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Galeodan

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno
San Cristobal, Galapagos

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What Is Vivencial Fishing?
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What Is Vivencial Fishing?

If you want to fish in the Galapagos 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 Galapagos National Park (the Park), to practice “Vivencial Fishing”, in Spanish:  “Pesca Vivencial”.

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 Galapagos Marine Reserve. Some of the key differences between Sport Fishing and Vivencial Fishing are described below (see “The Regulations”).

The Origins of Vivencial Fishing

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Early Days

At the turn of this century, the Galapagos 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 Galapagos” which was in effect by that time, the operation of any unregulated and unsanctioned tourist-based activity was forbidden and Sport Fishing was not sanctioned or regulated.  Nonetheless, Sport Fishing thrived.

The Charles Darwin Foundation and Galapagos National Park (as recorded in its 1997 Management Plan) have for some time considered sport fishing as a viable, possibly even 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 Cristobal and the Salinas Yacht Club. For the participants, the event was a huge success; 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. Several boats that had travelled from the mainland to partake in the tournament stayed on and continued to operate out of San Cristobal, despite the fact they had no right. Efforts to dislodge the insurgents resulted in violence, real and threatened.
 

 

The Outcome

Following that 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 Cristobal 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 Galapagos 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 Galapagos 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.
 

Diving Piqueros

Why “Artisanal Vivencial Fishing”?

Artisanal”: Traditional / Craft
Vivencial”: Experiential

The idea was for visitors to experience fishing in the company of traditional Galapagos 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 the two words “Artisanal” and “Vivencial” confirmed 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 a crucial as there is simply not an adequate Vivencial Fishing market, year round, to sustain the fishermen without recourse to commercial fishing.

From the Spanish version (Pesca Artesanal Vivencial) we get the popular expression “PAV Boat” which means a boat licensed for Vivencial Fishing.

“Vivencial Fishing”

The full version being a bit of a mouthful, the abbreviated term “Vivencial Fishing” quickly gained more usage.

Now, under new regulations, the official title of the activity has been changed to “Pesca Vivencial” or Vivencial Fishing” (see “The New Regulations”, below).  But we still refer to “PAV boats” (it’s just easier to say).
 

Marco on Toby

Marco on Leodan

Marco: Captain of Toby.......

.....Shares the excitement

The Regulations

The regulations unique to Vivencial Fishing promote two key goals:

  • To provide Galapagos fishermen with an ecologically sustainable alternative to commercial fishing (Artisanal Fishing).
     
  • To reduce pressure on existing fish stocks. On a day of Vivencial Fishing the local captain and mate will extract only a fraction of the fish that they would if fishing commercially.

A further, albeit implicit goal of the Regulations was to bring recreational fishing into the realm of Eco-tourism whereby the benefits of tourism flow to the local population.

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Opening the Marine Reserve to Sport Fishing would result in the Galapagos-based operators being quickly pushed aside by better financed and politically connected  offshore operations. In no time, Sport Fishing would be like Galapagos tourism in general, from which only a minimal portion (around 5%) of the revenue generated by the Islands remains in the Islands.
 

Maria Elena Ricaurte de Keegan, principal of Galeodan, from a long established fishing family, is the holder of the Vivencial Fishing licence issued by the Park. Maria Elena and Sean, live in San Cristobal and own Leodan as well as the agency: Galeodan.

Galeodan is 100% owner-operated and there are no outside partners involved. Our captain and crew are also island residents. Per the letter and spirit of the Artisanal Vivencial Fishing initiative and regulations, the maximum possible benefit stays here, in the Galapagos.
 

PAV Licensing - A Flawed Process

The concept of Artisanal Vivencial Fishing (as it was originally known) required that a limited number of special licenses be issued to regular, licensed fisherman to give them an opportunity to share in the tourist market and, at the same time, reduce pressure on fish stocks by diverting their time to non-extractive fishing.

However, “real-world” factors conspired to disrupt that plan:

  • Few fishermen had the resources to adequately equip their boat to meet the service and safety standards required for the entertainment of tourists. Regardless, many of these 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. As a consequence, several fishermen simply became testaferros, fronting an operation financed and operated by others.
     
  • As a result of money and/or influence (generally 2-sides of the same coin here) licenses were issued to individuals who did not have commercial fishing licenses or come from fishing families.
     
  • Some boats are licensed but non-operational because their owners have not been able to raise them to the required standard and maintain them there.

The result is that the Vivencial Fishing operations cover a spectrum of compliance with the concept: ranging from ideal to completely inconsistent.
 

As of November, 2013, the Galapagos National Park’s Vivencial Fishing page lists 11 “PAV Boats” operating from San Cristobal.

