The Use of the Pelagic Longline or Spinel (Long Line) in the Galapagos Islands

Oceans, Coasts and Islands Working Group (OCeI)
Coordinator: Arturo Izurieta Valery, PhD
With contributions from Sofia M. Green I, BSc
April 2021

Since the 1980s, pelagic (oceanic) longline began to be used heavily worldwide. It is a fishing mechanism that floats and is used to fish for top-water species (such as tuna, swordfish, dorado and billfish), which are commercially desirable. This technique allows the possibility that fishermen can get closer to the species and increase fishing quantities by altering elements such as fishing area, depth, season or time of day, bait, line depth, size and style of hook (Hoey, 1996).

According to Crowder and Myers (2002), the seas support more than 5 million hooks in more than 100,000 miles of longline around the world every day. The pelagic longline is not selective in terms of the species caught and moves according to the marine currents where the longlines are employed. Most of the fish not being targeted but that are caught [using this technique] die, and if they are alive and returned to the sea, the probability of their survival is low. This technique captures many endangered species such as turtles, albatrosses and sharks, including coastal sharks (Crowder and Myers, 2002).

From 1997 to 2003, several experiments have been carried out with the use of the longline in the Galapagos Marine Reserve (RMG), which recorded bycatch incidence of 35-78%; according to the studies conducted, the use of the modified longline was prohibited. One of these exploratory studies carried out by the National Fisheries Institute (INP) in 2001 called the technique “mid-water longline” (INP, 2001). 

In 2003, the study known as the “Pilot Plan for Deep Sea Fishing” was carried out in order to evaluate the level of incidental fishing when using the mid-water longline. This study was decisive in demonstrating that a high number of non-target species [were caught], with a high incidence of capture of several species of sharks, manta rays, sea turtles and other non-target species (Murillo et al., 2004).

After these studies, the use of this gear was prohibited until 2006, the year in which the artisanal fishing sector proposed a study of deeper water longlines; this further study was finalized in 2011 when the Participatory Management Board of the RMG decided to approve its execution with the goal of producing research which would provide recommendations for the technique’s use in a sustainable manner. This study imposed a maximum percentage of 10% of bycatch if the use of the midwater longline in the GMR was to be considered sustainable. This percentage reached 11.25%, so the use of said technique was prohibited (DPNG, 2014; Ortega, 2015). Discrepancies in the calculation of these bycatch values ​​were presented by the Galápagos Artisanal Fisheries Production Cooperative (COPROPAG), who on their own reported a value of 8.93% (COPROPAG, 2014). Once again, the use of this technique was prohibited.

As a consequence of the interrupted participatory zoning process of the RMG that began in 2014 – the result of the unilateral creation by the Presidency of the Republic and the Ministry of the Environment of the Marine Sanctuary area – the artisanal fishing sector of Galapagos again requested an additional study called “Evaluation of experimental fishing gear for the sustainable capture of large pelagic fish in the GMR.”

The GNP granted the respective research permit to the National Fisheries Institute (today IPIAP), which was to be carried out in two phases and aimed to test two experimental fishing gears: Unified Ocean Draw or Horizontal Spinel; and Oceanic Depth / Vertical Spinel Tie (DPNG, CGREG, IPIAP, Sector Pesquero Artesanal, 2018).

Currently, there is a prohibition on the use of long-line or spinel fishing gear in the RMG as per Official Registry 009, 2005 of the Institutional Management Authority (AIM), which was ratified in the Special Regulation of Fishing Activity (RO 483, 2008) in its Twenty-First General Provision (IPIAP, 2020) at that time. However, its use can only take place if it is the subject of research. The norm prohibits the use [of this technique] and its use is authorized only if the prohibited gear [and technique] is the subject of [official] research investigation (Article 59 Fishing Regulation in the RMG).

In 2016, the study “Evaluation of experimental fishing gear for the sustainable capture of large pelagic fish in the GMR” was authorized by the INP (today IPIAP) and completed its first phase; the Phase 1 report was finalized and officially communicated by the INP in June 2018. For various reasons, the socialization of Phase 1 did not occur until July 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, as part of a request from the artisanal fishing sector of Galapagos and social groups in response to the [economic] effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With this request, it was expected that the IPIAP (formerly INP) would “approve” the completion of Phase 1, despite questioning the results (for example: due to a decrease of more than 60% of the methodologically proposed sets; of the proposed vessels; of the absence of fishing observers in the trips which were replaced by the fishermen themselves), the execution of Phase 2 was encouraged before the IPIAP. IPIAP decided not to start with the Phase 2 investigation for a year in order to give it time to secure funding and ensure that proposed and required needs could be met.

In view of the impossibility of IPIAP to carry out Phase 2 – in which artisanal fishermen, fishing observers, among others, had to participate – and with the justification that the fishing sector was economically limited due to COVID-19, the fishing sector proposed the creation of a Fisheries Economic Reactivation Plan using the Modified / Unified Longline even though the investigation of the technique had not been completed.

(At this point, Phase 1 had been completed, though the results and methodology were contests, and the required Phase 2 had been postponed). The Authorities (Government Council of Galapagos, Directorate of the Galapagos National Park (DPNG), Public Institute for Aquaculture and Fisheries Research (IPIAP) pledged to be part of the implementation of said Reactivation Plan.

The official proposal for this plan resembles, in part, what was originally proposed in Phase 2, but with some variations – namely, in terms of the number of boats, fishermen, number of hooks (increased from 50 to 100), agreements, participants and rules for compliance. This document was prepared by the GNPD. 

