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What is Happening in the Galapagos?

The Galapagos Islands are iconic for biologists and lovers of nature, home to a dizzying array of rare and endangered species that inspired Charles Darwin's seminal work on evolution. Today, the entire marine ecosystem surrounding the islands is at risk. The powerful commercial fishing lobbies that hold sway with the government are asking for license to longline fish throughout the Galapagos Marine Reserve, an internationally protected area since 1986. They say it will be controlled and 'ecologically sound', but in a country consistently rated one of the most corrupt in the world, there is reason for doubt! Longline fishing involves laying lines that are many miles long, strung with hundreds of thousands of baited hooks. In some cases up to 80 percent of the resulting catch consists of dolphins, sea turtles, sea birds, sea lions, and other marine animals. This is the same wildlife that brings to the Galapagos its most sustainable and supporting industry: tourism.

What is Longline fishing? (from IGTOA)

Longline fishing is a technique used to catch fish in open waters using single-stranded fishing lines with hundreds or thousands of baited hooks attached. The main line, which can extend for up to 60 miles, has secondary lines branching off. 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. 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."

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 The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) in the waters off California, Oregon and Washington.

Recently, more than 600 scientists from 54 countries have signed a petition urging the United Nations to impose a moratorium on longline fishing in the Pacific. Robert Ovetz, the author of the report, says, "Longlines are wiping out the lions and tigers of the ocean - sharks, billfish and tunas, as well as sea turtles. Catches are indiscriminate and therefore uncontrollable," he said. (See the link to the left. "Scientists demand an end to 'green' longline fishing" by David Harrison)

Significantly, an experimental pilot plan has already been carried out in the Galapagos for 96 days with 155 launchings of longlines of between 80 and 350 hooks each one. 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.

What can I do?

  • Write a letter to one of the key politicians that influence the policies of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
  • Support the organizations that are fighting to keep the Galapagos protected.
  • Spread the word to friends and family and inspire them to act to save this jewel of an archipelago!

Please use the links below to learn more about the situation today in the Galapagos

"Wildlife faces wipeout in the cradle of evolution."
The Independent, Daniel Howden and Michael McCarthy, 31 Mar 2005

"The State of the Galapagos"
IGTOA, January 2005

"SeaShepherd's Longline Campaign"
Sea Shepherd, 2005

"April, 1999 Report on South American Longline and Gillnet Fisheries"
STRP Programs and Campaigns, April, 1999