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Destructive Fishing Threatens the Economy And Ecosystems Of Latin America

Despite Being Legal, This Type Of Fishing Is An Environmental And Economic Threat.

Fisherman throwing a fishing net into the sea

At the end of June of this year, Ecuador raised its alarms due to the presence of 280 Chinese fishing vessels that were fishing near the Galapagos. Photo: Unsplash

LatinAmerican Post | Vanesa López Romero

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At the end of June of this year, Ecuador raised its alarms due to the presence of 280 Chinese fishing vessels that were fishing near the Galapagos. Although they had not crossed the limit of the Ecuadorian maritime zone, similar incursions had happened in 2017 and 2020. In the first, the Ecuadorian Navy captured a Chinese vessel within the Galapagos maritime reserve, in it, they found around 300 tons of fishing, among which were species of sharks that are currently in danger of extinction. In the second, a fleet of approximately 300 vessels was approaching the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Galapagos Islands, when the Ecuadorian government activated the Interinstitutional Committee of the Sea (CIM), in charge of monitoring and analyzing this type of foreign vessels in order to take care of the national maritime territory.

Now, the alarms are reigniting, as the fishing fleet seems to be heading to Peru while endangering the ecosystems of the Latin American Pacific. This happens because many of the species that are caught either illegally or accidentally are vulnerable, endangered, or threatened. One of the species that environmentalists are most concerned about right now is the hammerhead shark.

In addition, illegal fishing endangers the economy of the region, since it leaves local fishermen without resources, either because they fish species that local fishermen need or because they fish species that feed the species necessary for local fisheries. 

However, it is important to remember that illegal fishing is not the only one that puts the region's maritime ecosystems and economy at risk.

Destructive fishing in Latin America

Fish is the product that is most in demand around the world, which has caused overexploitation of the seas and oceans, endangering thousands of species. This type of fishing is called destructive fishing, and despite the short and long-term environmental consequences it brings, it is considered legal. Destructive fishing has different forms. The most popular is trawling, which consists of throwing a giant net into the ocean that crawls and collects everything it finds in its path, even catching species that are vital to proper functioning of the ecosystem. In addition, trawling destroys the corals that it passes through.

Explosive, poison, purse, and driftnet fishing, while less common, are also forms of destructive fishing. 

Consequently, not only the environment is affected, but also the economy. Those who see this first-hand are the local fishermen, those who do not respond to a large industry and who live through their day-to-day fishing. Ecosystems are altered, fish run out, the market stagnates.

In 2018, the FAO set a goal for 2020 to regulate the fishing industry in Latin America in order to end overfishing. This goal was never achieved. In June of this year, 50 Latin American civil society organizations published the declaration "Regional Alert on Destructive and Illegal Fishing by the Chinese Fleet" to promote the regularization and regulation of illegal fishing by Chinese fleets and also regulate illegal fishing within the region by locals.

Also read: Infographic: Which Latin American countries have the most deforestation?

What is the solution?

It is practically impossible to stop consuming fish, so the fishing industry will continue to exist, but if measures are not taken urgently, there will come a time when there will be no fish. This is why social and environmental organizations have insisted on the regularization of sustainable fishing. This type of fishing, based on artisanal fishing, has the objective of carrying out the activity in a responsible manner and future-proofing it. 

For this, species that are not vulnerable, endangered, threatened, or endangered are selected. This fishery does not discard specimens that are dead or dying and does not use fishing methods that endanger non-target species or ecosystems.

Now, the demand must be rethought. For this, in addition to regularizations, there must be pressure from consumers. For example, if a restaurant or a fish distributor is pressured to adopt sustainable fishing, they will eventually have to change their production chain.