Galapagos news, earlier

Jerry Wellington wellington at UH.EDU
Fri Dec 8 11:37:27 EST 2000

Here was one of the earliest reports - very sad indeed.

Jerry Wellimgton



In the last three days, lawless bands of fishermen in Galapagos - an island 
province of Ecuador long hailed as an international flagship of 
conservation - have attacked conservation installations, ransacked 
municipal offices, torched a National Park vehicle, harassed tourist 
groups, taken rare captive-bred giant tortoises hostage, and threatened the 
lives of conservation personnel. Complete news coverage is hard to get, 
because communications out of the various islands is shaky to non-existent, 
but this info has been pieced together from e-mails received from alarmed 
residents and by making direct phone calls to Santa Cruz Island.

The situation reached crisis proportions around 0630 a.m. on Wednesday 15 
November, when the fishermen seized island ports and posted their fast 
boats at many strategic locations to harass tourists trying to visit 
wildlife sites. Boat chases and other aggressions were reported against 
tourist operators who attempted to proceed with their activities. The 
Galapagos National Park personnel barricaded themselves in their 
headquarters and the small police contingent (35 men) helped keep the 
throngs of fishermen at bay, who repeatedly tried to storm the premises on 
Santa Cruz, as they had already done on Isabela and San Cristobal Islands. 
Police and navy protection have also been granted to Charles Darwin 
Foundation offices on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal Islands, who report that 
all their personnel are safe. On the Island of Isabela, the third major 
fishing port, the situation is reported as totally out of control, with the 
town mayor said to have fled for his life, though no details have been 

The fishermen have three main demands: a complete abandonment of the 
lobster fishing quota of 54 tons, which they filled in the first two months 
of the four months season; dropping all charges leveled at some of their 
members for previous violence against government property and personnel; 
and an active expansion of the Galapagos fisheries management to develop a 
completely new long-lining industry for currently protected shark within 
the Galapagos Marine Reserve. This demand comes in complete disregard of 
scientific advice or the fact that such fishing practices are widely known 
to pose serious risks to many rare and unique species, such as albatross, 
sea lions, sea turtles, sharks and many others.

As threats and events escalated on Wednesday, desperate messages were 
received from within Galapagos calling for armed reinforcement from the 
Ecuadorian military, with the pleading words "We can't hold out much 
longer!" However, according to the local radio station on Santa Cruz 
Island, by the end of the day the crisis had eased as the fishermen were 
granted a lobster quota extension of 30 additional tons to take them to the 
31st of December, corresponding to a 60% hike over and above the original 
quota. It is not clear at this moment how the decision was reached to grant 
the fishermen this extension. In a broadcasted speech, the head of one of 
the fishing cooperatives declared the solution only temporary as the 
fishermen, emboldened by the success of their tactics, demand substantial 
expansion of the fishing activities inside the Marine Reserve, in defiance 
of existing quotas and measures.

It should be noted that, for several years already, the fishermen have been 
given a decisive voice in the Interinstitutional Management Authority in 
charge of the Reserve, under which spirit of cooperation they were to 
control the number of genuine local fishermen allowed to join the 
cooperatives. In a spectacular failure of this mechanism, the number of 
registered fishermen participating in the activity has jumped from around 
500 last year to 939 at present, nearly a twofold increase, many of whom 
are recent arrivals to Galapagos. It is apparently this mushrooming of 
their numbers, who share the agreed quotas between them, which has turned 
the fishermen against the management scheme they helped create.

The dramatic implications of this latest in a series of conflagrations is 
that the fishermen have, not for the first time, seen their violent tactics 
rewarded with immediate gratification. The clear message for the future is 
that whenever they are unhappy with the management strategies in defense of 
sustainable use of the marine environment, violent action and threats of 
bodily harm is all it takes to obtain expedient results.
At this writing (1900 hours, 16 November, Galapagos local time) renewed 
violence is already taking shape, with more attacks on conservation 
institutions and tourism anticipated for the early morning hours as the 
fishermen upscale their actions in a free-for-all of sweeping demands.

