Cablegate: Galapagos: Progress On Alternatives to Commercial

Published: Fri 23 Sep 2005 03:10 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: Quito 1828
1. Summary. Despite lackluster efforts by the GOE, the
search for sustainable alternatives to commercial fishing in
the Galapagos is progressing. Projects initiated by USAID
and NGOs are beginning to generate new economic
opportunities that could reduce the pressure on extractive
fishing practices. Although not ideal, these projects have
brought the often-ostracized fishing community back into the
consultative process. End Summary.
2. Along with the stability of the Galapagos National Park
(GNP) and the reduction of illegal immigration to the
islands, the development of sustainable alternatives to
commercial fishing is considered critical to marine
conservation in the Galapagos. Despite any complementary
program support from the GOE (reftel), projects initiated by
USAID and its nine-member alliance of international and
local NGOs have registered initial success with micro-
financing and technical assistance programs. The programs
help the fishing sector tap into the lucrative tourism
market as a source of income and provide an alternative to
other profitable but environmentally-damaging fishing
practices, including the (frequently illegal) extraction of
sea cucumbers and shark fins.
3. Galapez, the first fish processing plant in the
Galapagos, recently used technical assistance from the USAID-
led Alliance to equip and administer the plant and to
develop a commercial relationship with tour operators.
Before, all fish served on the larger tour boats were
purchased on the Ecuadorian mainland. This practice
bypassed the local fishing community and undermined their
efforts to produce value-added products. Fish processed by
Galapez are migratory species whose capture does not
undermine the viability of the marine environment. As
volume increases, Galapez, which has a relationship with the
fishing cooperative COPESPROMAR, will provide an important
source of employment to both women and men from within the
fishing community on the island of San Cristobal.
4. A grant made last week by USAID will allow COPROPRAG,
the fishing cooperative on the island of Santa Cruz, to
develop a similar commercial venture. Earlier efforts to
initiate a fish processing plant lacked the necessary
infrastructure and technical planning that the USAID grant
will provide. CORPOPAG Director Kleber Lopez indicated that
some 40% of the 240 members of the cooperative would
directly benefit from the venture. Lopez considers this an
important step in their search for alternative sources of
income for fishermen from his island.
5. Meanwhile, a women's cooperative on the island of
Isabella utilized USAID funding to develop a fish-smoking
operation that sells to tourists on the island. The
operation is already commercially viable and no longer
relies on USAID funding. A parallel effort by USAID also
has helped another women's cooperative develop artisan
products for direct sale to tourists. In both cases, the
members of these cooperatives are the wives of fishermen.
Participating in a tourism fair this week, both cooperatives
are actively marketing their products to tour operators.
Recent financial success for both of these projects has
garnered a positive response from the island's initially
suspicious fishing community.
6. Buoyed by the success of these USAID-led projects, the
fishing community has developed its own initiatives. Most
promising is their recent proposal to allow tourists to
accompany fishermen and experience firsthand how artisan
fishermen work and live. This practice currently is not
allowed under the Special Law that governs activities in the
Galapagos. Under the proposal, fishermen would adapt their
vessels for tourists, limiting the vessels' use for
extractive fishing practices. A similar plan developed by
the fishing community involves the use of fishing boats for
scuba diving expeditions. The Joint Management Forum (JMP),
which incorporates other stakeholders such as the tourism
sector, the scientific community, and local government
officials into the Galapagos policy-making process, approved
by consensus the artisan fishing proposal at their most
recent meeting. The JMP has since passed the proposal on to
the Inter-Institutional Management Authority (IMA) for
implementation. The JMP and IMA together constitute a two-
tier advisory and governing system in the Galapagos.
7. The involvement of fishermen in the search for
sustainable economic opportunities is a major positive
development. Over the past 18 months, representatives of
the fishing sector had been refusing to participate in JMP
meetings to protest what they felt was the excessive blame
they received with respect to recent failures in the GNP's
management. Their absence effectively sabotaged the
development of sustainable policies for the islands.
Although the GOE failed to put pressure on the fishermen to
return to the participatory forum, the success of the USAID-
led projects brought the fishermen back into a productive
dialogue. The fishing community's change of heart also
reflects a positive response to the attention paid to their
community by these projects. Historically, there has been
little concern shown by other stakeholders to the fishing
community's economic prospects.
8. While the effort to provide the fishing community with
new economic alternatives is laudable, the success of these
projects may inadvertently make the Galapagos more
attractive to mainland Ecuadorians seeking employment.
Mainland immigrants already are attracted by greater
economic opportunities and a higher quality of life in the
Galapagos. Estimates of the current population suggest an
unsustainable 25,000 inhabitants with annual growth rates
from 6-10%, raising serious solid waste management and other
environmental concerns. Creating new economic opportunities
could exacerbate these problems. Although plans exist for
robust immigration control to better manage and limit
immigration to the islands, the GOE has yet to implement
them. The GOE's poor record with respect to controlling
immigration to the islands suggests a worst-case outcome.
9. In addition, these new projects and proposals do little
to directly keep fishermen from maintaining their
unsustainable (and sometimes illegal) fishing practices.
Indeed, none of these projects actually provides training to
help fishermen enter a different productive sector, that is,
to leave their boats and their fishing world behind. As
long as the boats remain, a return to prior fishing practice
is possible. In this sense, the fishing community has
expanded its economic options without taking steps to shut
down operations that threaten the marine reserve.
10. The success of these and similar projects in reducing
environmentally harmful fishing will depend on the sincerity
of the fishing community and the willingness of the GOE to
control migration to the islands. Fishermen have for years
been clamoring for alternative economic opportunities to
allow them to leave their lucrative but destructive
practices. Now that these options are emerging, it is up to
them to take the next step. This should be easier with the
active assistance of the other stakeholders, all of whom
share responsibility for conserving the marine reserve.
View as: DESKTOP | MOBILE © Scoop Media