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Ecuador: Model for a Sustainable Small-Scale Fishery

Optimisation of artisanal fishing methods and construction of a fair trading system

Partner: Corporación Instituto NAZCA de Investigaciones Marinas, Ecuador

Participants: Coastal fishermen from villages in the province of Esmeraldas

Ecology: Relief and safeguarding of marine fish stocks

Economy: Development of certification guidelines for sustainable artisanal fishing

Social: Improvement in provision of medical care, educational opportunities and infrastructure


  • Analysis of already established guidelines for sustainable fishing
  • Biological stocktaking of commercially significant fish types
  • Identification of destructive fishing methods
  • Development and introduction of environmentally friendly fishing methods and techniques
  • Training courses, workshops, meetings on marine themes and economy
  • Improvement of the infrastructure for boat operations and fish processing
  • Introduction of an internal control system and a fair selling model
  • Increase in safety at sea

Certification as the basis of sustainable production

The certification of a responsible fishing operation is one of the most important fishing management instruments for the future. The objective of certification is to produce and market fish in an ecological and socially acceptable way.


Up to now around 6% of the fish caught at sea which is intended for human consumption has been certified under certification systems such as NATURLAND e.V. or that of the MARINE STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL (MSC), but this comes almost exclusively from fishing in the industrialized countries. In comparison so-called artisanal fishing, which tends to be carried out using manual methods, has been strongly underrepresented to date, especially in Southern countries. According to estimates from the FAO, fish caught using artisanal methods accounts for around 45% of the total catch worldwide, and efforts to obtain certification of fisheries in this sector are therefore an important step.


Currently there are neither working standards or guidelines, nor business or selling systems in existence which take account of the special features of small artisanal fishing operations in developing countries. More efficient working processes, standardised selling processes and processing operations, and the construction of a professional infrastructure will contribute to a reduction in the ongoing operating costs and an increase in the value of the marine creatures caught. As an example, the lack of hygiene standards on the boats and in the home ports means that there is no opportunity of selling fish directly to discriminating restaurants.



The project “Model of a sustainable artisanal fishing operation” is intended to initiate a development process which will improve the general living conditions of fishermen in small artisanal fishing operations in the Ecuadorian province of Esmeraldas in the long term. At the same time the fish stocks, which are heavily used, will be sustainably managed using newly developed and introduced fishing methods and working processes, and will thus be protected. The model guidelines for fair and responsible artisanal fishing developed by means of this project will take account of the special features of developing countries, and will be transferable to other coastal villages in Ecuador.



The fishermen

The NAZCA project staff in local discussion in the project village of Estero de Platano. (Photo: NASCA/Dirk Riebensahm)

The project is working with the fishermen of small artisanal fishing operations in the villages of Galera, Estero de Platano, Quingue, Tongora, Tongorachi and Cabo San Francisco.


Due to the lack of other opportunities for earning an income, fishing is highly significant throughout the project region from Galera in the north to Cabo San Francisco in the south. Galera and Cabo San Francisco are the most important fishing villages in the region. In Galera 90% of the working male population are fishermen, and there are 40 motor-driven fibreglass boats. They principally fish for open sea species, such as swordfish (Xiphiidae family), sailfish and spearfish (Istiophoridae family) which include the famous blue marlin, and dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus).


In Cabo San Francisco the small artisanal fishing operations represent the main source of income within the village community. Here there are 30 motor-driven fibreglass boats with which the fishermen catch the three species which are most important economically, the pink cusk eel (Brotula clarkae), snapper (Lutjanus sp.) and dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus). In Estero de Plantano and Quingue there are one and three motor-driven fibreglass boats respectively.


Three fishermen work on one boat: a captain who navigates the boat and bears overall responsibility, and two people who are responsible for ensuring that the work runs smoothly. In the project region there are 74 fibreglass boats altogether with around 222 fishermen working on them.


A further target group for the project are the lobster fishermen living in the project region, who fish for the green spiny lobster (Panulirus gracilis) with gillnets. Two fishermen work on one lobster boat (these are mainly wooden boats without an outboard motor). There are twelve boats in Galera, one in Estero de Platano, six in Tongora, four in Tongorachi and 15 boats in Cabo San Francisco.



The region

The project village Cabo San Francisco. (Photo: NASCA/Dirk Riebensahm)
Fishermen from Galera after finishing their work. (Photo: NASCA/Dirk Riebensahm)

The project locations Galera, Estero de Platano, Quingue, Tongora, Tongorachi and Cabo San Francisco are situated in the south of Ecuador’s most northerly coastal province Esmeraldas. The province of Esmeraldas, whose provincial capital has the same name, is the poorest of the Ecuadorian coastal provinces.


58% of the population live in poverty and the illiteracy rate stands at around 13%. Fishing represents the third most important source of income after agriculture and tourism.


Ecuador’s climate is characterised by dry and rainy seasons, the periods of which vary by geographical region. Tropical temperatures with intensive solar irradiation and high air humidity are the characteristic features of the climate of the province of Esmeraldas. The tropical current of the Gulf of Panama affects the northern marine areas of Ecuador and gives the waters of the province their characteristic features of high temperatures and low salinity. The flora and fauna are representative of the tropical ecosystems of the Eastern Pacific. The average annual temperature of the air is 29 degrees Celsius and that of the water is 26 degrees Celsius.


The coasts of the province of Esmeraldas vary greatly: there are sandy beaches, estuaries, rocky cliffs, mangroves, underwater rocks and coral formations. This variety of marine habitats brings with it a great variety of species. In the southern part of the province there are sections of coast which quickly drop steeply down into the sea. The sea reaches depths of 500 metres only 18 kilometres off the coast. As a result, as well as the fish found in coastal waters the coastal fishermen also catch open sea species.


Approximately 4,500 fishermen live in the villages in the project region. These villages are characterized by the simplest of infrastructures, normally with a single, non-asphalted main road with no pavements running through the middle. There is great poverty in all these villages; on average 71% of the population live in households without even the most necessary of all sanitary and hygiene facilities. Access to drinking water, electricity, the telephone or the Internet is either non-existent or only sparsely available. The same also applies to sewage systems and state-organised refuse disposal.


Since 2005 the previous dirt road has been replaced by an asphalted road, which makes the previously arduous journey between Galera and Tonchigüe shorter. Tonchigüe is the next larger village, and lies north east of the project region. It offers the opportunity of buying essential basis foodstuffs such as rice, vegetables, fruit and consumer items. The asphalted surface ends shortly after Galera, so that above all during the rainy season (December to April/May) the villages of Galerita, Estero de Platano, San Jose, Quingue, Caimito, El Progreso, Tongora, Tongorachi and Cabo San Francisco can only be reached with great difficulty.



The project partners:


Corporación Instituto NAZCA de Investigaciones Marinas, Ecuador

Director: Soledad Luna

Address: Yugoeslavia N33 - 96 y Rumipamba, Quito, Ecuador

Telephone/Fax: 00593 2 22 47 935



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Project Partner:

Instituto Nazca



The Pacific Ocean


LF- Explorer

Sustainable Fisheries

The project is working with the fishermen in the villages of Galera, Estero de Platano, Quingue, Tongora, Tongorachi and Cabo San Francisco.