On the night of June 30th, 2009, the commercial tuna boat Don Mario, from the fishing port of Manta in Ecuador, was caught fishing inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve. At the time of capture, the vessel was 30 miles inside the protected waters of the National Park and had its nets out in the water. Inside their nets the National Park Rangers discovered not only tuna but also numerous other species including sea turtles.
The vessel was detected thanks to the new satellite monitoring system that is being used inside the Marine Reserve. This new system is mandatory for all Ecuadorian vessels over 20 tons and all movements are monitored in the control center. The vessel was seen slowing down and making irregular movements and immediately the National Park sent out a patrol to check on the fishing vessels activity.
The Don Mario was given permission to cross the waters of the Marine Reserve by the navy. Unfortunately, it is quite common for commercial vessels from Ecuador to pass through these waters on what is called an "innocent pass." This time it appears their pass wasn't so innocent.
The Don Mario has been ordered into port of Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island where it is officially being charged for fishing illegally inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve. The owner of the vessel has commented that his ship was fixing its engines at the time of capture and wasn't fishing. Since they actually had their nets in the water, this statement will not hold up in court.
The capture of the Don Mario gives us the evidence we have been after for quite some time now. Commercial tuna boats for Ecuador, Colombia, Panama and Venezuela are fishing illegally inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Sea Shepherd Galapagos has been collecting tuna detection devices, so-called "tuna balls," that are being found on a very regular basis inside the Marine Reserve. These tuna balls relay information about fish abundance, water temperature, and GPS location back to the commercial tuna boats and based on this information their ships are sent out to these locations to catch the tuna. Lucky for Sea Shepherd, the owners put their vessel's names on the balls. Only days before the Don Mario was caught fishing, a local fisherman found one of their tuna balls floating at the exact same position as where the vessel was caught.
Sea Shepherd Galapagos has so far collected 15 balls from 15 different tuna boats and we suspect all of these vessels to be engaged in illegal fishing inside the Marine Reserve. Quite frequently, we also see these commercial tuna boats come into the ports of Galapagos on what is called a 48-hour emergency stop. Often they pretend to have a mechanical or a medical emergency in order to be allowed into port. It gives them a good opportunity to see if the Park boats are in port or out on patrol.
Obviously, the new satellite monitoring system is invaluable but in order to fully stop the possibility of poaching of the commercial tuna fleet, permission for them to pass through the Galapagos Marine Reserve must be denied at all times.
map of fishing area
Don Mario tuna boat
Don Mario illegally fishing
credit Galapagos National Park
Collection of tuna balls
credit Sea Shepherd Galapagos