SEATTLE, Washington — Ecuador, a nation on the west coast of South America, exported $4.47 billion worth of crustaceans and processed fish in 2018. Owning a maritime territory roughly five times the size of the total land area, the ocean off the coast of Ecuador is one of the nation’s most valuable resources. A healthy marine ecosystem ensures work for tens of thousands of people in the fishing industry along with many more in coastal and island tourism, particularly in the Galapagos Islands. Overfishing poses a threat to the ecosystem and economy of Ecuador and if left unchecked, could send many Ecuadorians into poverty. The World Wildlife Fund is working to protect coastal ecosystems and communities in Ecuador.
Overfishing in Ecuador
Overfishing is the depletion of fish stocks at a faster rate than they naturally reproduce, which over time decreases the number and size of fish remaining. There are many causes of overfishing in Ecuador including lack of reporting, bycatch and illegal fishing. In the last two decades, the World Wildlife Fund has worked alongside the Ecuadorian government and other organizations to combat overfishing and ensure a sustainable future for the ecosystem and people of Ecuador.
An Innovative Solution for More Accurate Catch Data
One of the primary species fished off the coast of Ecuador is pomada shrimp. The species is at high risk of being overfished, which would affect the jobs and food security of many. To combat this issue, the World Wildlife Fund teamed up with developers in 2015 to design a cellphone application that allows fishermen to report their catch using their smartphones in realtime. The application benefits inspectors by providing more accurate catch data and can be used by fishermen to verify that they are abiding by laws and staying out of protected areas.
Ecuador and Chile are now working on creating a more versatile version of the “e-logbook system” that could be used in a larger area and track multiple species. Having access to more accurate data allows government agencies to more effectively manage fisheries and ensure sustainable fishing. This is a promising development for shrimp fishing in Ecuador and could serve as a model for sustainable fishery management in the future.
Another major contributing factor to overfishing in Ecuador is bycatch, the catching of species not intentionally fished for. It is estimated that 300,000 small whales, dolphins and porpoises alone die every year from becoming entangled in fishing nets. Many species are affected by bycatch and it plays a major role in the deterioration of world fisheries.
The World Wildlife Fund has attempted to reduce bycatch in Ecuador through accountability, technology and regulation. Simple innovations can make a difference such as using smarter and less harmful fishing gear. Increasing restricted fishing zones in areas that are essential to the reproduction of many species allows more fish of those species to mature and reproduce before being caught. The World Wildlife Fund has also supported an increase in the number of inspectors which gives agencies more accurate data collection to ensure fishermen are following regulations. Many species that the organization is hoping to protect are not directly feeding people but they are essential to the stability of the food web that supports all species and the coastal communities of Ecuador.
Technology to Reduce Illegal Fishing in the Galapagos
A particular area of focus for the World Wildlife Fund has been the Galapagos Islands, roughly 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, which are home to a variety of species found nowhere else on earth. Ecuador established Galapagos National Park in 1959 in an attempt to protect the many species that call the islands home. Illegal fishing, commonly for lobster, has been a major issue in the area and threatens the fragile island ecosystem. Conservation on the islands, and the surrounding waters, is essential for the island’s residents that rely on the fishing and tourism industries for income and food.
A central issue in the Islands is that park wardens in the past have struggled to prevent illegal fishing activities due to a lack of funding and resources. World Wildlife Fund has played an active role, alongside other organizations, to provide park wardens with improved technology and training that allows them to more efficiently monitor the activity of fishing vessels in the area. These technologies include satellite and radar technology that have shown promising results in decreasing illegal fishing activity.
Issues of overfishing are not unique to Ecuador and ocean ecosystems everywhere are at risk. Globally, one billion people rely on fish as a primary source of protein and the livelihoods of millions of people depend on the fishing sector. Protecting oceans through the creation of sustainable fishing systems is essential. The World Wildlife Fund has helped Ecuador take the first steps toward sustainable aquaculture and could serve as an example for other nations attempting to move toward sustainability.
– William Dormer