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What Is Vivencial Fishing?

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If you want to fish in the Galápagos Marine Reserve, there is only one way to do it legally and that is on a properly licensed boat with an operator licensed, by the Galápagos National Park , to practice “Vivencial Fishing”, in Spanish:  “Pesca Vivencial”. For more information regarding the legality of fishing in the Reserve, see the page: “Can I Fish in the Galápagos?”.

A primary distinction between Vivencial Fishing and Sport Fishing is that only fishermen of the Galápagos are eligible to apply for licensing from the Galápagos National Park. Even then, the number of licenses is strictly limited. Further distinctions, as set out in the Regulations include:
 

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Limited Extraction:

Vivencial Fishing is strictly “Catch & Release” except for a 50lb allowance which is more than enough for guests to enjoy a meal. All billfish must be released unharmed. The crew are not permitted to sell catch.

Species:

Vivencial Fishing can target all the major species except protected species including shark and rays

Fishing Methods:

Vivencial Fishing includes all the regular “sport” methods, such as trolling, switch & bait, popping, jigging, fly-fishing as well as more traditional methods such as hand line fishing, at speed on the surface (for wahoo) or bottom fishing with “empate” (hand line wrapped around a small buoy). Spear fishing is not permitted

Boats:

There has been some attempt to limit the (and cost) of the boats. Length is limited to 12.5m (41ft) but power limits are not well defined. Most use 4-stroke outboards but there are a few diesel boats.

Leodan is one of half a dozen boats, between 9 m and 11 m that visit the marlin banks. The smaller boats, which remain closer to shore are often referred to as the “Pesca Chica Boats” - Described more fully below.

Naturalist Guides:

Every Vivencial Fishing excursion must be accompanied by a Naturalist Guide, licensed by the Galápagos National Park.

Hours of Operation:

The hours of operation are limited to 6:00AM to 6:00PM

In essence, Vivencial Fishing brings you the same challenge and excitement you normally associate with Sport Fishing but subject to special regulations developed by the Park for the Galápagos Marine Reserve.
 

 

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Pesca Altura - Pesca Chica

 

Vivencial Fishing in Galápagos is generally categorized as “Pesca Altura” ot “Pesca Chica”. There is considerable overlap and meanings are neither obvious nor consistently applied by local operators, but this is how we understand and apply the terms:
 

 

Pesca Chica is Inshore Fishing

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Pesca Chica generally means fishing in shallow waters either off the coast of San Cristóbal or on neighbouring islands such as Española, Santa Fé or Floreana.

Target species include

  • Tuna
  • Wahoo
  • Grouper
  • Red snapper
  • Wrasse etc.

Techniques include:

  • Trolling
  • Jigging
  • Popping
  • Handline
  • Fly

All the boats offer Pesca Chica but some smaller boats may not offer fishing at Española or Floreana, which are both 1.5 to 2 hours from port.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Pesca Altura is Offshore / Big Game Fishing

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Pesca Altura means fishing offshore banks for:

  • Marlin (striped, blue & black)
  • Dorado \ Dolphinfish \ Mahi Mahi
  • Tuna (Yellowfin & Bigeye)
  • Amberjack

Techniques include:

  • Trolling
  • Bait & Switch
  • Fly
  • Popping

Although smaller boats are perfectly capable, Pesca Altura is dominated by the bigger, faster, more comfortable - And more expensive boats. But the Pesca Altura boats are equally adept and happy to offer Pesca Chica.
 

 

 

 

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The Benefits of Vivencial Fishing

 

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Good for the Fish:

Vivencial Fishing is “Catch and Release”. Each excursion may retain 50 lbs of fish for the benefit of the guests and may not sell any catch. Furthermore, the Regulations require that all PAV crew are licensed local commercial fishermen.  On a day of Vivencial Fishing, the crew will extract only a fraction of the fish they would have had they been fishing commercially.
 

 

Good for the Fishermen:

Vivencial Fishing provides local fishermen with an ecologically sustainable alternative to commercial fishing and a stake in genuine “Eco-Tourism”.
 

 

Marco: Captain of Toby...

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Shares the excitement of Vivencial Fishing

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Good for the Community:

Barely 5% of income generated by tourism in Galápagos remains in the community. Galápagos tourism is dominated by the Luxury Cruise operators. Insofar as these corporations are overwhelmingly owned and managed by corporations outside the community, and even outside Ecuador, they represent the antithesis of “Eco-Tourism”.

For decades now, there has been extraordinary pressure to open the market to well financed and politically connected Sport Fishing operators. But if that that door is opened, community based Vivencial Fishing will rapidly give way to offshore based luxury Sport Fishing and the tourist-fishing market will rapidly go the way of Cruises with maximised external profit and minimal local benefit. Vivencial Fishing acts as a bulwark against invasion and subsequent domination of the market by outsiders.

