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GalapagosQuest: Survival Issues
The small harbor in Villamil. These boats represent
most of the wealth in the small fishing village.|
March 11, 1999
Web posted at: 5:36 p.m. EST (2236 GMT)
By Christina Allen
(Classroom Connect) -- Last night I dreamed I was swimming next to the Samba when a sea cucumber fishing boat barreled through the water and hit me. The dream made me realize how I felt about sea cucumber fishermen: as the enemy, evil and greedy and mean. What I knew about sea cucumber fishermen came from conservation organizations, which say that the fishermen are raiding the seas for huge profits.
Today I saw the other side of the story. Dan and I went out with some local fishermen he met yesterday in the town of Villamil here on Isabela Island. Carlos arrived with his son Rolando and friend Juan Carlos in a small boat the size of our dinghy. Yesterday when Dan met these men, they were catching small bait fish for today's trip. But today they sheepishly admitted that they had eaten the bait for lunch yesterday because it was the only food they had.
Out in the little boat, Carlos showed me the extent of their "gear." Carlos pulled out his one lure carved by hand from a cow horn. The lure was wired to fishing line and a styrofoam spool. That was it! With this they pulled the fish in hand over hand. They let me give it a try and within five minutes, I caught three huge "sierra."
They offered me an employment contract on the spot.
When asked about the sea cucumber season opening March 15, Carlos replied, "Fishermen aren't stupid. They know it's in their best interests to have a well-controlled sea cucumber season so they'll have some for next year and the year after." Still, he can earn up to a dollar apiece for the sea cucumbers he will harvest when the season opens next week. This sum adds up, as the daily catch can be as large as 1,000 sea cucumbers!
So the controversy continues. Marine biologists say sea cucumber populations are declining and if they're fished any more, they'll go extinct. Fishermen often say there are plenty of sea cucumbers and they'll always come back. Even if they could come to agreement, no one knows how to set limits.
Biologists from the Charles Darwin Research Station found that sea cucumber numbers dropped by more than two-thirds between 1993-98. On the other hand, a survey done in 1994 by a biologist from the Ecuadorian National Fishing Institute claimed populations are stable. How many sea cucumbers are needed to maintain a stable population? What's the impact of taking a million sea cucumbers? How about a 10 million? No one knows.
For me personally, this is a huge dilemma. Part of me wants to side with the environmentalists. After all, I am a biologist. On the other hand, after pulling in all those Sierra today, I canít really abandon my fellow fishermen.
Christina and Jim
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