The United States announced its support to curb illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing of sharks and rays in Ecuadorian waters through the Habla Tiburón (Shark Talk) project, the U.S. Embassy in Quito said in a statement.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), together with the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF-Ecuador) seek to train Ecuadorian fishing communities to transform them into centers of sustainable production, both domestically and internationally, the statement said.
“Ecuador’s efforts, with the support of USAID, CDF, and WWF, safeguard shark and ray resources. It is an excellent effort,” Pilar Proaño, coordinator of the Citizen Observatory of the Production, Rural Development, and Fisheries Public Policy in Ecuador, told Diálogo on August 15.
The $11.9 million project, launched in the Galápagos Islands on June 28, plans to implement efficient fisheries management over five years to ensure the long-term sustainability of sharks and rays through a series of approaches that include economic benefits and incentives for local fishing communities, the U.S. Embassy said.
IUU fishing grew dramatically in Ecuadorian waters, especially near the Galápagos. This has led to a severe reduction of shark and ray populations. If left unchecked, overfishing could put more species than just these two at risk, USAID said.
CDF, with 20 years of research in the Galápagos, is leading the project. WWF-Ecuador, with experience in Ecuador’s coastal strip and in the Galápagos, together with local companies, authorities, and communities, will establish governance schemes and fisheries improvement, including artisanal fishing, the foundation said in a statement.
Habla Tiburón will foster economic growth and participatory decision-making to empower diverse and marginalized stakeholders, including women and people with disabilities, the U.S. Embassy said. It will also integrate a gender perspective and the participation of vulnerable populations.
Chinese fishing fleet
“This is adding up. However, it does not mean that we have achieved the goal of reducing the incidence of IUU fishing globally,” said Proaño. “IUU fishing is not only catching outside the permit area, but also catching non-permitted and endangered species.”
The Chinese fishing fleet continues to ravage South American seas, putting fishing resources at risk, damaging the balance of the oceans, and exploiting fishermen who spend long periods, even years, aboard vessels without setting foot on land, Argentine news site Infobae reported.
“After the incident with the Chinese ship that crossed the archipelago [in 2017], and there was a sanctioning judicial process, the Ecuadorian state intensified its presence,” Proaño said. “However, problems persist with fleets that fish near Ecuadorian waters in the insular zone of the Galápagos.”
In the Atlantic, governmental and nongovermental organizations continually condemn the Chinese fleet for entering Argentine coasts, Proaño added. In the last decade, Infobae reported, Chinese-flagged vessels have increased their fishing on the border of the Argentine sea by 800 percent. These vessels continue to turn off their tracking systems.
“We are facing a fleet that operates without any kind of control, depredating the marine ecosystem […]. Its growth is so fast that no ecosystem can withstand it,” Milko Schvartzman, of the conservation and fishing program Environmental Policy Circle, told Infobae.
IUU fishing of sharks and rays jeopardizes both the legal commercialization of Ecuadorian seafood and the sustainability of fisheries. “Today is the beginning of a great opportunity. The Habla Tiburón project is just getting started,” Daniel Sánchez, director of USAID-Ecuador, told CDF.
Tarsicio Granizo, director of WWF-Ecuador, told CDF that “responsible fishing practices protect marine life and ocean habitats and continue to support the livelihoods of those who depend on the sea.
USAID’s financial support for Habla Tiburón will be complemented by contributions from various U.S. partner organizations, including the COmON Foundation, Save Our Seas Foundation, Mark and Rachel Rohr Foundation, The Darwin and Wolf Conservation Fund, as well as an anonymous donor, CDF said.
Through this contribution, the U.S. demonstrates its commitment to the sustainability of Ecuador’s marine environment, seeking to ensure the long-term viability of shark and ray populations through improved participatory governance, economic improvements, and social inclusion, the U.S. Embassy said.
“Ecuador must provide clear measures to national fleets on the incidence of catches, in addition to means of control and monitoring of landings, to reduce incidents of shark and ray catches,” Proaño said. “It should also evaluate compliance and improve these practices in all species.”