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Ecuador: Small-scale fishermen use VHF to combat pirates

Pirates are making life difficult for inshore fishermen along the coasts of Ecuador and Columbia. They steal motors from their boats at sea, which are then sold on the open market in whole or as spare parts. The fishermen are now fighting back to protect themselves and the sustainability of their fishing industry.

A report by Dirk Riebensam


Pirates are making life difficult for inshore fishermen along the coasts of Ecuador and Columbia. They steal motors from their boats at sea, which are then sold on the open market whole or as spare parts.


Losing a motor is not just a tragedy for the fishermen in terms of the material loss. The loss of manoeuvrability on the open seas is potentially life-threatening, particularly when the supplies of food and drink have run out. Some fisherman have died of thirst at sea and their boots have later been dashed against the rocks. They now want to use VHF radios to counter the threat from the pirates and being adrift at sea.


The fishermen from San Francisco del Cabo asked us to set up a communications centre in their village to provide a faster response to pirate attacks. The pirates primarily attack inshore fisheries. That includes fishing for corvina (brotula clarkae). Every year from November to June nearly all the fishermen from San Francisco del Cabo fish for this breed of fish. In contrast, corvinas are not the main focus of attention in Galera as the fishermen are interested in catching other types of fish. We built a small house on a strategic point above the village looking out over the whole bay. A telecommunications company installed a 10-metre radio antenna and took the opportunity to check as to whether all the fishermen's VHF radios were in working order.


Together with the non-governmental organisation “FFI” (Flora and Fauna International), and with the support of the participating fishermen and community representatives, we are now planning to establish a network of small radio stations in the villages in the marine reserve and in the nearby towns of Muisne and Tonchigüe. The Ecuadorean navy is based in both places and, as soon as they join the network, they will be able to respond and intervene quicker to accidents or attacks on the open seas. FFI financed the building of the radio antennas and equipped the navy in Muisne and Tonchigüe with a radio system. The radio station in San Francisco del Cabo is also part of this communication network. Another communications centre is due to be built in the village of Quingue, which is also located in the protected area.


The main fishing area of corvina fishermen from San Francisco del Cabo.

Management plan submitted to the Ecuador Ministry of the Environment

In November 2011 the management plan for the Galera-San Francisco marine reserve was officially submitted to the Ecuador Ministry of the Environment for evaluation. The plan describes activities such as fishing and tourism within the reserve and describes short-term (three year) and medium-term (five year) targets. It lists measures designed to achieve a more environmentally-friendly fashion of these activities in the villages and the marine reserve. Once the ministry has completed its evaluation, possible improvements will be discussed with the participants and introduced where appropriate.


Fishery biology data collection

The monitoring programme of the Corvina de Roca (brotula clarkae) fish species, started in San Francisco del Cabo in 2009, was continued in 2011. As before, the weight and length of the landed fish were recorded as well as information on the fishing area and depth, hook sizes and number. This data was used by us to produce a map of the fishing area (Fig.1). Approximately 75 per cent of the fish landed in San Francisco del Cabo was caught in this area. The average weight of the catch according to time (kg/night) was 52 kg with a minimum of 0 kg and a maximum of 107 kg.


The quantile values Q25 from 2011 indicate a low catch of juvenile fish (see table). This has a positive influence on the reproduction rate of the fish stock as 75% of all individuals measured in 2009, 2010 and 2011 were able to reproduce at least once. The catch of large, adult fish (Q 90) was low in 2011. Adult (large) fish are considerably more fertile than younger (smaller) fish and thereby relatively more important for the continued survival of the population.


Preparation of the right sagitta for determining age.

We prepared the ossicles (otiliths) of examples from the length classes 40-50 cm, 50-60 cm, 60-70 cm, 70-80 cm, 80-90 cm and 90-100 cm to analyse the age structure of the fished population. Fish have 3 otoliths on each side: sagitta, lapillus and asteriscus. The day and year rings make it possible to determine the age of the fish. The age of the fish is then associated with the overall body length to provide information on the age structure of the target population. The left or right sagitta are most suitable for scientific analysis of otiliths. They are the largest of the otiliths and are easiest to remove. We prepared a total of 91 pairs of ossicles from the heads of selected fish. The scientific analysis of the otiliths have yet to completed.


Value added chain of the important fisheries

A study of the value added chain of the most important commercial fisheries in the villages of Galera and San Francisco del Cabo was published in September 2011. The value added chains of fishing for corvina (brotula clarkae), mahi mahi (coryphaena hippurus), big-eyed tuna (thunnus obesus), striped bonito (sarda orientalis) and green crayfish (panulirus gracilis) were analysed. The study provides a detailed insight of the professional relationship between fishermen, boat owners and middlemen and information on the financial turnover in the individual fisheries. In particular, the information on the corvina fishery helps to identify to what extent the value added process can be improved.


The comic character of “Veinticinco”

In June 2011 we published the second edition of the Veinticinco booklet entitled “Veinticinco y el Monitoreo Pesquero” and issued 1,000 copies to the inhabitants of the reserve. In this edition, Veinticinco explains the "Fishereoring” and its benefits for the marine environment and the fishermen.