Loco – what’s the real story?

Well, in the last post I showed you a trip I took with some fishers down in the south. I also mentioned, regrettably, that I was unable to get on any boats that were diving for Loco.

This post discusses the reality behind why this was and, in some ways, contradicts what I posted on the 15th of December. Here I discussed  the Loco fishery and how it was closed after huge amounts of over-exploitation. Furthermore, how a new policy was brought into place that gave fishers the ownership rights over areas of coastline, which has slowly lead to marine stewardship.

I was lucky enough to meet more than 10 Loco divers, however, none of them were keen to let me on their boat. Was this because I was a scientist? Or perhaps because I would get in the way? Unfortunately, it’s neither of these reasons. It has more to do with the following;

Very few Loco divers were actually diving for Loco at the time of my visit. There was no temporal / seasonal reason for this. Instead, the fisherman told me there was just not enough Loco to dive for! Obviously, this came as a surprise to me after reading the scientific literature, which reports the stable catches the fishermen now enjoy. After further questioning, I discovered that what the fishers meant was that the number of Loco are becoming fewer and generally smaller every year within their allocated areas (TURFs) specifically.

With less money being made from the Loco by each fisher, I asked what the alternatives were? Some fished for other shellfish species, like the divers in the previous post (although this requires more work for less money and few are lucky enough to have alternative works to go to). The remaining fishers just sat and waited, until they decided they needed to earn more money from the lucrative Loco…that was their official story…

But why were the fishers I spoke to reporting fewer and smaller Loco in areas where TURFs now exist- areas where their extraction is supposedly controlled?

After a few more days chatting with fishers, fish-mongers and locals around ports and boat slips, I uncovered the truth. The real reason for this distinct lack of Loco fishing is…poaching. “Officially”, fishers are fishing less within their chosen areas. In reality many are fishing in non-managed or even protected areas where they told me there were larger and more plentiful supplies of Loco. These catches are seldom reported but if they are, their labelled origin is from an area managed by the syndicate.

Once on the subject of poaching, most fishers were very open to talking about it. None had even the remotest fear because if they are caught by the Chilean armada, fisheries managers or police, they have their names taken,  recieve a slap on the wrist and are told not to do it again. Punishment by the local fishers syndicate appears non-existent as most of the members have, or still do, partake in their own fair share of illegal fishing. Many also mentioned the fact that the occassional gift to officials of a few Loco or similar go a long way in terms of having a blind eye turned to non-regulated fishing.

There is an additional problem local syndicate members must also face…non-licenced fishers fishing within a designated area.

Unfortunately, the story gets worse. Although fishers within the same syndicates respect their own shared area and the rules within them, they appear to have no hesitation about fishing areas “owned” by other syndicates. Poaching other fishers’ areas is a big problem and it that has led to significant fighting in the South of Chile with 4 fishers shot dead in 2012 alone.

It appears that the practical reality is  rather different to the reported science for Loco and TURF system. Although the idea of owning a common resource works, in terms of increasing marine stewardhsip within syndicates these between syndicate interactions need attention. The lack of policing is also a big stumbling block on the way to successful management of the TURF / Loco system. Sadly, the tragedy of the commons appears to have come full circle.

Disclaimer: all of the above information obviously applies to the areas I visited – this may not be the case right the way up and down the coast. However, please note. I visted more than 6 fishing ports / slips spread over 1000km of the Chilean coast.

This entry was published on 30/12/2012 at 15:15. It’s filed under Fisheries Science and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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