According to an investigation by El Espectador, serious gaps were found in the fishing regulations in Colombia, mainly that of the Colombian Caribbean Islands of the archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, which collides with the regulations of the Marine Protected Areas.
This crisis comes to light due to the detention of a vessel that was carrying out industrial lobster fishing in a highly protected area of the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve in San Andrés.
Lobster has become the main export product for San Andrés and therefore, its fishing is very attractive for national and foreign illegal, industrial and artisanal fishermen.
Initially, it is worth highlighting the fishing methods, with respective boat usage, its autonomy at sea, manning, fishing depth, and uses for different maritime zones:
A few days before the start of the lobster fishing season in the country that runs from July 1 to February 28. A Honduran-flagged fishing vessel (Lucky Lady) was intercepted by Colombian authorities in the Quitasueño area, part of the Seaflower Marine Protected Area (AMP).
According to the Navy
the Lucky Lady boat that had belonged for years to the lobster fishing fleet in Colombia was launching pots (special fishing gear to capture lobsters) in a conservation zone (NO TAKE); where resource extraction is prohibited.
They assure that the Lucky Lady would have set sail on June 28 from Honduras. With direct navigation, without a storm, they would have reached San Andrés on June 30. In the case of having been delayed by a storm, they would have stayed there, assures the Navy.
Now, in the Quitasueño area, north of Providencia, there were no high wind gusts, nor high seas lacking conditions that require a safety maneuver, states the captain of the ship Gutiérrez.
Additionally, the Navy reports inconsistencies when making the first contact with the captain of the Lucky Lady -of Honduran origin- who claimed to be throwing pots into the water, before returning to the port in Honduras to reload material and then heading to San Andrés. However, in order to fish in the waters of the archipelago, she must have sailed from San Andrés with a permit from the Maritime Authority. “They did not have an operating permit and carried out fishing activities in reserved areas or prohibited areas,” says ship captain Octavio Gutiérrez, chief of staff of the Specific Command of San Andrés and Providencia.
The Navy, upon showing evidence of at least two crimes, escorts the ship and its crew to San Andrés, where they make themselves available to Judge Wendy Corpus.
In the statements to Judge Wendy Corpus, the captain, assures that she was in transit to San Andrés and that with an emergency maneuver due to storm bonnie, they would have thrown the pots into the water. The traps were found moored, with bait and with their buoys to mark the fishing locations.
After hearing the versions, Judge Wendy Corpus orders the release of the captain, the return of the boat and the fishing gear. El Espectador tries to communicate with the Judicial official to find out details of the controversial decision but does not receive a response.
The decision was not well received by Fishermen’s Organizations, such as Edgar Jay, representative of the Providencia and Santa Catalina Fishermen’s Federation, who exposed the alleged violation of various decrees, agreements, and regulations regarding lobster fishing.
The presence of industrial boats in areas that, according to environmental regulations, are prohibited for this type of activity, ensures that there have been constant complaints by artisanal fishermen, arguing that they violate the regulations established in Agreement 003 of 2019, of the Departmental Board of Fisheries and Agriculture. This document has been the main point of contention. For fishermen’s organizations, the presence of industrial fishing boats threatens their food security and the permanence of the resource.
Environmental Authority and the Secretariat of Fisheries
They assure that they continue advancing in the investigation to see if they impose sanctions.
According to Gustavo Guerrero, delegate for environmental affairs of the Attorney General’s Office, “There is a lack of correspondence between the Hague decision, the fisheries management decisions and the management of the archipelago’s protected areas” taking into account that after the Hague ruling , Colombia and its fishing industry lost the Luna Verde area, known as the most important for the fishing of this crustacean.
Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the Archipelago (Coralina)
Coralina is the entity in charge of zoning the Marine Protected Area (AMP), the largest in the country, according to Nacor Bolaños, coordinator of Coralina Protected Areas. “It is a multiple use area, but it has a use regulation for the different zones since 2005.
In the area of Serrana and Quitasueño, for example, industrial fishing is prohibited, however the companies that have patents and permits for industrial fishing have fished there for years, says El Espectador.
Antillean Fishing Company
“We have fished in those areas in 2019, 2020, 2021, and now in 2022, they come to tell us that industrial fishing is not allowed in that area. Just when the Hague ruling ends up limiting our access to the area richest lobster fishery in the entire Caribbean”. Seats Eric Thiriez, general manager of Antillana. Colombian company that has the largest industrial lobster fishing fleet in the area (6 boats).
Additionally, the Antillana fishing company has an agreement with the Lucky Lady vessel, from which it buys the product and which was part of its fleet a few years ago.
“Before the ruling, 75% of the fishing effort was carried out in Luna Verde. But that did not exclude Quitasueño or Serranílla, now given the impossibility of reaching Luna Verde, the operation is carried out mainly in Quitasueño.”
Yet another detail
Unlike how it works in the rest of the country, in the archipelago, the Departmental Board of Fisheries and Agriculture (Jundepesca) is the authority in charge of managing and organizing the fishing zones.
Jundepesca is an interdisciplinary collegiate group that brings together:
- The Governorate of the Archipelago
- The District Secretariat of Fisheries and Agriculture
- The Harbor Master
- Representatives of artisanal fishermen from San Andrés and Providencia
- Representative of Industrial fishermen (among others)
In 2019, Jundepesca supported with Agreement 003 the latest zoning of the protected area proposed by Coralina, in which Quitasueño is excluded as an industrial fishing area. However, the directors of the Antillean company, which fish about 60 tons of the 140 total quota established in the Archipelago, assure that “they never participated in spaces for socialization or approval of the agreement”
The manager of Antillana assures that “we have requested the revocation of Agreement 003 of 2019 because the procedure that was carried out to implement that zoning was not done as established by the same statutes of the Departmental Fisheries Board. It is a regulation that we did not know and by which we were seriously affected”
According to a delegate from the Attorney General’s Office, given the Hague ruling, and the validity of Agreement 003 of 2019, “there is no area for industrial fishing activity, so an update of the order is necessary.”
Unfortunately, in Colombia, the presence of fishing boats in highly protected areas such as Malpelo or the San Andrés Archipelago cannot be publicly monitored due to various factors. The ships turn off their GPS global positioning systems and the satellite location of the ships is only available to companies and the State.
Finally, having so many interest groups immersed in a resource exploitation activity and so many dependencies in charge of different tasks, complicate the interaction, execution, and control of agreements between the parties. This is why everything that concerns the fishing industry and coordinates its compliance must be under the umbrella of a ministry of the sea is the highest entity for said activities.
Source: El Espectador