A new Chilean fishing law gives four large-scale private fisheries control of 92 percent of Chile’s marine resources—much to the consternation of small-scale, artisanal fisherman along the country’s expansive coastline.
Passed by Chile’s Legislature on Dec. 18, the law sets quotas for fishing along Chile’s 2,600-mile coastline for the next 20 years. The four largest fisheries have been allotted a combined 92 percent of this quota.
The quotas are hailed by some as a step toward sustainability—over-fishing has been a rampant problem in the area and has decimated horse mackerel populations. The quotas are a double-edged sword, however.
While quotas are low enough to possibly prevent over-fishing (if properly enforced and set with scientific objectivity), the stipulations nonetheless give preference for licensing to the four big fisheries over artisanal fishermen. The law also requires the use of GPS and the licensing of all boats no matter the size—requirements difficult for small-scale fishermen to afford.
“My family is from the Chile archipelago in the south of Chile, and the privatization of fish and appropriation by seven families of industrialists [who own the four major fisheries], will destroy the cultures of fishermen and coastal communities,” said Juan Carlos Cárdenas, director of the environmental nongovernmental organization Ecoceanos.
He said the government has not adequately explained why these companies were given such a large portion of the quota.
The coastal seas were previously the domain of artisanal fisherman and indigenous groups such as the Mapuches, Lafkenches, Williches, and Kawesqar.
The four private beneficiaries of the new law are Orizon, Camanchaca, Blumar and Marfood. A total of seven families control these companies, and opponents of the law say it gives these families a good chance of staking indefinite claims by passing the rights on to their descendants.
Jaime Baete Costabal, a local businessman in the fishing industry, said it is “a shame that the concessions or rights are inheritable. … [It is] exploitation, since they do not pay the state, being that the fish belong to all the Chileans.”
The companies are given an initial 20-year period in which they have been allotted a combined 92 percent of the quotas for fishing along the coast. These claims are renewable at the end of the 20 years.
According to reporting by global online news outlet Equal Times, 68 percent of the 128,000 people employed by the Chilean fishing industry are artisanal fishermen; big fishing ships, on the other hand, employ a total of about 5,000 people.
Councils of Scientists to Set Quotas
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said in a public announcement that the fishing law “has as its central axis … the sustainability of the fishery resources and to strengthen the role of science in the decision-making process in the field of fishing administration.”
The law establishes that over the next two years, 11 scientific committees will be formed to oversee the state of the Chilean Sea.
“Scientists rely on two sources of funding for their research: the state and the industry,” said Cárdenas. He is skeptical that objective scientific decisions will be made; he thinks it will actually be the undersecretary of fisheries who will determine fishing quotas.
This is set against a background of recent debate in Chile concerning the autonomy of scientists. The government sought to place funding for the nation’s top scientists under the control of the Economy Minister Pablo Longueira. Incidentally, the new fisheries law was introduced by this minister and is also known as the Longueira Law.
The National Science and Technology Research Commission funding is currently controlled by the Education Ministry; scientists have called for an independent ministry of science.
Saving the Seamounts
The fisheries law does protect some delicate ecosystems in the coastal seas, a stipulation hailed as a great victory by some environmental groups.
Underwater mountains, or seamounts, are home to abundant marine life and coral reefs. The new law protects 118 seamounts from the destructive trawling of large fishing boats.
The Senate rejected, however, the article in the bill that prohibited trawling elsewhere.
According to a government report from 2010, 68 percent of the fish populations in Chile are over-exploited and near collapse.
Several senators have said they will challenge the fisheries law on the grounds that it violates the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.
Opponents of the fisheries law say the indigenous peoples should have been consulted in a decision with such great impact on their livelihood. Leading up to its ratification, indigenous groups, artisanal fishermen, and their supporters, held frequent protests. They now plan to challenge the law in court, and if national courts fail to uphold their cause, they say they will appeal to international authorities.
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