Galapagos stays off-limits for tuna fleets
6th February 2003
QUITO, Ecuador - Ecuador's new environment minister has reasserted his country's policy of keeping the Galapagos Islands free of industrial tuna fishing.
Edgar Isch, who took office on Jan. 15, said in an interview with Reuters the islands, an ecological reserve, were entirely off-limits for industrial fishing despite pressure from powerful tuna fishing companies.
"It's not whether I want to or not. It's a scientific question of what we should do. That means no industrial fishing," Isch said in the interview on Monday.
Tuna fleets have long sought formal permission to fish in the 40-mile (64 km) perimeter surrounding the archipelago, which in 2001 was declared a U.N. World Heritage site to protect its marine life, including sea lions and dolphins.
Some fleets have been hauled in for fishing illegally in the Galapagos, prompting activists to press for tighter supervision in the islands, which inspired 19th century British naturalist Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection.
The World Wide Fund (WWF) conservation group last year said Ecuador was failing to enfore the ban on fishing round the islands and urged the U.S. Congress to withhold trade benefits until it was fully implemented.
A key concern is that dolphins have tangled in nets cast for schools of tuna that migrate in and out of the islands, some 625 miles (1,000 km) west of Ecuador's coastline.
"It seems to me industrial fisherman have enough space to fish," Isch said. "Tuna come over temporarily, so they (fleets) can wait until they leave and capture outside the reserve."
Tuna is one of Ecuador's biggest exports. The fishing industry earned $397 million in export revenues in the first eleven months of 2002, according to Central Bank data.
Local fisherman in Galapagos are permitted to fish under strict regulations that ensure other species aren't swept away away with the daily catch.
Story by Carlos Andrade Garcia
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE