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CHILE: Clouds on the Horizon in Fishing Industry

Daniela Estrada

SANTIAGO, Jan 3 2011 (IPS) - Unemployment in Chile’s fishing industry will rise this year, experts and the association of small-scale fishers warn, due to the reduction in catch quotas adopted in response to overfishing and plunging stocks of key species, particularly jack mackerel.

“Chile is one of the world’s leading fishing nations, but unfortunately this country has not administered its marine resources in such a way as to make the activity sustainable,” Alex Muñoz, the executive director of the international marine conservation group Oceana, told IPS.

The biggest problem involves the jack mackerel (Trachurus murphyi), the main commercial species of fish caught in this South American country of 17 million people.

Jack mackerel is primarily used in Chile to produce fish meal and fish oil, although it is also exported canned or frozen.

The National Fisheries Council, made up of authorities and representatives of the fishing industry, set the 2010 quota at 1.3 million tonnes of jack mackerel.

But by November, just 450,000 tonnes had been caught, according to the Fisheries Under-Secretariat at the Ministry of Economy, Development and Tourism.

Oceana complained in August that since 2003, the National Fisheries Council had set higher annual quotas for jack mackerel than were recommended by the scientists at the Institute for Fisheries Development.

“Fortunately, the National Fisheries Council approved a 76 percent reduction in this year’s quota, which will help solve the problem. But in-depth legal reforms are obviously needed to keep this from happening again,” Muñoz said.

The new quota for this year is 315,000 tonnes of jack mackerel.

Chile is thus hoping to send out a compelling message to the other countries that make up the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO), which will meet Jan. 24-28 in Cali, Colombia with the aim of agreeing on marine conservation measures.

The president of the Association of Industrial Fishing (ASIPES), Roberto Izquierdo, told the press that “2011 will be as complicated as 2010,” especially due to the decline in jack mackerel stocks.

To illustrate, he said that while fish freezing and canning plants in south-central Chile were active 100 days a year on average in previous years, only 45 days of activity can be expected in 2011.

The jack mackerel industry, including the fishing fleet and processing plants, generates more than 10,000 direct jobs.

Muñoz called for a reform of the 1991 General Law on Fishing and Aquaculture, in order to require the National Fisheries Council or any other agency that sets catch quotas to respect scientific recommendations. There is currently no obligation to do so.

“We are not only concerned about jack mackerel but about many other commercial species, such as hake, which is important to Chile and has been alarmingly over-fished, as well as anchovies, which face the same problem,” the activist said.

Fisheries Under-Secretary Pablo Galilea himself said that “of the country’s 22 most important fisheries, nine are overfished and four are at risk of overfishing.”

The National Fisheries Council approved a quota of 48,000 tonnes of South Pacific hake (Merluccius gayi gayi) for 2011 — a 13 percent cut from last year.

In addition, this year’s quota for southern hake (Merluccius australis) was set for 24,000 tonnes, eight percent down from the 2010 limit; the quota for Patagonian grenadier (Macruronus magellanicus) is 123,000 tonnes, a 20 percent cut; the quota for the pink cusk-eel (Genypterus blacodes) is 2,900 tonnes, a 22 percent reduction; and the combined quota for Peruvian anchovy (Engraulis ringens) and common sardine (Strangomera bentinki) is 650,000 tonnes.

The president of the National Confederation of Artisanal Fishers (CONAPACH), Zoila Bustamante, predicted a significant rise in unemployment in the sector, principally due to the reduction in the quotas for jack mackerel and hake.

In northern Chile, “artisanal fishers will not be able to fish for jack mackerel for more than one or two days,” Bustamante told IPS, complaining that the cost of the decline in fish stocks is not being fairly spread out among the different stakeholders.

“They have tried to find many ways to make us disappear. Today they are trying to do so with quotas,” she maintained.

There are currently around 120,000 artisanal fishers nationwide, she estimated.

“The quota for the common sardine and anchovies has been cut, even though the scientists said there was no problem with the common sardine,” she said. “In the eighth region (the south-central region of Biobío), artisanal fishers have 75 percent of the fishery, the only healthy one in the country.”

CONAPACH is demanding that the authorities recognise the real conditions in each fishery, and design specific measures for each one.

Bustamante said CONAPACH is “conversing with the government” about the difficulties faced by the industry. “At our national meeting in January, we will discuss how to face this terrible situation that lies ahead,” she said.

“We don’t want charity, like monthly assistance in the form of basic goods or money, as is being distributed in other areas. We want work, because work dignifies,” she said.

Muñoz said that “unfortunately the scientific findings were not taken into consideration for many years, which led to overfished stocks…This will clearly lead to problems in terms of employment in the fishing industry, both at sea and on land.”

But the executive director of Oceana believes Chile still has time to help its marine resources recover, “if drastic measures are taken.”

“Chile must make progress towards regulations that allow sustainable catch quotas; it has to eliminate fishing techniques like trawl nets, to protect the ocean floor; and it needs more scientific observers, to closely assess what is going on in the ocean,” he said.

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