The Charles Darwin Foundation’s Position in Relation to Illegal Fishing in Galapagos


Written by: The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF)

The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) supports the initiatives of communities in the Galapagos and mainland Ecuador to peacefully rally against illegal fisheries of endangered species. It is very alarming that these activities continue to occur in our territorial waters and in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. The natural resources being taken are important and necessary for the ecological stability of our oceans and relevant to the services that are produced by them.

We stand against the illegal, industrial and non-industrial fishing of sharks and other endangered species, no matter the scale. It is against the principles that we stand for as an institution and as citizens.

Technical points below:

  • Chondrichthyes (sharks, rays and chimeras) are among the most threatened group of species on the planet1. Since the end of World War II, we humans got too good at fishing and have managed to remove 90% sharks and other large predatory fishes from the oceans2. It is estimated that an average of 100 million sharks are fished globally and only a few protected and isolated places still harbor healthy shark populations3,4.
  • Sharks are predators across the world oceans, playing an essential role to keep marine ecosystems healthy. The depletion of sharks due to overfishing has altered the ecological balance in other parts of the world, resulting in environmental degradation and the loss of profitable fisheries. The protection of keystone species like sharks, has positive consequences throughout food chains5.
  • Sharks grow slowly, reproduce late, have a few offspring, live for many years and have complex reproductive cycles. All these life-history characteristics makes them very vulnerable to overexploitation through fishing practices, especially during reproductive seasons1.
  • Sharks are world citizens as they do not know about marine reserve boundaries or Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). For years the Charles Darwin Foundation and international partners have documented the regional migrations of several species of sharks and pelagic fish6–9. These studies have revealed large-scale movements and home ranges, highlighting the need for international protection and the implementation of biological corridors such as the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor (CMAR).
  • The total protection of sharks in the Galapagos for over 15 years, has resulted in the largest global shark biomass recorded to date around the northern islands of Darwin and Wolf10. Based on this and other technical information11, the Ecuadorian government created the first Marine Sanctuary of Ecuador around the globally unique islands of Darwin and Wolf in March 2016. This key event has set a milestone in Ecuador’s conservation efforts.
  • The value of a live shark for the tourism industry in the Galapagos is the largest recorded globally and it is far bigger than its value if fished for fins and meat. It is estimated that a live shark in Galapagos is worth USD$360,000 annually. Based on a conservative life-span, a live shark could generate over USD$5 million throughout its life if not fished12.
  • The best example of the highly migratory nature of many species of sharks, is the scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini). This is one of the most demanded species by fishing fleets given their large fins, so hammerheads have been listed as globally Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are also included in Appendix II of the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Female hammerheads leave the safe waters of the Galapagos Marine Reserve to undertake feeding excursions and reproductive migrations to mangrove areas in the Pacific coast of mainland South America. During these journeys, they are extremely vulnerable to industrial and artisanal fishing fleets in Ecuador’s and international waters.
  • The case of the illegal fishing vessel Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 it is not an isolated event and clearly highlights the global problematic of Illegal, Unreported and Undocumented (IUU) fishing. IUU is especially problematic around marine protected areas which are the only few places in the global oceans where marine ecosystems are protected from damaging fishing practices allowing the oceans to thrive again. Every day, hundreds of fishing vessels from many nations enter protected areas illegally to benefit from poaching inside their protected waters. The studies by CDF have also shown that the Galapagos Marine Reserve can effectively protect resident shark species within its boundaries, such as the case of the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)8 which stays all year-round within the Reserve.
  • The case of the Fu Yuan Yu Leng also highlights the logistical and economic challenge of enforcing and patrolling large protected areas, like the Galapagos Marine Reserve with 138.000 km2 of protected waters. There is an urgent need to establish ambitious and sustainable funding mechanisms that ensure a cost-effective procedure to fight the daily problem of IUU fishing.
  • The CDF strongly believes that the support of the Galapagos community is crucial for the conservation of sharks in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. For the past two years, the CDF has run the campaign “Protect the fins and the ocean wins” to promote the Galapagos as a model of sustainable coexistence between humans and sharks. The ecological and socio-economic benefits of sharks for the community of Galapagos clearly outweighs the illegal fishing of sharks for their fins and meat and the incidental capture of sharks in experimental long-line projects within the  Galapagos Marine Reserve.
  • The CDF is against any form of fishing that captures endangered and/or protected species inside and outside the Galapagos Marine Reserve by both industrial and artisanal fishing fleets from any nationality. For this reason, CDF's scientists have provided over 15 specialist reports free of charge to the Galapagos National Park Directorate and the Ecuadorian District Attorney's Office as part of the legal processes against illegal activities within the Galapagos Marine Reserve. We are delighted to contribute to this processes and will continue to do so over the next 25 years.
  • CDF, a non for profit institution entirely funded by private donations, will continue to work with the Ecuadorian government to secure the necessary funding that ensures the sustainable development and conservation of the islands.

    The mission of the Charles Darwin Foundation and its Research Station is to provide knowledge and assistance through scientific research and complementary action to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity in the Galapagos Archipelago.


    1. Dulvy, N. K. et al. Extinction risk and conservation of the world’s sharks and rays. Elife 3, e00590 (2014).

    2. Myers, R. A. & Worm, B. Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities. Nature  423, 280–283 (2003).

    3. Myers, R. A. & Worm, B. Extinction, survival or recovery of large predatory fishes. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci. 360, 13–20 (2005).

    4. Worm, B. et al. Global catches, exploitation rates, and rebuilding options for sharks. Mar. Policy 40, 194–204 (2013).

    5. Myers, R. A., Baum, J. K., Shepard, T. D., Powers, S. P. & Peterson, C. H. Cascading effects and the loss of apex predatory sharks from a coastal ocean. Science 325, 1846–1850 (2007).

    6. Ketchum, J. T. et al. Inter-island movements of scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) and seasonal connectivity in a marine protected area of the eastern tropical Pacific. Mar. Biol.  161, 939–951 (2014).

    7. Hearn, A. R. et al. Adult female whale sharks make long-distance movements past Darwin Island (Galapagos, Ecuador) in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Mar. Biol.  163, 214 (2016).

    8. Acuña-Marrero, D. et al. Residency and movement patterns of an apex predatory shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) at the Galapagos Marine Reserve. PLOS ONE  12, e0183669 (2017).

    9. Salinas-De-León, P., Hoyos-Padilla, E. M. & Pochet, F. First observation on the mating behaviour of the endangered scalloped hammerhead shark Sphyrna lewini in the Tropical Eastern Pacific. Environ. Biol. Fishes  Accepted, (2017).

    10. Salinas de León, P. et al. Largest global shark biomass found in the northern Galápagos Islands of Darwin and Wolf. PeerJ  4, e1911 (2016).

    11. Salinas-De-León, P., Acuña-Marrero, D., Carrión-Tacuri, J. & Sala, E. Valor ecológico de los ecosistemas marinos de Darwin y Wolf, Reserva Marina de Galápagos.15 (Fundación Charles Darwin/Dirección del Parque Nacional Galápagos, 2015).

    12. Lynham, J., Costello, C., Gaines, S. D. & Sala, E. Economic valuation of marine and shark-based tourisms in the Galápagos Islands. 46 (National Geographic Pristine Seas, 2015).