 

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The Origins of Vivencial Fishing

 

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Early Days

 

 

At the turn of this century, the Galápagos Marine Reserve was becoming an increasingly popular centre of operation for Sport Fishing operations owned and operated from the Ecuadorian mainland or United States. Although not specifically prohibited as an activity by the “Special Law of Galápagos” which was in effect by that time, the operation of any unregulated and unsanctioned tourist-based activity was forbidden and Sport Fishing was neither sanctioned nor regulated.  Nonetheless, Sport Fishing thrived.

The Charles Darwin Foundation and Galápagos National Park (as recorded in its 1997 Management Plan) have for some time considered sport fishing as a viable, or rather, inevitable activity for the Marine Reserve but have been united in their opposition to its being allowed without appropriate regulations. For the Foundation, an equal concern was that such regulations be properly enforced - An understandable concern, given the track-record to date.
 

 

The Infamous Tournament

 

 

In February, 2005, a Billfish Tournament was organized by the mayor of San Cristóbal and the Salinas Yacht Club (from the mainland). For the participants, the event was a huge success; but for the locals and the Park, less so.

Little or no money was spent locally as the participants wined, dined and slept on their boats. After the tournament, several boats that had travelled from the mainland to partake in the tournament stayed on and continued to operate out of San Cristóbal, despite the fact they had no right. Efforts to dislodge the insurgents resulted in threats and several violent incidents.
 

 

The Aftermath

 

 

Following the tournament debacle, by Executive Decree No. 14 of Official Registry No. 564, issued on April 13, 2005, Sport Fishing was explicitly prohibited pending the emission of regulations.

    “014 Prohíbese todo tipo de actividad de pesca deportiva recreacional y turística en la Reserva Marina de Galápagos hasta que se emita el Reglamento de Pesca Deportiva.”

Although some of the newcomers went home, the established operations continued regardless, with no effective intervention by the Park or other authorities.
 

 

The Birth of Artisanal Vivencial Fishing

 

 

Starting around 1996 a San Cristóbal fisherman, Carlos Ricaurte Granda, began pressing the Park for a permit to undertake tourist fishing. For several years following, his applications were denied but in the process he developed the notion of “Pesca Artesanal Vivencial” or “Artisanal Vivencial Fishing” as a type of tourist fishing that was particularly suitable to the Galápagos and could be embraced by the Park and other concerned bodies, such as the Charles Darwin Foundation.

Over the next several years, with numerous meetings and discussion, primarily involving the fishing cooperatives, the Park, the Foundation, the Galápagos Tourism Board (Capturgal), participating guides and naturalists, the framework for Vivencial Fishing was hammered out. Finally, in August 2006, a consensus was reached and the first Artisanal Vivencial Fishing permits were issued.
 

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In September 2006, a book: “La Pesca Artesanal Vivencial en Galápagos” was published with the assistance of USAID and 9 conservancy organizations including the WWF, Charles Darwin Foundation, WildAid and Conservation International. The inception of Vivencial Fishing is described on page 13 (only in Spanish). You can view and download the complete document from the Galeodan Google-Drive.
 

 

 

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The Evolution of Vivencial Fishing

 

The Early Days

 

 

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At the inception of Artisanal Vivencial Fishing, there were only a couple of genuine local fishermen that had the resources to equip their boat to meet the service and safety standards required for the entertainment of tourists. Most wanted a bigger boat, equipped with state-of-the-art equipment to secure a piece of the high-end, and supposedly lucrative, market for offshore marlin fishing. Although the traditional “Sport Fishing” operators could not operate legally, they dominated the first few years of PAV using “testaferros” - Local fishermen who were only titular owners of the boats. In the process, the offshore operators provided employment and training for local captains and crew while catering to the needs and expectations of their high-end clientele.

For a variety of reasons, most of the original partnerships have since foundered but a significant offshore presence remains during the peak of the marlin fishing season.
 

 

 

In the early years (2006 through 2011) the marlin fishing from San Cristóbal was truly spectacular; in the high season we would catch and release 4 to 8 marlin in a day; double and even triple strikes were not uncommon and action could be guaranteed.
 

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Double marlin strike at 11:55am

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Double marlin strike at 1:35pm

 

 

After the first few years of legal tourist fishing, the marlin numbers began to decline and the “sportfishing” market cooled off considerably. However, recent seasons (2017-2019) have seen a dramatic return to early form.
 

 

Artisanal Vivencial Fishing Becomes Vivencial Fishing

 

 

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The original full name: Artisanal Vivencial Fishing was based on: Artisanal, related to a tradition or craft and Vivencial meaning experiential. The shortform: PAV derives from the Spanish: Pesca Artesanal Vivencial and the boats are still commonly known as PAV Boats.

The idea was for visitors to experience fishing in the company of traditional Galápagos fishermen and thereby gain a better understanding of their way of life and their relationship with the unique environment in which they work and live.

The conjunction of Artisanal and Vivencial also reflected a fundamental characteristic of the activity: specifically, that the Vivencial fisherman would retain his right to do Artisanal (commercial) fishing when not fishing with tourists. This was crucial as there was simply not an adequate Vivencial Fishing market, year round, to sustain the fishermen without recourse to commercial fishing.

