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The Galápagos Sea Cucumber Fishery: Management Improves As Stocks Decline

S.A. SHEPHERD, P. MARTINEZ, M.V. TORAL-GRANDA, G.J. EDGAR

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The Galápagos Islands, a world heritage region for the protection of the unique terrestrial and marine wildlife, are also home to a small human population, dependent on fisheries. There was a lucrative sea-cucumber (Stichopus fuscus) fishery in the islands, which began in 1992. After a rapid expansion in the Galápagos archipelago, the fishery has declined and now persists predominantly around the western islands. Initially, the fishery was largely illegal and uncontrollable. Subsequently, a co-management framework developed, with fisher participation. Gradually enforcement improved, apparent corruption declined, and research capacity increased. Although stock abundance surveys have been carried out annually since 1993, the paucity of background biological and fishery information does not allow rigorous stock assessment. The achievements of co-management through the participation of fishers in research and management have been: an acceptance of management controls on numbers of fishers and quotas, a reduction in conflict and increased co-operation. Persistent problems have been: weak enforcement capacity, limited funds for patrolling and research, corruption and declining stock abundance. Proposed application of precautionary principles to management, including a range of fishery indicators, may save the fishery from collapse. The principles are applicable to many other data-poor fisheries globally.