National Chamber of Fisheries: “Importance of the insular maritime territory for tuna fishing in Ecuador”

Importance of the insular maritime territory for tuna fishing in Ecuador

Published by CNP BR (National Chamber of Fisheries)
March 10, 2020
By: Jimmy Anastacio Solis [a] & Gabriela Ponce Villao [b]

Around 3.3 million tonnes of tuna are caught in the Pacific Ocean (70% of the world’s tuna catch), of which 2.5 million tonnes are fished in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, under the regulation of the Fisheries Commission. of the Western and Central Pacific (WCPFC) and the other 700 thousand tons in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO), under the administration of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) [1].

The fishing areas of the Western and Central Pacific West, located on the Asian side of the continent, are characterized by being made up of a large and numerous complex of island ecosystems that, by their nature, generate ideal conditions for reproduction and provision of food to populations. of fish, in addition to the transshipment facilities and logistics services around the island complex itself in the Western Pacific, which generates greater cost efficiency for the operation, which among others explains the ichthyological wealth of this region. (Figure 1)

Figure 1. Tuna catches in the Pacific Ocean (2008-2017)

On the EPO side, Ecuador as a coastal country is the benchmark in tuna fishing, with around 45% of annual catches, a fishery regulated by the IATTC, a supranational entity of which 21 countries are part, including Ecuador whose participation It refers to the year 1963.

Unlike the Asian region of the Pacific Ocean, the Eastern Pacific lacks the wide trophic richness of the island systems of Asia, with the exception of cases such as the Galapagos Islands belonging to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Ecuador, for which the fishing areas are more distant.

Being the third non-oil export product of Ecuador, it is important to measure the size of the operation of the national tuna fleet, for this purpose the quantum GIS geographic information system (QGIS) was used to analyze the data set of the records of catch by Ecuadorian purse seine vessels in the tuna fishery in the Eastern Pacific Ocean region under the administration of the IATTC [2]. Figure 2 illustrates the data processing, evidencing the distribution of Ecuadorian tuna catches in 2018 by fishing zones within a 1 ° x1 ° latitude / longitude range.

Figure 2. Distribution of tuna catches of the Ecuadorian purse seine fleet, year 2018. Prepared based on CIAT data from 2018

As can be seen in figure 2, the operation of the tuna fleet involves trips in a wide fishing area, the duration of which varies between 30, 60 and even more than 90 days, depending on the autonomy of navigation of the boats, which it is directly related to its size. Through vector geoprocessing tools in QGIS, the capture points located in four different maritime zones were delimited and segmented: 1) continental and insular EEZ of Ecuador, 2) Ecuador insular EEZ, 3) International waters and third countries. The geospatial analysis carried out showed the importance of the national maritime territory for tuna fishing:

Figure 3. Tuna catches of the Ecuadorian fleet by zones (2014-2018)
Prepared based on CIAT data

Figures 2 and 3 also allow us to show the importance of the insular maritime territory of Ecuador for tuna fishing. The richness of the Galapagos island ecosystem, as mentioned above, translates into food availability and breeding conditions for highly migratory species such as tuna.

In 2018, within the exclusive EEZ of Ecuador, the Ecuadorian fleet caught around 25% of the tuna supplied to the national industry, of which 96% were fished in the EEZ corresponding to the insular maritime territory (around 68 thousand t).

The figures presented are relevant in the context of internal and external interests to expand the Galapagos Marine Reserve (RMG) from 40 to 80 nautical miles, in the process of reforms to the Law of Special Regime for the Conservation and Sustainable Development of the Galápagos province that is processed in the National Assembly. It is evident that the reduction of the fishing zones within the EEZ of Ecuador will affect the operation of the tuna fleet, which sustains the third item of the non-oil economy of Ecuador.

In a geospatial analysis of Ecuador’s catches in 2018, it was determined that the volume of catches that could be compromised by an eventual expansion of the reserve from 40 to 80 miles is equivalent to 41 thousand tons or its equivalent to 60% of the catches. of tuna from Ecuador in the EEZ corresponding to the island territory, considering that important fishing grounds towards the west and southwest of the archipelago and its reserve would be compromised.

In terms of competitiveness, the reduction of fishing areas would particularly affect the productivity of vessels whose fishing trips average 30 days for reasons of autonomy (equivalent to around 46% of the national fleet, with a fishing capacity of less than 400 tons) and therefore the supply of raw materials with origin to enter the European Union market free of tariffs.

The 40 miles and 133 thousand km2 that comprise the GMR represent an important area for the protection of the archipelago’s biodiversity, since its constitution in 1998. Fishing activities within the GMR are only authorized for artisanal fishing in Galapagos. , a sector that is under the control of the Galapagos authorities, while industrial fishing activity within the GMR is prohibited, being a very serious fishing offense and in the case of the capture of protected or endangered species, it is typified as a crime by environmental regulations.

At the national and international level, alarms have been raised regarding the incursion of Asian fleets, within the EEZs of the coastal countries of the South American continent, such as the case of the Chinese cargo ship Yuan Yu Leng 999, which was found with more than 6 620 sharks , many included in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), within the marine reserve of the Galapagos Islands in 2017 [3].

It is evident that one of the main aspects to be resolved in Ecuador and the region is to improve the monitoring, control and surveillance capacity of the ZEEs that allows guaranteeing the sovereignty of the national maritime territory and the biodiversity that inhabits it.

As stated by the National Chamber of Fisheries in a press release on December 19, 2019, “the solution is not to increase the GMR and annihilate the fishing activity of Ecuador, specifically tuna, one of the pillars of the economy; The solution is to enforce the 40 miles with a solid legal base with a dissuasive sanctioning system, such as the one discussed in the new Fisheries Law that is processed in the National Assembly, with strong control institutions, with modern technological tools today nowadays existing in the world, with qualified professionals and a National Navy endowed with a sufficient budget, adequate control and logistics tools. If at present, even with the efforts being made, major deficiencies are evident in the technical and economic aspects for an adequate control and efficient management capacity, a new expansion will only be a utopian and propagandistic declaration that will only end up impacting a key productive sector for the national economy. ” [4]

A high-level technical discussion, accompanied by a participatory process that involves all stakeholders, is necessary prior to taking action against the increase in the GMR; considering the importance of the tuna operation, being a fundamental pillar in the generation of foreign exchange and employment for the Ecuadorian economy.

[1] WCPFC – Tuna Fishery Yearbook – Annual Catches Estimates. Access link:

[2] CIAT – Downloadable public domain data files. Access link:

[3] Press release DW. (August 28, 2017). DW. Retrieved from [4] CNP Press Bulletin (19 December 2019): Inconsultation Proposal for the Expansion of the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Access link:

[a] National Chamber of Fisheries.
[b] National Chamber of Fisheries.

Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021


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