Archive (2018): The longline threat returns to Galapagos

Archive (2018): The longline threat returns to Galapagos

By Isabela Ponce
February 26, 2018

The longline does not distinguish what it catches so many protected species are caught on their hooks. Illustration by Paula de la Cruz

Read the original coverage by Isabela Ponce for GK City at

The ‘long line’, a fishing gear banned in the most famous archipelago in the world in 2005, has not entirely disappeared. A new study threatens the return of this line with hooks that dive up to 50 meters and catch everything that passes in front of them, including several protected species.

Jaime Navas was guiding some tourists around the Plaza Sur islands, Galapagos, when they told him that near where they were there was a wounded baby sea lion. It was Carnival Sunday 2018. Along with a colleague, he walked to the rocks where the animal was. The baby had a hook between its chin and its mouth, a nylon thread hung from the hook.

Navas held the wet back of the wolf with one arm, with his other hand he held his mouth and teeth while his partner took out the hook with pliers.

It was longline, says Jaime, a certified guide for 29 years, you haven’t seen that type of hook for a long time around here.

Wounded baby sea lion found in South Plaza Island. Photograph by Duncan Divine

The longline is an unknown object outside the fishing world. It is an art – a system – of fishing made of a floating main line – which can measure from two to tens of kilometers – from which other secondary and vertical lines are born at the ends of which dozens of circular hooks are placed, which makes it difficult to remove it from animals. “It is not like others that sometimes the weight of the fish manages to stretch the hook. This is almost impossible to cut, ”says Navas.

Fishermen prefer longline because it means less effort over other fishing gear and because it is more profitable. It is designed for commercial fishing (billfish, swordfish, tuna) but even species that are not attracted to bait, such as manta rays (which eat zooplankton), get hooked. Due to its size and inability to distinguish between species, the level of bycatch (that is, what it catches by accident) of the longline is high: the first time it was used in Galapagos, in 1997, more than half of the fishing It was from different species of sharks, most of them included in the list of threatened species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In 2005 longline was banned in the Galapagos. The resolution of the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park – the state institution that manages the National Park and the Marine Reserve – qualified it as “incompatible in the management of marine protected areas in the world, due to the risks of negative impacts on key species, and therefore on the ecosystem as a whole ”, too many protected species were hooked on their hooks.

But in May 2017, the longline returned to the water in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. A group of Galapagos fishermen fished with him —in addition, legally: for ten days, 8 boats — accompanied by observers from the National Fisheries Institute (INP) and the Galapagos National Park— cast the lines with hooks as part of an INP study.

The purpose of the research was to see how viable it was to reintroduce fishing gear on the islands where Darwin understood how nature worked when he discovered a finch. The results are detailed in the report of the first phase of the study, published in June 2017. After using five fishing gears, the bycatch – that is, unintentionally – accounted for 3 blacktip sharks, 1 hammerhead shark, 1 yellowtail shark, 1 tiger shark, 1 blue shark and 1 manta. All protected species.

The word longline, however, is not in the title, nor the body, nor in the conclusions, nor anywhere, of the report. And it is not because longline is a bad word. So in the report they have done what technocrats do with profanity: replace it with a euphemism.

The euphemism for longline is modified ocean draw. It sounds sophisticated but there is no difference between one and the other. The vulgar longline and the bombastic modified oceanic tie are, according to the National Fisheries Institute itself, the same thing: “the assembly and rigging of the fishing gear called ‘Modified Oceanic Tie’ has the same characteristics of a medium water longline according to specifications FAO techniques, ”says a report from the agency.

In no other Spanish-speaking country that has a fishery — Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, Spain, to name a few — is the elaborate term used. In all of them it is called by name – longline

The first time a technical report used the modified oceanic term was six years ago, in a study by the Charles Darwin Foundation. The reasons for this replacement are not clear but Santiago Bucaram, an economist specialized in natural resources, says that the term was born with a somewhat tricky logic: the longline is a mesh formed by a set of lines of hooks and the tie is a line of hooks.

