(Ithaca, NY) The introduction of a new form of fishing threatens to undermine the marine ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands, according to the nonprofit International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA).
"IGTOA is completely against longline fishing in any form in the protected waters of the Galapagos Islands," says David Blanton, IGTOA's Executive Director. "To us, it is inconceivable that this form of fishing is even being discussed for the Galapagos Marine Reserve, a UN World Heritage Site."
Longline fishing is a technique used to catch fish in open waters using single-stranded fishing lines with hundreds or thousands of baited hooked attached. It is used to catch such species as tuna and swordfish. The problem with longlining is by-catch, the unintended capture of birds, turtles, sharks and other marine wildlife, which are attracted to the bait.
The greatest danger in the Galapagos, according to IGTOA, is to sharks, which are already being hunted for their fins. Despite a ban on shark-finning in Ecuador (where the fins are hacked off and the rest of the shark is discarded, sometimes alive), the practice is widespread. According to experts, 80% of the sharks caught in Ecuador come from the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Given the enormous profits from shark fins, Blanton says, it is naive to imagine that sharks caught with longlines will simply be released unharmed.
IGTOA cites several scientific studies and reports showing the effects of longline fishing:
According to the US Humane Society, "Longlining results in the incidental capture and death ("bycatch") of many marine animals, including seabirds such as albatross and petrels, sea turtles, sharks and other fish, and seals. Sea birds are disappearing for a variety of reasons, including breeding site disturbance, disease and pollution, but the greatest threat to albatross and petrel species worldwide is longline fisheries. When the lines are set, sea birds are attracted to the bait, get caught on the hooks and drown. An estimated 400 albatross die this way every week."
A recent article in Science magazine reports that longlining kills 300,000 albatross each year. Nineteen of the 21 world species of albatross are in danger of extinction. One species of albatross breeds only in the Galapagos.
The Pew Institute for Ocean Science reports, "sharks presently caught on longlines are at or below the size at which they reproduce, making it unlikely that these populations will recover from their depleted state unless there is a reduction in fishing pressure."
According to a report by the American Sea Turtle Restoration Trust, "Many species found in the longline 'bycatch' have been seriously depleted and some pushed towards extinction."
Longlining has been banned by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) in the waters off California, Oregon and Washington.
Recently, more than 600 scientists from 54 countries signed a petition urging the United Nations to a moratorium on longline fishing in the Pacific.
An experimental pilot plan has already been carried out in the Galapagos for 96 days. 845 units of intended fish prey were captured, along with 568 unintended fish, including 482 sharks, 60 rays and 20 turtles. These results speak for themselves.
Despite international opposition, Ecuador's Minister of Environment helped the fishing sector to draft a proposal supporting it. By doing so, if effectively by-passed the participatory decision process specified in the Special Law for Galapagos.
As reported earlier by IGTOA, the Galapagos National Park and Marine Reserve are under threat from a variety of interests that threaten the future of the World Heritage Site.
The Galapagos Islands, which Charles Darwin visited on a voyage as a young man, were declared a World Heritage Suite in 1978. The Marine Reserve was added in 2001. The islands are home to plants and animals found nowhere else on earth, including giant tortoises, from which the islands get their name. They lie about 600 miles off the Ecuadorian coast in the Pacific Ocean. Tourism contributes $150 million to the Ecuadorian economy. Fishing in the Galapagos accounts for roughly $6 million.
IGTOA is a nonprofit association of travel companies, conservation organizations and other groups that are dedicated to the complete and lasting protection of the Galapagos Islands and the surrounding Marine Reserve. It has thirty-seven members worldwide in the US, Canada, UK, France and Ecuador.
Its mission is to preserve the Galapagos Islands as a unique and priceless world heritage that will provide enjoyment, education, adventure and inspiration to present and future generations of travelers. Membership is open to commercial and nonprofit organizations. Individuals can sign up to receive more information on the Galapagos from IGTOA through newsletters and alerts.
LONGLINING CONTRAVENES INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENT BY ECUADOR
IGTOA has learned that longlining, in fact, contravenes an international agreement signed by Ecuador for the conservation of sea birds, especially albatross and petrels. The site for this agreement is:
Make your voice heard!!
Contact the following:
Send a fax, email, or make a call. Tell them you oppose longline fishing in the Galapagos
Ministro de Ambiente del Ecuador
Tel. 593 2 256-3462
Fax 593 2 250-0041
Lucio Gutierrez Presidente Constitucional de la Republica del Ecuador
Tel. 593 2 258-0833
Fax 593 2 258-0748
Ministra de Turismo
Tel. 593 2 222-8304
Fax 593 2 222-9330
Colsul General of Ecuador
Gustavo Palacio Urrutia
Tel. 415 982 1819
Fax 415 982 1833
Sr. Raul Gangotena
Ambassador of Ecuador to the United States
Fax 202-667-3482 or
Mr. Francesco Bandarin
Director, World Heritage Centre, UNESCO, Paris, France
Tel. +33 (0)1-45-68-17-88
Fax +33 (0)1-45-68-55-70
Permanent Delegation of Ecuador to UNESCO, Paris, France
Fax 5932 670866
El Universo (Guayaquil)
Reben Dario Buitron
Fax 593 4 249 2925
Fax 593 4 220 0291