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a fisher uses a net to catch live bait
Puerto Ayora, Ecuador

In the Galapagos Islands, There Are 420 Fishermen Who Do Not Fish

In the Galapagos Islands, only artisanal fishing is allowed and under strict zoning. Fishing families are gathered in cooperatives. These cooperatives, at the beginning of the 21st century, had the ability to organize stoppages or strikes to pressure for fewer regulations to catch sea cucumbers (Isostichopus fuscus) and lobsters (Panulirus penicillatus).

However, nowadays the summoning power of these cooperatives has drastically diminished. One of the factors is that active fishermen and fisherwomen hold only 38% of the total number of fishing licenses (known in Spanish by its acronym: PARMA).

boats on the seashore
Boats like these fiberglass boats in Pelican Bay, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island are used by Galapagos artisanal fishermen / Credit: Franklin Vega. 

The Galapagos National Park has issued 1,145 PARMAs since 1998. This number includes the names of 325 active fishermen, who fish permanently and live off the sea; 350 fishermen who have already died, 50 fishermen who do tourism and 420 “fishermen who do not fish”.

PARMAs are treated as an asset, a card to be exchanged for economic benefits. Eight years ago, these fishing permits allowed 50 fishermen to obtain a tourist operation license (called a quota). These licenses are worth several thousands of dollars, depending on the activity.

Marco Escarabay, a fisherman from San Cristóbal Island, proposes a depuration of the fishing records to leave only the fishing families who fish. There are individuals who "have never jumped into the sea" and use the cooperatives only to obtain personal benefits such as getting a quota for tourist operations, he says. Local authorities fear reprisals from their neighbors and relatives, in a society where everyone knows each other and the majority share commercial interests or family ties.

One of the work priorities of fisheries leaders such as Dionisio Zapata, president of one of the cooperatives COPROPAG, is to get the use of the “modified oceanic tie” authorized (known as EOM by its acronym in Spanish). EOM is a modified longline, a fishing gear questioned for its high rate of incidental fishing of turtles, dolphins, etc. Zapata also urges a generational change within the cooperatives, as he recognizes that the fishing sector is aging. “There are no young people; the average age of fishermen is 57 years old, and we are tired of fishing."

Zapata’s speech also has environmental overtones. "We agree that the new Galapagos Marine Reserve will become an important marine corridor between Galapagos and the island of Cocos, in Costa Rica," said Zapata, on October 15, 2021, two weeks before the announcement that Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso would make within the framework of COP26, in relation to the creation of the new marine reserve.

It is encouraging to know that in Galapagos there are more fishermen and fisherwomen such as Marco Escarabay, Jonathan Erazo, Maritza Suarez, or Walter Borbor to name a few who love the sea. Escarabay is emphatic in defending the ocean: “Being a fisherman is a tough job, I got hooked on fishing when I learned to dive, and I saw that the greatest wealth of Galapagos is under the surface. I am convinced that we must protect the Marine Reserve, and actually expand it.”

Marco Escarabay
In the harbor of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal Island, Marco Escarabay, former fishing leader and promoter of the new Galapagos Marine Reserve, proposes a purge of the fishing registry / Credit: Franklin Vega.

This story was produced with support from Internews' Earth Journalism Network. It was originally published in Bitacora Ambiental in Spanish on 5 December 2021 and in English on 7 December 2022. This summary has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Banner image: A Puerto Ayora fisherman uses a net to catch live bait (Opisthonema libertate sardines) in Pelikan Bay, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island / Credit: Franklin Vega.