From the late 1920s, tuna fishing became a feature in the waters surrounding the Galapagos Islands, as San Diego-based fishermen shifted their attention to Galapagos, 3,100 miles away, because of restrictions on fishing in Mexican waters and declines in the abundance of Albacore in California waters. Until 1937, as much as 70% of the tuna arriving in California may have come from waters near the Galapagos Islands, with the main species being Yellow-fin, Big Eye, and Skipjack. The Second World War intervened to reduce fishing, but the boats returned after the war and took an estimated 100,000 tons of tuna in 1947 and 1948, including fish from the Galapagos waters. In the 1950s, Galapagos researchers remarked on the effects of tuna fishing, reporting that tuna fishermen used to shoot sea lions because of their negative effect on live bait fishing.
More efficient purse seine ships, linked to corporate canneries in California, began to take over fishing in the 1950s. Also, in 1950 Ecuador pressed a claim for 200-miles of territorial waters. Ecuador began to restrict tuna fishing in its waters, including waters around Galapagos. Nevertheless, Californian and Japanese vessels continued to fish: up to 220 boats fished around the Cocos and Galapagos Islands during the 1960s. In 1963, Ecuador began seizing US fishing vessels within the 200 mile limit and levying fines on the vessels. This conflict continued for more than a decade, during which time the US government reimbursed boat owners for fines and lost revenues in order to avoid recognizing the 200 mile-limit. In the early 1970s, US tuna fishermen began buying Ecuadorian licenses.
Long liners arrived in Galapagos waters in 1961. By 1995, 25 Japanese-registered long liners with association agreements worked in Ecuadorian waters. These ships lay out 30 miles of line with thousands of baited hooks to catch Big Eye, Yellow-fin Tuna, and sharks, along with billfish such as Swordfish, Blue Marlin, Black Marlin, Striped Marlin, and Sailfish. Until 1996, over 30% of the Japanese catch came from Galapagos and about 30% of this, by weight, was Blue and Thresher Sharks. By 2002, the tuna fleets in the eastern Pacific were dominated by Mexican and Ecuadorian flag vessels, followed by those flying Venezuelan, US, Spanish, and Panamanian flags. Major tuna fishing continued until the passage of the Special Law in 1998, which banned commercial fishing from the Galapagos Marine Reserve around the islands.
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