“The fishermen realized that, at the end of the day, the longline is a set of ties. What they did was take several ties, they connected them and said:

“This is not longline, they are several ties that we connect in the water.”

As it had changes, they called it a modified oceanic draw. “It is like saying, this is not a necklace, but a group of nuggets linked by a thread, which we have hung around our necks”

Contradictory as it may sound, testing prohibited gear in one of the world’s most important protected areas is allowed. The Special Regulation for fishing activity in the Galapagos marine reserve, promulgated in December 2008 by the then Minister of the Environment, Marcela Aguiñaga, says in Article 59 that “scientific research on fishing gear will be carried out permanently and mandatory, even those that are prohibited, taking into account the variation that they could undergo due to technological progress… ”.

And the order has been fulfilled: since that date, two studies have analyzed whether it is possible to use the longline again: in 2012 and 2017. One of them was the Pilot Plan for Deep Sea Fishing. Conducted by the Galapagos National Park between November 2012 and December 2013, it concluded that the modified oceanic tie “registered a global rate of bycatch of 11.25% of the total catch.” 603 animals, including 366 sharks (of different species) and 86 manta rays, all vulnerable species, at risk or threatened globally and part of the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature”

That result was 1.25 points above the limit that bycatch should have. The 10% cap on bycatch was agreed by the Ministry of the Environment, the Galapagos fishing sector and the National Park. Despite the conclusions of the report —as Santiago Bucaram wrote in an opinion column in 2014—, “in that same document, it was contradictorily recommended that the pilot be extended for another year.”

But in Ecuador we are going for the fifth attempt to see if all the evidence of the longline’s destructive force has subsided. Yes, as the 2008 regulation says, technology has improved so much that it is no longer so indiscriminately lethal. In 2014, columnist Paula Tagle wrote that “it has already been proven worldwide that with longline up to 60% of bycatch can be achieved, that is, of species other than the desired one, including from sea turtles to albatrosses. Galapagos ”.

But it still doesn’t seem like everyone involved is convinced. Not even when there are injured baby sea lions. When they are small, Jaime Navas explains, wolves do not move away from their colony, so it is not clear how that one got hooked. “Possibly an adult wolf brought a fish with the hook in its mouth to the colony and after eating it, the young wolves began to play with the hook line and thus got hurt.”

There is more evidence that is not in a technical report. The sea lion that Navas rescued in the Plaza Sur islands, or the young sea lion that the guide Carolina Larrea saw in Punta Espinoza, Fernandina Island, in August 2017 with a longline hook in its mouth. “The park has tried to protect the species from this, but there is great pressure from the fishing sector. The permit this time is hidden under the figure of monitoring ”, says Sofía Darquea, the president of the Association of naturalist guides of the Galapagos National Park. It also says that most of the bycatch is for animals that have not reached adulthood, usually sharks, turtles and small rays.

There is more evidence that is not in a technical report. The wolf that Navas rescued in the Plaza Sur islands, or the young wolf that the guide Carolina Larrea saw in Punta Espinoza, Fernandina Island, in August 2017 with a longline hook in its mouth. “The park has tried to protect the species from this, but there is great pressure from the fishing sector. The permit this time is hidden under the figure of monitoring ”, says Sofía Darquea, the president of the Association of naturalist guides of the Galapagos National Park. It also says that most of the bycatch is for animals that have not reached adulthood, usually sharks, turtles and small rays.

Wounded sea lion found in Punta Espinoza, Fernandina Island. Photograph by Carolina Larrea.

The 2017 study has a tortuous history, of which it seems that no one wants to take charge, or give clear explanations. In August 2016, the Galápagos Government Council (the highest administrative body of the archipelago) authorized the research proposed by an ‘inter-institutional technical commission’ made up of the National Institute of Fisheries (INP), the then Ministry of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries (Magap), the Galápagos artisanal fishermen sector (SPAG), and the Galapagos National Park (PNG).

An adviser to the Governing Council said that the institution was not going to pronounce on the issue because it was not its competence and that the Galapagos National Park did not have to ask for permission but simply notify the Council that it would do the study. But in its antecedents, the study says that the plenary session of the Council resolved “to authorize the carrying out of the scientific research project …”.

