Confronting Illegal Fishing in Sala y Gomez - Oceana USA
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March 3, 2011

Confronting Illegal Fishing in Sala y Gomez

Oceana and National Geographic are currently aboard a Chilean naval ship, the Comandante Toro, on a scientific expedition in the waters of the newly created marine park around Sala y Gomez island (FYI, an alternate spelling is Salas y Gomez). Author Alex Muñoz Wilson is the Executive Director of Oceana Chile. This blog dispatch was originally posted at National Geographic.

We woke up this morning to a startling sight: Overnight, a small commercial fishing boat from Easter Island entered the protected waters of the marine park and dropped its lines within site of the Comandante Toro.

The fishing boat’s captain was either brazen (why make an illegal fishing foray in plain sight of a large naval patrol ship?) or unaware of the existence of the new park (which would also be surprising, given the substantial publicity in Chile–particularly on Easter Island–surrounding the park’s creation).

The Navy captain dispatched a team in one of the Toro’s fast boats to interdict the fishing vessel, inspect it, and put a stop to the illegal fishing. According to the captain’s report, this was a small commercial fishing boat with tuna in the boat’s hold.

The fishing boat’s owner said he was aware of the existence of the marine park, and that he was still planning to fish in this area. The navy showed him maps which made it clear that he was harvesting marine life inside the park in a no-take zone where all commercial fishing is banned.

This was the first enforcement action inside the new marine park.

We’re worried that heavily subsidized foreign fleets are coming here often to catch the prize fish in this area, specifically tuna. There are reports of large vessels from several different countries fishing for tuna here in recent years. It’s too expensive for the Chilean industry to come from the mainland especially when they have all kinds of marine resources available closer to home along Chile’s long coastline.

The Rapa Nui support the environmental protection here at Salas y Gómez. They have seen the decline of their own fisheries as a result of the international industrial fleets operating in this area.

During hearings over the park’s creation, a Rapa Nui representative testified before the fishing committee of the Chilean senate. He said that he and others on Easter Island/Rapa Nui supported the idea of protecting the waters within 200 miles of Salas y Gómez, just leaving the crescent within 100 miles of Rapa Nui for the local fishermen. The Rapa Nui people practice small-scale fishing around Easter Island, leaving no conflict between the existence of the park and local fishing activity. The park could actually help sustain healthy fish stocks which would benefit the Rapa Nui fishing industry.

The incident today involved a small boat, but it’s evidence of the need to have better enforcement in general. It’s my understanding that currently, the Chilean Navy makes the long voyage to Salas y Gómez two or three times a year. The scientific investigation being carried out here now by National Geographic and Oceana is taking place aboard a patrol vessel that’s assigned to another area. This ship’s presence at Easter Island and Salas y Gómez is a special event. Chile definitely needs to allocate more resources to the Chilean Navy so that it can be more present at Easter Island and Salas y Gómez.

We have been successful in creating this big marine park. Now the challenge will be enforcing the law. The enforcement action that took place this morning was a warning. This time, it was just a small boat that was found fishing in this area. In the future it may be bigger vessels that will deplete the tuna, lobster, shark and other valuable marine resources found here. We need to implement sound protection now if we don’t want Salas y Gómez to suffer more of the consequences of irresponsible fishing.