Although CEDENMA officially requested the research findings from DPNG through legal channels, the DPNG took a long time to be deliver the documentation and it lacks clarity and showed many weaknesses (such as reports, memory aids and agreements without a responsibility signature and other legal shortcomings). 

The fact that the authority of the Galapagos National Park is a proponent of both the research phases of the use of said technique and also a proponent of the Fisheries Economic Reactivation Plan is noteworthy. It is worth considering if the authorizing and executing entity be both the judge and the party and if this is a fair or sound methodology. Moreover, it is not clear if there is an illegality or a breach of said research investigation or reactivation plan owing to this possible conflict of interest.

CEDENMA strongly questions the viability of implementing the use of an technique which has demonstrated damage to marine life, including many species protected by International Conventions of which Ecuador is a signatory such as: the Biodiversity Convention, Migratory Species Agreement, World Heritage Convention, and also the Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador. Furthermore, CEDENMA questions whether the scope Fisheries Economic Recovery Plan due to the economic impacts of COVID-19 justifies the use of the technique owing to unclear technical and legal justifications and procedures that point to a breach of current regulations.

Scientifically it has been shown on several occasions that the modifications studied in the oceanic longline continue to capture endangered and / or protected species in unacceptable quantities (Cerutti-Pereyra et al 2020). To further deepen the problem, species such as sea lions, pelicans, turtles, sharks, rays have been documented, whether dead or alive, with hooks and remains of fishing line, on land and in diving sites in the National Park and Marine Reserve Galapagos in areas related to ecotourism.

Studies by the Charles Darwin Foundation and other organizations such as WWF and Conservation International agree that the artisanal fishing sector of Galapagos requires permanent attention and that the State must strategically quantify and enumerate the value to current fisheries, as well as continue work on certifications and seal of origin that promote fishing with gears that are less harmful to nature. Markets for the purchase of species such as yellowfin tuna, swordfish or billfish have been identified if the species are captured under acceptable and recognized environmental conditions.

CEDENMA considers that the artisanal fisheries of Galapagos is a sector take has continued haphazardly, without consistency or constancy in enforcement by the State. The RMG is a World Natural Heritage and the extractive fishing activity deserves special attention from the Authorities and everyone; great care is needed in order to maintain the integrity of the unique and universal values ​​which Ecuador has committed to its care, both for itself and worldwide.


Cerutti-Pereyra, F., Moity, N., Dureuil, M., Ramírez-González, J., Reyes, H., Budd, K., Marín Jarrín, J., & Salinas-de-León, P. ( 2020). Artisanal longline fishing the Galapagos Islands –effects on vulnerable megafauna in a UNESCO World Heritage site. Ocean & Coastal Management, 183, 104995.

COPROPAG (2014). Analysis of the technical report on deep-sea fishing with fishing gear “Modified Oceanic Tie” in the Galapagos Marine Reserve issued by the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park and on the characterization of fishing gear with lines and hooks for deep-sea fishing in the Galapagos Marine Reserve: 39 pp.

Crowder L & R Myers 2002. A Comprehensive Study of the ecological Impacts of the Woldwide Pelagic Longline Industry. First Annual Report to the Pew Charitable Trusts. 2001. Philadelphia, PA. 146 pp.

Directorate of the Galapagos National Park. (2014). Deep Sea Fishing Pilot Plan with “Modified Oceanic Tie” fishing gear in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Commission

Interinstitutional Technician made up of: Harry Reyes, Jorge Ramírez, Pelayo Salinas, Gonzalo Banda, William Tite, Gonzalo Sevilla and Willan Revelo. November 2012 to November 2013. Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island- Galapagos, Ecuador. 36 pp.

Galapagos National Park Directorate, Government Council of the Galapagos Special Regime, National Fisheries Institute, Ministry of Aquaculture and Fisheries, Galápagos Artisanal Fishing Sector (June, 2018). Annual Technical Report Project: “Evaluation of Experimental Fishing Gear for the Sustainable Capture of Large Pelagic Fish in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.” May – December 2017; January- April 2018. Phase 1 (year 1).

Hoey JJ 1996. Bycatch in western Atlantic Pelagic Longline Fisheries. pp 193–203. In Solving Bycatch: Considerations for today and tomorrow. Alaska Sea Grant College Program Report 96–03. 322 pp.

National Fisheries Institute (2001). The use of longlines in the Galapagos Marine Reserve: Proposal to carry out an environmental impact study.

Public Institute for Aquaculture and Fisheries Research. (October, 2020). Research Proposal “evaluation of experimental fishing gear for the sustainable capture of large pelagic fish in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.” Phase II. “Evaluation of the unified oceanic tie of 50 hook-EOU / horizontal midwater spinel for the sustainable catch of large pelagic fish in the Galapagos Marine Reserve”.

Murillo JC, Reyes H, Zárate P, Banks S. and Danulat E. (2004). Evaluation of incidental catch during the Longline Fishing Pilot Plan in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Charles Darwin Foundation and Galapagos National Park Service, Santa Cruz, Galapagos, Ecuador.

Ortega, WMT. (2015). Experimental pilot plan for deep-sea fishing of pelagic species with the “Modified Oceanic Draw” fishing gear in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Thesis. Guayaquil University. Faculty of Natural Sciences. School of Biology.

Download the original press release from CEDENMA in Spanish here:

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


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