Marine ecology, funding, fisheries and Chile

As with most countries, the funding, science and management structure is complicated, involving many different links, pots of money, authorities and alike. This post very briefly skims a few things I learnt about two of the important fishery organisations and roughly discusses where the money is, where science is and how it links together (if at all).

So….SERNAPESCA and IFOP– two big names in fisheries…but who are they?

SERNAPESCA has the muscle – it monitors compliance with fishery and aquaculture rules throughout Chile. It makes sure people are sticking to the rules to “contribute to the protection of aquatic resources and their environment”.

IFOP “generates, transfers and develops useful knowledge”. It collects catch data and makes it publicly available (ish) whilst also acting as an advisory to the fisheries sector.

Those are the basics anyway. Obviously I have only been working with the artisanal sector in Chile…and I have not seen everything there is to see, by any means. I do, however, believe, its worth mentioning a few things about the above along with my experiences in Chile.

SERNAPESCA - Servicio nacional de pesca

SERNAPESCA – Servicio nacional de pesca


Although I was aware of SERNAPESCA presence only through asking about different laws, jurisdictions and permits etc. not once during the trip did I see a SERNAPESCA representative, nor did I ever see any real representation from them at any of the fishing ports I visited. Although this initially surprised me, when reading more into the SERNAPESCA website, it comes to light that it is more of an office-based agency working on the fishery registry and management strategy formation for the Chilean fisheries. It does still confuse me slightly how, if they are the ones making the rules and enforcing them, their presence is so low actually at ports (or perhaps I was just unlucky). I then started thinking that perhaps they only work with the industrial fishery, however, this is not the case either. After all, its SERNAPESCA that made and enforces (somehow – I have previously discussed the lax policing in Chilean waters) the rule stating artisanal fishers have the right to the 5km of sea from the coast line, excluding industrial boats to areas further offshore (see my previous post). So, SERNAPESCA and the whole enforcement thing remained a bit of a mystery to me which, unfortunately means I am not “qualified” to comment further on what they do on paper or reality.

IFOP - Instituto de Fomento Pesquero

IFOP – Instituto de Fomento Pesquero


IFOP, thankfully, is something that I had much more luck with. I came across far more IFOP posts / offices and officials on my travels at a number of different ports. Although its great to have actually seen them…..I did see something that was a little disturbing.

IFOP are the people who come to the dock and weigh what is being caught, by whom, and from where. On one occasion, after a day of fishing, I saw the fishers bring their landings onto the dock for weighing by the IFOP official. This was all well and good, until…when they left, the fisherman proceeded to go back on board and retrieve more catch that went without measurement. Which in basic terms means that they could easily be overfishing without IFOP knowing / recording it. It surprised me that the representative did not even think (or ask) about going onboard to check the hold! This is such an easy way for a fisher to break a catch quota rule, and it has such a simple solution, but alas on this occasion, nothing came of it. Lets hope this is not a regular occurrence, but that is difficult to say with my generally limited experience of the fishery and IFOP.

IFOP works only on assessing commercial stocks, and by no means all of them. Although the salaries at IFOP are funded by the government, the institute actually has to apply for money from external sources (e.g. Fondicit / Invest. Pesquero) in order to fund the actual work they do. This means that they are not funded to consistently monitor a fishery. Unfortunately this further means that implemented monitoring programs are sporadic / non-permanent and the data they collect is often based on only the most commercially exploited species (e.g. Merluza / Hake) – those that financially warrant funding.

Estación Costera de Investigaciones Marinas

Estación Costera de Investigaciones Marinas

Science interactions

From discussion with Chilean scientists, unfortunately, IFOP has had very little interaction with primary science. This is a shame as IFOP are the ones collecting the data for the fishery / government yet they are not readily collaborating with science (the people who can process it and use it to tell us whether the fishery is healthy / sustainable etc.). One piece of good news, however, is that now IFOP, by law, have to make their data publicly available. A law that was only passed three years ago. Although this is now law, I am told that IFOP are still very reluctant to release data to outside parties as this is their leverage to win funding from funding bodies, i.e. “we have the best longer term data sets”.

As aforementioned, a big flaw in the IFOP “system”, is that good, coherent data only really exists for some the industrial pelagic fleets, albeit sporadically. Nothing substantial yet exists for the artisanal fishery. The artisanal sector therefore, generally remains largely unassessed. This, however, is where the scientists come in. Scientists (as you can guess) at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile’s, ECIM (see also previous post) have been compiling landings records of the artsianal sector (mainly benthic fisheries) since the early 90’s. They broadly aim to reconstruct the history of abundance in open access and management areas. Such work is invaluable as it should allow a clear picture of how fishing pressure and landings has changed over time and, when viewed in conjunction with management, what effect management has had. A before and after management comparison. The team is also interested in the effects that differences in abundance of commercial species has on the biodiversity of the Chilean coastline. These projects are ongoing so watch this space…


Well, there is not much else for me to say on how things work out here in Chile as, to be honest, I don’t know enough about the internal workings of the funding bodies etc. The above does, however, highlight a few areas that need addressing:

  • Better, more consistent monitoring of commerical catches are needed
  • A monitoring program that focuses on the artisanal fishery is required
  • It is very necessary to check what catch is on the dock and in the boat
  • Stock data should, at the very least, be made freely available to science
  • More time and money needs investing in the monitoring of our impacts in our seas (this is a a general point that applies globally)

Please not the above is a gross simplification of the fisheries situation in Chile and contains a lot of my own opinions.

This entry was published on 24/02/2013 at 22:01. 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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