San Andrés, Colombia, loses battle against illegal fishing
As Colombia and Nicaragua continue to fight for fishing rights and policing around the Caribbean archipelago of San AndrÃ©s, its waters have become vulnerable to illegal fishing from vessels across the region.
Colombian fishermen told military officials in early November that they had been chased away by illegal fishing boats from Central America, El Extra reported. Some of the crews were armed with assault weapons, according to the fishermen.
Colombian navy officials have also reported intercepting boats containing illegally harvested seafood. From January to October this year, some 12 tonnes were seized, much of it in the northern waters around San AndrÃ©s, Admiral Hernando Mattos Dager told El Nuevo Siglo. Boats have been discovered with large crews and catches.
SEE ALSO: Colombia fails to tackle illegal fishing in Malpelo reserve
A Dominican Republic vessel arrested this year had 60 crew members and nearly 6 tons of illegal catch, according to the navy commander.
In October 2020, two Jamaican ships were discovered with an illegal transport of around eight tonnes.
Over the past five years, vessels from the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Venezuela have been arrested for illegal fishing around San AndrÃ©s. Colombian ships have also been captured, according to Mattos Dager.
Species commonly caught illegally include queen conch, lobster, king crab and parrotfish, according to recent seizures.
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The archipelago’s remoteness from the Colombian mainland, contested waters and abundant marine life have made it an attractive destination for illegal fishing crews.
The archipelago of San AndrÃ©s, Providencia and Santa Catalina, located approximately 775 kilometers (480 miles) from the Colombian mainland and 230 kilometers (140 miles) from Nicaragua, has been the subject of years of legal battles between the two countries . The island group is part of Colombia, and the country has long claimed the surrounding waters. But a 2012 ruling by the International Court of Justice drew a line granting 75,000 square kilometers of the Caribbean Sea to Nicaragua.
The decision also meant that the Nicaraguan navy, which is much smaller than Colombia’s, was left to police for illegal fishing in the region. The two Marines spent more time looking at each other than patrolling the waters in search of illegal vessels.
SEE ALSO: Fishing co-ops used to hide drug shipments to Mexico
As a result of the decision, local fishermen noted a growing presence of industrial boats that use longline gear and lobster pots, according to a 2020 report by an investigator from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Illegal armed fleets – mainly from Honduras and Jamaica – have also arrived, using prohibited techniques and capturing protected species. Complaints of illegal fishing to the Colombian navy also often go unanswered, according to fishermen.
Illegal fishing has not only impacted the livelihoods of artisanal fishermen – many of whom have resigned – but also the health of the Seaflower Marine Reserve in the archipelago.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, tourism and climate change have all threatened the sea flower reef, which is part of the third largest coral reef structure in the world and accounts for more than 77 percent of the area. total coral reefs in Colombia. Although efforts have been made to protect the reef through sustainable tourism, illegal fishing threatens to reverse much of these gains.
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