In Galapagos, the two main industries are tourism and fishing…and they do not always get along very well. Galapagos Fishermen resent any sort of catch limit, which biologists maintain are necessary to maintain the delicate ecosystems in the archipelago.
Fishermen also like to catch certain species, such as sharks (the fins can be sold for a handsome profit) that Galapagos visitors want to see, bringing them into conflict with those in the tourism industry. In a famous incident in 2004, angry fishermen occupied park facilities and the Charles Darwin Research Station (basically holding Lonesome George hostage) in protest of fishing limits.
Trash Pickup, a Good Start
Despite the traditional conflict between tour operators and fishermen, signs are pointing to a more positive future. In recent years, some of the tour agencies have begun paying fishermen to clean up garbage around the islands: this particular program benefits the Galapagos fishermen and the travel agencies, as well as the islands themselves. As positive a program as the trash pickup has been, it’s not enough for fishermen to make a living, as the trash only needs to be cleaned up every so often.
A New Visitor Activity
A new visitor activity may do even more to allow the two industries to live in harmony. It’s now possible for Galapagos visitors to accompany fishermen on their boats as they go out and fish. Long-standing laws prohibit the use of large nets or massive fishing trawlers, and Galapagos fishermen set out in small boats with rods, reels and bait and catch their fish the old-fashioned way. Now, visitors can pay to go with them, and even take their fish back to the hotel to eat!
Fishing was a mainstay of Galapagos for decades, long before tourism became the most important industry. The first settlers relied on fishing in the rich waters of Galapagos for sustenance, and later as a small industry. It is as much this traditional way of life that is of interest to visitors as the excitement of landing a massive tuna!
Copestur (Cooperativa de Servicios y Actividades Turisticas), the Ecuadorian agency that promotes tourism in Galapagos, is excited about the possibility of fishermen taking visitors out for a memorable day at sea. In December, they sponsored a fishing derby, with a prize going to whoever caught the heaviest fish. 14 boats participated, and the winner was Nelson Ibarra and his 78 pound Albacore Tuna. The derby was a hit, and perhaps they will sponsor another one in the future.
A Great Place to Fish
As for the fishermen, they seem a little surprised that visitors would want to spend a day fishing at sea, but they’re pleased to start offering the service. Fishing charters in Galapagos have been operating for about three years, but only have become popular lately. In coming months, a handful of new ships are expected to arrive in Galapagos, specially designed for fishing in comfort.
It is worth pointing out that the fishing in Galapagos is excellent, due to a number of factors. The same currents that bring food for the millions of birds, reptiles and other species that inhabit Galapagos also feeds the marine life ecosystem, which thrives. Because Galapagos waters are off-limits to foreign fishermen and large fishing vessels, there is less strain on the environment. So ask your tour operator about a Galapagos fishing trip when you book your cruise or visit to the Galapagos Islands!