Shark Poachers Caught for the Second Time Inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve

Some poachers have little respect for laws; others think these laws don't apply to them. The fishing vessel Nano from Manta, Ecuador seems to be in a league of its own. We reported the capture of the Nano on April 27 2008,

photo: Benjamin Ayala

The vessel was released from Isabela Island by the port captain and returned to Manta to face charges for having between 200 and 300 sharks on board and for being inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Upon the vessel's arrival in Manta, the sharks had mysteriously disappeared and the local authorities took no action. The Nano was allowed to continue its shark killing activities without hindrance.

The poachers must have thought they were untouchable when they once again ventured into the Galapagos Marine Reserve on February 11th, only this time they were stopped by the Coastguard vessel San Cristobal. Upon arrest, they were 1.6 nautical miles inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve, Northwest of San Cristobal Island. The Captain of the Nano and his 8 crewmembers claimed to have drifted into the Marine Reserve due to mechanical problems. Inside the hold of the Nano were 100 sharks, which included:

  • Pelagic thresher sharks
  • Bigeye thresher sharks
  • Silky sharks
  • Scalloped hammerheads
  • Smooth hammerheads
  • Blue sharks

The Nano was accompanied by two small boats which both had longlines with 300 hooks. On board the Nano, two similar longlines were found. All hooks were clearly designed to capture sharks.

Besides the 100 sharks, only 30 other fish were found on board, albacore and dorado. This is solid proof that the Nano didn't catch the sharks as by-catch but was specifically targeting sharks. Whereas sharks are unfortunately permitted to be caught as by-catch in Ecuador, fishing specifically for sharks is strictly prohibited. On these grounds, and for being inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve without authorization, the Nano was ordered and accompanied into port in San Cristobal Island. There it has been under detention since February 13th awaiting the official charges.

On March 20th the Director of the Galapagos National Park imposed the fine, which is set at 1000 times the minimum wage. Unfortunately, the law requires that the minimum wage is set at the level at which it was when the law was written. At that time minimum wage was 100,000 Sucre and was quite high. Presently that translates into USD $4, which puts the fine at a mere USD $4,000.

The Captain of the Nano also has to pay last year's fine, which is equally low, putting the total at a ridiculous USD $8,000.

The fine has been paid and the Nano sailed out of San Cristobal Island on Thursday, April 2nd. Even though the catch has been confiscated as well as the illegal fishing gear, fines this low will not act as a proper deterrent to scare off illegal fishermen. In fact, the fins of 100 sharks will have more value on the black market that the two fines combined.

Sea Shepherd Galapagos is presently gathering information and legal advice to determine how we can contribute to higher sanctions. Ultimately, Sea Shepherd wants to see shark killers like the Nano permanently taken out of commission. It is clear that despite the new constitution in Ecuador, some laws are hopelessly outdated and need an urgent revision in order to keep the poachers out of the Galapagos Marine Reserve.