The same advisor said that the Governing Council does not have a fisheries advisor or expert on the subject. That the National Fisheries Institute (INP) had the exclusive competence to make the decision on whether to carry out the study. The director of the INP, Pilar Solís, did not want to answer specific questions about the study because, as she said, “we need the endorsement of everyone in the commission” to be able to answer them. In addition, he excused himself saying that “the person in charge of this project is on vacation.”

What Solís did confirm is that the last time there was a last test of the longline as part of another phase of the study, it was in December 2017. That could be the explanation for why a sea lion was injured on February 11 of the year next: he had been with the hook for two months. Or there are already fishermen using the fishing gear that, outside the study, is still prohibited.

The director of the National Park, Walter Bustos, says that the hook in the wolf’s mouth could be from a longline from the industrial fleet that fishes outside the marine reserve. “Then I could not make such a direct reference that the wolf’s hook is for the project.”

On why to carry out a fifth study on longlines, despite the fact that the previous four yielded similar results, Bustos said that each project has been worked with different research methods and the exercises are not comparable with each other. “The problem is that for the fishing sector the previous studies did not have legitimacy, not so much because of the technical and scientific information but because perhaps they were not done in a participatory way, and the results were not discussed and analyzed in depth.

To say of them there were always mistakes, and I can say that in the last study there were methodological errors that were corrected in this new research ”. The study you refer to is the 2012-2013 one. One of the errors, according to Bustos, was that the sum of bycatch not only considered protected species, but also non-target (non-commercial) species that are not protected.

The Galapaguenean fisherman Alberto Andrade also points out this error as a fundamental reason for a new study. According to Andrade, when they asked the Park to review the results, they were not listened to. Then they went to the Governing Council. “The same INP and Magap technicians said that these data were misrepresented because it is necessary to know how to differentiate between the incidental fishing of protected species released alive and released dead.” The fishermen, Andrade says, were going to stop. The conflict was resolved with a meeting between the fishermen and the Governing Council, which promised what the fishermen wanted to hear: another study.

Biologist Xavier Romero says the longline is being used under the guise of research. “It is similar to what Japan does with whaling, they say ‘I’m not killing, I’m investigating.’ Here is an exact analogy because in our internal policies we have these euphemisms ”.

Although Andrade and Bustos point out the error in the way in which bycatch was calculated in the 2012-2013 study, their conclusions are totally opposite. “If the technical data used at the global target fishing level had been applied, that 11.25% would have been 9% and they would have opened the longline in 2015,” says Andrade. But the director of the National Park says that this logic will no longer apply to the 2017 study. “We have been very clear in this regard, the research has to give us the certainty that protected species will not fall. What we are looking for is a fishing gear that gives zero percent bycatch of protected species. If it is not achieved, it will not be approved. But if that is approved, it would demand to change the Law of Galapagos ”.

Santiago Bucaram says that it is impossible for a longline to have zero percent bycatch. “But even if that happened and the study gave good results, the problem would be to implement the art because now everything is fantastic in a controlled research phase but what will happen when the fishery opens? How do you guarantee that the fishermen will comply with all the protocols? I doubt that they will, historically fishermen have not complied with the rules and fisheries have been extremely conflictive.

Bustos says that the Park’s relationship with fishermen has improved over the years, that they are strict with sanctions, and insists that the longline will not be reintroduced unless it is shown that it is not harmful to protected species.

But the reality could be even worse. Andrade tells me on the phone that the reintroduction of the longline is not a possibility, and before explaining he asks me if I am sitting, so that I will not fall on my back when he tells me

“The longline in the Galapagos marine reserve has been used since the 90s. We are 2018 and it is still used. It will continue to be used because it has been shown to be an efficient gear for deep-sea fishing ”.

Where has it been shown? I ask him – In the capture. The fisherman knows, the National Park knows it. What happens is that the longline is demonized. It is an in-house problem. It is not that they want to introduce it again, the longline has always been used and the whole world knows that.

Read the original coverage by Isabela Ponce for GK City at

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