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Poaching: Marine and Terrestrial Species

Despite protection laws in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, sharks are still illegally targeted for their fins. (Photo by Brett Mitchell)

Poaching in the Galapagos Marine Reserve and Highlands Areas

The marine and terrestrial areas of the Galapagos National Park cover an area of 133,000 square kilometers (about the size of the state of Louisiana) making it very difficult for the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) and other authorities to monitor all human activity. Presently, poachers target a number of species in the Marine Reserve. There is also occasional evidence of tortoise poaching in the highland areas of the Park’s terrestrial reserves.

Illegal fisheries

Much of the illegal fishing that takes place in the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) is done via longlining targeting sharks, tuna, and marlin. Longlining, a practice banned in the GMR, refers to the use of long monofilament fishing lines that can extend for miles, which have additional secondary lines and baited hooks extending down about 15 to 50 feet at regular intervals. In addition to catching target species, longlines often kill albatrosses—that see the baited hooks from the air and dive to eat the bait—as well as sea turtles, whales, and dolphins.

Sharks are a protected species in the GMR, but the high value of their fins, cartilage, teeth, and liver oil in Asian markets draws local, national, and international fishermen to their illegal harvest.  Reyes and Murillo (2007) estimated, based on the number of confiscated fins during the period, that at least 5,000 coastal pelagic sharks were killed in the GMR between 1997 and 2007. More than half of these fins were confiscated at sea, 19% at landing sites, and 14% at airports and in cargo ships.

Sea cucumbers, another Asian delicacy, are also targeted by poachers, although the drastic decline in their numbers due to overfishing has lessened illegal activity in this area. Out of the legal season, sea cucumbers are harvested in remote parts of the archipelago and are then sold to intermediaries from mainland Ecuador.

Efforts to patrol the Marine Reserve and prosecute poachers

The Galapagos National Park is responsible for the administration and management of the Galapagos Marine Reserve and coordinates patrolling activities within 40 nautical miles of the islands. The Ecuadoran Navy and other institutions assist in these activities. As of 2007, the Park’s Marine Control and Surveillance Unit had three ocean-going vessels for long range operations, two medium-range vessels and a number of smaller speed boats, manned by a total of about 50 crew members (30 fewer than needed).  An air unit and a new Satellite Vessel Monitoring System (SVMS) are now being used to track the position and speed of all large vessels traveling within the reserve. This technology has significantly increased the number of illegal fishing vessels captured in the GMR. The Park has also strengthened its legal team in order to better prosecute those found poaching in the GMR.

For more information about Galapagos fisheries and poaching in the GMR, see:

  • Galapagos Report 2006-2007 (Murillo et. al, Hern et. Al, Reyes et. al)  

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