South Pacific Fishery Threatened
By Dialogo February 09, 2011
Twenty years ago, fishermen on the northern coast of Ecuador harvested
lobsters with their feet.
All they had to do was step into the shallow, warm waters of the Galera-San
Francisco Marine Reserve. They were met by huge populations of the prized
Those days are over.
Fishermen now must go offshore to harvest lobsters that are smaller and
scarcer. The populations and sizes of the most coveted species throughout the South
Pacific have decreased significantly.
That has prompted the governments of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile to
strengthen an old institution, the Permanent Commission of the South Pacific (PCSP).
The PCSP was established 60 years ago to protect the marine resources of the region.
Only 2% of lobsters caught in the equatorial Pacific are in compliance with
the minimum size limit for fishing - 26 cm – according to the Nazca Studies
Institute, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that conducts wildlife research.
Those statistics worry regional governments.
Large-scale industrial fishing and climate change are to blame for declining
lobster and marine populations, said Pilar Solís, Deputy Director of the National
Institute of Fisheries of Ecuador (Instituto National de Pesca de Ecuador). Changes
in ocean temperatures have led to changes in the distribution and the reproduction
of wildlife, she said.
The figures for fish production in South American countries bordering the
Pacific are startling.
Chile's production fell from 1.7 million tons to 1.5 million between 2006 and
Peru’s catch totaled 9.6 million tons in 2004. That fell to 7.2 million tons
in 2007, according to government figures. Fishery statistics are current only until
2007, but Solís said the situation is not improving.
Local governments hope a strengthened PCSP will stop the decline.
The PCSP has a long and distinguished history. It was the first international
organization to advocate that each country should have sovereignty over the 200
miles of ocean closest to its coasts.
The United Nations formalized that idea in 1982 when it adopted the
Convention of the Law of the Sea.
The governments of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile decided at a November
2010 meeting in Quito to strengthen the PCSP. The plan called for the PCSP, which is
based in Ecuador’s main port of Guayaquil, to develop a greater capacity to respond
to over-fishing and climate change.
The commission has developed new initiatives, Peruvian Hector Soldi,
Secretary General of the PCSP, told Diálogo. One is a sustainable plan to reduce
fishing pressure on the resources of the Pacific.
The PCSP will work to curb fishing by industrial fishing fleets coming from
as far away as Japan, Korea, China and Russia, he said. Large fishing vessels travel
thousands of miles and make big catches near the exclusive economic zones of the
four countries throughout the year, he said.
Most affected are migratory fish species like tuna, shark and mackerel, which
are vital to the economies of the region. Tuna is the third most important export
product in Ecuador after oil and bananas. And tuna suffered the biggest decline of
Ecuador’s exports last year.
Large catches by foreign vessels deplete the resources that local fishermen
can access, PCSP officials said.
"Foreign fishing affects the local fishing industry. This is evident in
Chile, which has diminished the amount of fishing within the exclusive economic
zone. This demonstrates that there is tremendous pressure on the resources," Soldi
The PCSP plans to determine fishing quotas and how many foreign vessels can
approach the territorial sea areas. The quotas will be based on the historical
records of each country; they reveal the number of vessels that have operated in the
region and their catch, according to the PCSP.
The commission hopes that nations will sign agreements on sustainable fishing
and agree to comply with its quotas, officials said.
Major fishing powers like Japan and Norway would be subjected to closures and
catch allowances, as would local fishermen.
Officials will present the statement on foreign fishing, co-signed by the
four South American nations, at the next meeting of the South Pacific Regional
Fisheries Management Organization. The United Nations created the SPRFMO to manage
exclusive economic zones.
The PCSP’s main function is to unify the policies and positions of the four
countries, helping them to defend their interests internationally, Peruvian Ministry
of Foreign Affairs Sovereignty and Limits National Director Arturo Montoya said.
Another function of the PCSP is to foster cooperation among its members, he
said. The Marine Institute of Peru, for example, has much to contribute to
neighboring countries in marine biological research, as do the research institutes
in Colombia, Ecuador and Chile, Montoya said.
Cooperation may be the best way to promote conservation.
Caring for the marine environment poses more challenges than land
conservation, said marine researcher Soledad Luna, who performs her research on the
northern coast of Ecuador.
"Nobody owns part of the sea, everything belongs to the state and no one
overtakes the ocean to take care of it," she said.
Fishermen can be key allies for conservation, Luna said – if their economic
situation is improved.
"This will allow them to practice sustainable fishing and cooperate with the
State in caring for the resources,” she said.
Fishing is the main source of income for the inhabitants of small villages
along the beaches of the Pacific in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile.
Unsustainable fishing practices know no borders – and neither does climate
The PCSP is responsible for coordinating the evaluation of the impacts of
climate change in each country and coordinating measures when the impacts are
regional, Montoya said. The General Secretariat of the PCSP has been tasked since
January 2009 with improving the collection oceanographic and marine meteorological
information in the South American Pacific.
The climate phenomenon known as “La Nina” has caught the PCSP’s attention in
recent months. The ocean current has caused severe flooding and landslides in
Venezuela and Colombia, erratic behavior of the ocean and lower temperatures on the
coast and in the Andes in Ecuador.
"What we want is to have accurate data about what might happen. Each day we
lose marine species, sea levels rise and the temperatures are unstable. We must be
prepared," Montoya said.