In December 2012, the Galápagos National Park revised the regulations so that owners had to choose between commercial fishing or tourist fishing - They could not use their boat for both. Thus Artisanal Vivencial Fishing became Vivencial Fishing (although we still generally refer to the PAV activity and PAV boats).

With the introduction of Vivencial Fishing, the PAV boats were moved into the purview of mainstream tourism agencies with their additional regulations and additional costs. The price of fuel doubled and the Park’s licence was raised from zero to $1,500.

PAV boats now have to carry a bilingual Naturalist Guide, even for excursions that do not touch land. At $130 per trip and up, this added significant cost when margins were already thin.

With the December 2012 regulations, the Galápagos National Park designated 15 new visit-sites, exclusive to the Vivencial Fishing boats: 5 each for the boats based in Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristóbal. These were described as “Sitios de Descanso” - or Rest Sites. Only one could be visited in the same day. At the same time, Kicker Rock (known locally as Léon Dormido), by far the most popular site in San Cristóbal was taken off-limits.

Compared to competing markets, the high standards, stringent regulations and the cost of materials, labour and equipment had already made it exceptionally expensive to run a tourist-fishing operation in Galápagos - Especially since the operator could not sell catch to offset costs as allowed in other parts. Even with the special allure of Galápagos, it was already impossible to compete with fishing destinations like Mexico, Puerto Rico etc. The absorption of PAV into mainstream tourism added further burdens and most boats were left with little or no business to speak of.

 

 

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New Emphasis on Sightseeing

 

The “360” Tour

 

 

Following some difficult years, the PAV boats gained access to Kicker Rock and were allowed to visit more than one rest-site in a day. This facilitated the creation of a new product: the “360 Tour” which included a complete circumnavigation of San Cristóbal with 3 or 4 stops, including two of the best sites in San Cristóbal: Kicker Rock, off the NW coast, and Rosa Blanca, on the SE coast of San Cristóbal.

 

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Starting in November 2020 - 2 new islands to visit:

 

 

Española

One of the most popular sites in Galapagos - Especially when the waved albatros are here.

Espanola 3

 

Floreana

Floreana is most famous for its human history, including Galapagos’ first inhabitant (an Irishman), pirates, and the “Galapagos Affair” - It now has a small population around 150.
 

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The Cost of Vivencial Fishing

 

Covid-19: This information was last updated during the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing closures. At this time, we do not know what services will still be available, when they will become available and what they will cost.

 

Compared to competing markets like Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatamala etc., the cost of chartering a Vivencial Fishing boat in Galápagos has always been relatively high.

  • Fishing gear, marine equipment and electronics cost 2 to 3 times as in developed countries.
  • Each motor costs more than a mid-size sedan and finance costs are high (12-15%). Spares are costly and in short supply.
  • Qualified mechanics have to be flown in from the continent.
  • Since 2013, Vivencial Fishing boats pay almost twice as much for fuel compared to commercial fishing boats.
  • The operator is not permitted to sell catch to offset costs.
  • Most Galápagos visitors, of which there are few to begin with, do not have any interest in fishing. So passenger volume and the number of paying fishing trips per month is low.

With the advent of exclusive visit-sites (sitios de descanso) and the growing popularity of the “360 Tour”, Vivencial Fishing boats now have a viable alternative to fishing charters, with a considerably larger audience. In 2019, the standard rate for the 360 Tour was $150 for each of 10 passengers for a total charter cost of $1,500. The operating costs are not significantly different to a fishing charter so it is hard to find a boat willing to leave port for less, whether for Pesca Altura or Pesca Chica.

So the cost of a day of fishing on a licensed boat starts at around $1,500. That’s a lot more than most tourists are able or inclined to pay unless they are especially avid anglers.
 

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Pesca Chica

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Due to costs and the popularity of the 360 Tour, you are not likely to find even one of the smaller Vivencial Fishing boat willing to leave port for less than $1,500 for the day. However, the boats cannot do the tour every day, so you may find one willing to go out for less - Perhaps for a half day.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pesca Altura

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Pesca Altura could mean popping and jigging on the offshore banks but is generally associated with Galápagos’ most famous quarry: marlin.

The boats that specialize in high-end fishing are bigger, more comfortable for the offshore runs and better equipped.

Prices vary between $1,800 and $2,100, depending on the boat. For Leodan charter prices and fishing packages, see Costs & Packages.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharing the Cost

 

 

Charter costs are usually a lump-sum based on 3 or 4 anglers. If based on 3, the cost of the 4th angler is usually no more than $100. Either way, it makes all the difference if you are able to share the cost with friends: an $1,800 charter between 4 is just $450 each.

While it may be feasible in some locations, it is seldom feasible to assemble a group of strangers to share costs in Galápagos. There are so few visitors, let alone anglers, that there is little chance of finding 4 independent fishing enthusiasts in the same location at the same time.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unlicensed Boats

Pirate

 

 

You may find an unlicensed boat to take you fishing at significantly lower cost but also some risk. See “Fishing Outside the Law”.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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