is severely affected by five problems: indiscriminate mangrove logging, trappers, illegal fishing, the encroachment of shrimp farms and displacement of crab farmers.  

a crab caught from the mangrove
The red crab is the species that is commercialized in Manglares Churute. Only males of more than 7.5 centimeters can be captured / Credit: Marco Pin.

Rodolfo Asar documented the case of the Chinese freighter Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, captured in Galapagos in 2017 with 527 tons of mutilated sharks. Like many international fishing companies, it knowingly plundered Ecuador’s waters for this endangered species – however, it was one of the few that were caught. The sentence issued by the country’s judiciary generated a fundamental precedent. 

Finally, Lise Josefsen chronicled the stories of several fisherfolk who were candid about why they resorted to participating in illicit activities to survive and support their families. “"We are humble fishermen. There are a lot of fishermen friends, because of the crisis and everything, who have had to do things they shouldn't have done, drug trafficking, bad things. If there were help for the fishermen, this could end. People would be able to live normal lives, to stop committing illicit acts at sea.,” said one interviewee. 

“The quality of the grantees' research and storytelling transported me to the biodiverse ecosystem of Ecuador,” said Lucy Calderon Pineda, EJN’s Latin America story mentor. 

“I invite you to get to know the Galapagos Islands: to admire its beauty and feel concerned about the problems that affect both the diversity of flora and fauna as well as its coastal communities,” she said. 

boat with motor
Outboard motors are the target of criminal gangs who aim to use them to transport illegal substances across the sea / Credit: Lino Morejón.

These stories were supported by Internews’ INSPIRES project and EJN. Read more about the project here.  


Banner image: While Narciso and Javier pull the trammel net out of the sea, some fishermen come to see if their catch was good, and they also cast their nets in the same area.  Currently, fish are becoming scarce in the artisanal fishing zone / Credit: Andrés Yépez.

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