  • 3 of these boats are owned and operated by local businessmen who were not fishermen.
  • 1 boat is a testaferro operation, financed and operated by outsiders.
  • 1 boat was a testaferro operation, financed and operated by outsiders but is now inoperative.
  • 2 boats are testaferro operations, financed and operated by local businessmen.
  • 4 boats are owned and operated by license-holders who are licensed commercial fishermen.

Beyond the 11 boats identified above, there are probably at least half a dozen boats which have been licensed but are not operating. In a sense, these licenses are being wasted.

Although we cannot comment in similar detail, we believe the situation in Santa Cruz and Isabela is no better.

There are commercial fishermen waiting in the wings to get a license and join the Vivencial Fishing market but the Park has imposed a moratorium on licenses with no indication as to when new ones may be issued. Some of these are nonetheless taking tourists, regardless of the Regulations. Others actually prefer to operate outside the law that requires them to meet the more stringent PAV Regulations.

Putting aside the Regulations, it’s hard to argue that they have any less inherent “right” to do so than some of the licensed operations described above.
 

Vivencial Fishing Under Threat

Since its inception, the Vivencial Fishing initiative has received invaluable support from bodies such as the WWF and Charles Darwin Foundation in recognition of its conservationist as well as social aspirations.

However, the pressure to legalise Sport Fishing as an open industry has never relented and it is only the Vivencial Fishing regulations that stand between the Galapagos fishermen and the open market.
 

The New Regulations (a work in progress)


The Vivencial Fishing Regulations are meant to be the product of cooperation and consensus between the Galapagos National Park and the Fishermen. In the early years, the Park and the Vivencial Fishing community held regular meetings in which they sought consensus on new regulations and improvements to the existing. In recent years, those meetings have become increasingly sporadic and their outcome increasingly at odds with the discussions and draft agreements.

The Park has, just recently, issued new regulations signalling profound changes to Vivencial Fishing. These are so radically outside anything agreed to by the Fishermen that those issued in December, 2012 were quickly superseded by a new issue in January, 2013. Even now, the outrage is such that the Park is not yet applying parts of the new regulations, several of which are facing constitution-based legal challenges.

At this time, nobody really knows what applies and what does not! But assuming they do apply; these are some of the key changes that the Park intends to impose:

  • The practice will now be known simply as Vivencial Fishing rather than Artisanal Vivencial Fishing. The change is significant - see next...
     
  • One of the central tenets of Artisanal Vivencial Fishing has been that the Artisanal Vivencial Fisherman retains his right to work as commercial fisherman. Now, after a grace period, he must choose one or the other. If he wants to stay in Vivencial Fishing, he must forsake the right to do Artisanal Fishing in perpetuity: for himself and his children.
     
  • With immediate effect, Vivencial Fishermen are no longer permitted to use the same boat for Vivencial and Artisanal Fishing, in effect forcing them to choose their path now rather than later. If they want to continue with Vivencial Fishing most will only be able to do so as Testaferros.
     
  • Vivencial Fishing has been moved into a new jurisdiction under which the fishermen have to meet the same qualifying requirements and licensing costs as the better financed and more lucrative operations such as Daily Tour and Cruise Ships.
     
  • Every Vivencial Fishing trip will have to be accompanied by a Park guide. English-speaking guides charge $100-$120 a day: much more than any of us can absorb without passing the cost through to clients. In return for their agreement on this point, the Park had promised the fishermen an opportunity to qualify as guides but that was vetoed by the existing guides - The requirement was added, nonetheless.
     
  • Vivencial Fishing operators will have to contract with an agency for sales to the public. As an agency in our own right, we are unaffected and it is difficult to predict the overall impact on others in terms of quality of service, prices to the public and the fishermen’s share of income. If the purpose of this new regulation is to regularize the marketing of Vivencial Fishing, that will  only work if the agencies themselves are properly regulated. But as with Vivencial Fishing, there are degrees of compliance. Only some of the working “agencies” are licensed while others are either not licensed or operating beyond the mandate of their license (advertising and offering services to the public at large with only a “reception agency” license). Galeodan has a full “dual” license for national and international operation.
     

Vivencial Fishing will not, in the foreseeable future, provide more than a few fishermen with sufficient income to support themselves and their families year-round so any that choose to relinquish their fishing rights to remain in Vivencial Fishing must do so at considerable risk as they will have no means of livelihood to fall back on if they, or the Vivencial Fishing market as a whole, should fail.

The Regulations, as they stand, play directly into the hands of the “Sport Fishing” lobby. They provide a powerful incentive for fishermen to operate outside the law or simply offer themselves as testaferros.

An Uncertain Future

The demise of Vivencial Fishing would, most certainly, leave a void. Once the Galapagos fishermen have been removed from the equation there will be one less argument against opening the Marine Reserve to the open Sport Fishing market. The question remains as to what, if anything, the governing institutions will do to prevent that from happening.

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