Thursday 16 Feb
Galapagos Islands underwater cont. - 'Play fair with sharks.'
Back on the boat conversation naturally turned to sharks. The day before a concert had been held to raise money for an anti shark fishing campaign with the slogan 'Play fair with sharks.' I asked Macaron whether shark fishing was a problem in the Galapagos. He explained that before becoming a dive instructor he'd been a fisherman and had been involved in illegal shark fin fishing for three months. He said all his dive buddy mates teased him about it. He agreed with the campaign but said that the local fishermen were always made out to be the bad guys and that wasn't the whole story. He explained how a few years ago the Darwin Research Station imposed restrictions on local fishermen to protect stocks, only allowing them to fish for lobster three months of the year. Lobsters are the most lucrative catch for local fishermen on the islands. Fish doesn't pay well and they're muscled out by the big trawlers.
'There are 2000 fisherman on the Galapagos islands' explained Macaron. 'How does the Government expect us to support our families for the other nine months of the year?' The tourist money, goes abroad or to the mainland. It's corrupt. The Chinese pay well, on time and in cash. I could buy a house, buy food and provide for my family.' He agreed with the campaign against shark fishing but felt that the fisherman had a right to survive as well as the sharks.
Hammerhead fins are the most sort after Chinese delicacy, and he told me that a local fisherman can expect to receive $220 cash per 10 kilo of fins. I asked why he decided to stop, and he explained that he'd never liked being involved, he wasn't proud of it and it was dangerous. Then he became a father and didn't want his son growing up knowing his Dad was involved in illegal trafficking. He now preferred to guide people to the sharks and watch them in their natural habitat. It was interesting to speak to someone first hand about how they'd personally been affected by conservation measures, and it's a really difficult one. Macaron felt strongly that local fisherman were always the ones who lost out under these measures, not the big companies and the Government should be doing more to provide fisherman with alternative employment.
On the Galapagos the human/habitat balance is such a delicate one, and it's difficult to see how tourism and the local population can continue to grow without affecting the wildlife. I feel really privileged to have seen what we have on the islands and would urge everyone who has the chance to go; it really is a wonderful place. Quite how that's all going to pan out in the next few years I'm not sure. I really hope we get it right and it works.