The Galapagos Islands, awarded the title of World Heritage Site by the 
United Nations, have been recognized as a model of international 
conservation, with enormous trust placed in the harmonious development of 
an equanimous balance between human needs and environmental protection. The 
focus of these efforts have at all times been aimed at combining 
scientifically backed conservation strategies with the sustainable use of 
the resource for the benefit of both the people and the ecosystem. Current 
events are redefining those premises to allow short-term greed to rule 
instead. A show of force and commitment by all levels of government in 
defence of law and order and carefully crafted management strategies, is 
desperately needed if the integrity of Galapagos is not to be lost forever.

News from Galapagos compiled by Tui De Roy, wildlife photographer, resident 
of Galapagos for 40 years; currently living in New Zealand but maintaining 
close ties with events and family there. As is well known, ever since 
Darwin the Galapagos Islands have commanded world attention as a natural 
laboratory of evolution, unique on a world scale for their extraordinary 
fauna and flora. In today's atmosphere of accelerating global wildlife 
losses, these islands stand out as a conservation marvel because 
irretrievable loss of species has not yet taken a serious toll here. For 
example, whereas flightless birds are usually the first to disappear from 
threatened insular ecosystems, the Galapagos flightless cormorant, whose 
small population of approximately 1,000 birds is trapped in the midst of 
current intensive fishing activity, is the last remaining flightless 
seabird in the world. Unlike all other major island groups where 
extinctions are already rife, in Galapagos it would still be relatively 
easy to safeguard this natural treasure for future generations. I am 
sending this to all friends and acquaintances in an effort to let the world 
know what is happening in Galapagos at the moment, and what is at stake for 
the future, hoping some of you may be in a position to bring media 
attention to the defence of Galapagos. I urge anyone interested in the 
matter to seek further information and help raise public awareness in 
support of the Ecuadorian government's swift and strong action. I would be 
happy to answer questions at Ph. +64-3-525-8370.

The latest news, acquired mainly through phone calls (yes, the phones are 
working again) appears to be that the lobstermen called off the strike on 
all three islands for the moment, and are once again fishing. The State of 
Emergency the government was considering may have been shelved and so some 
semblance of normality seems to have returned over the weekend. But with 
the fishermen still triumphant from their totally unpunished vandalism and 
violence against personal safety of both conservation personnel and 
tourists, it is clear they will make use of these tactics again as soon as 
they see fit.
Yesterday a Committee of Santa Cruz Island Citizens was created, with 
representation from all of the local associations such as traders, 
professionals, conservationists, tourism, education, and others. In 
addition to forming this permanent committee, the group condemned the 
criminal actions of the past few days and called for firm action from the 

For your information, here is a succinct perspective on the economics of 
fishing in Galapagos. In 1999 a three-months (legal) experimental sea 
cucumber fishery involved 795 fishermen (in 222 boats), and netted the 
industry over US$3.4 million in exports to Asia (4,401,657 dried sea 
cucumbers totalling more than 122 tons). The 2000 sea cucumber fishery, 
reopened against scientific recommendations, was closed in July upon 
reaching the quota of 4.5 million sea cucumbers in two months, sold at a 
price ranging between US$ 0.97 and 0.51 each. Similar attacks, although 
less violent in nature than this time, were carried out in May by the sea 
cucumber fishermen demanding higher quotas, whose ranks had swollen to 
1.387 (in 417 boats) over the previous season. Even though the violence 
lost its impetus because lowered market values of the catch in Asia fell 
short of the US$9 million they had anticipated, these examples of financial 
windfalls, along with widespread accusations of politicians' active 
participation in the industry, are the underlying causes for the 
fishermen's current notion of power and invincibility, which seems to be 
bringing the government to its knees. Meanwhile, it is public knowledge 
that illegal sea cucumber fishing activities have continued unabated even 
during closed season. The current lobster fishery is carried out by many of 
the same players as the sea cucumber fishery.

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