The IUCN/SSC Shark Specialist Group
Pelagic Fisheries in the Galapagos Marine Resources Reserve:
The future of shark populations in the Galapagos
Islands is once again on a knife-edge. Later this year a meeting will be held
in Ecuador to discuss authorizing commercial fishing for tunas and other
pelagic fish in the Galapagos Marine Resources Reserve. While the SSG
recognizes the value of marine fisheries to the economy of the region, the
unique status of the Galapagos Islands, a World Heritage Site, requires that
management be undertaken in a manner more precautionary than that employed in
other areas. Ensuring the survival of this precious natural ecosystem is more
than a philosophical exercise; from a practical standpoint, an undisturbed
natural system offers very real economic value through ecotourism. Alteration
of even a segment of the ecosystem can initiate deleterious changes throughout
that will adversely affect Ecuador's ability to attract ecotourists to the
A Statement by the IUCN Species Survival Commission's Shark Specialist Group (SSG)
Shark Specialist Group Statement
The IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG) strongly
urges the Ecuador government not to allow commercial fishing for tunas and
other pelagic fishes in the Galapagos Marine Resources Reserve (GMRR). We
believe that commercial fisheries are a serious threat to sharks, and the
marine environment of the GMRR as a whole, and will have far-reaching negative
consequences for this unique World Heritage Site. Marine reserves are not mere
conservation tools to protect the odd threatened species or habitat; they are
critical to ensuring the health of entire marine ecosystems.
Sharks Are Vulnerable:
Twenty-seven species of sharks and rays
(chondrichthyan fish) have been recorded from the waters around the Galapagos.
Most chondrichthyans are of low productivity relative to teleost fishes, due to
their different life history strategies. Chondrichthyans are particularly
vulnerable to fishing pressure because of their slow-growth, late maturity,
long life spans, and low fecundity. The overfishing of sharks is of global
concern and the focus of conservation efforts under the United Nations Food and
Agricultural Organization International Plan of Action for Sharks
(IPOA-Sharks), and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as well as other international wildlife
conservation and fishery agreements.
A major environmental problem associated with
pelagic fishing fleets (both driftnet and longline) is the high level of
incidental take, or "bycatch", of non-target species, including sharks, manta
rays, marine mammals, turtles and seabirds. Shark and ray populations have been
seriously depleted throughout the world as a result of overfishing, much of
which is due to bycatch from fisheries targeting other species.
Role of Marine Reserves:
Many of the sharks and rays occurring around the
Galapagos are migratory species. Whilst it is not possible to protect the whole
habitat for such fish, the GMRR currently protects an area sufficiently large
to provide significant protection to the majority of the far-ranging species.
There is increasing recognition worldwide of the importance of marine reserves
as a fisheries management tool to prevent overfishing and habitat destruction.
Ecuador will be taking a step backwards if this protected area is opened to
commercial fishing. There are several good reasons for establishing marine
reserves that prohibit commercial fishing for any pelagic species in the GMRR.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) can offer important protection to migratory species at
critical times and places during their life cycles, including spawning areas,
nursery grounds or migration bottlenecks.
A primary objective associated with MPA establishment is to protect the
ecological function and integrity of marine ecosystems. Pelagic and non-
resident species are critical to the integrity of these ecosystems and interact
with residents in important ways, for example as prey or predators, or sources
Prohibiting only certain kinds of fishing creates significant enforcement challenges. A
straightforward ban on all commercial pelagic fishing is much easier to
implement and enforce.
Shark fishing is currently banned in the GMRR to protect these vulnerable species;
allowing pelagic fishing will result in unacceptably high mortality of sharks
Commercial fishing will have a negative effect
on the tourism industry of the Galapagos. Healthy shark populations are a major
draw for dive tourism around the world. In the Bahamas a single live reef shark
is estimated to be worth $250,000 because of dive tourism, whereas a dead reef
shark has a one-time value of $50-60 to a fisherman. Similarly, in the Maldives
in 1993, a single reef shark had a renewable value of $35,500 per year from
diving, while the same shark dead brought only $32 to the fisherman. The
Galapagos Islands offer some of the world's best diving. For example, few sites
in the world support similarly sized schools of hammerhead sharks.
Maintaining the abundance of sharks will
assure that sustainable economic benefits from diver operations continue to
flow and benefit the surrounding communities.
We have briefly summarized here some of the most
compelling reasons against opening the GMRR to commercial pelagic fishing. The
ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands are among the greatest biological treasures
of the world and it is of international importance that they are preserved in
as near-natural a state as possible.