Chilean fishermen. Photo by: Adobe Stock.
Chilean fishermen. Photo by: Adobe Stock.

Chilean artisanal fishermen of the common hake in a distress call

According to Oceana's latest report in Chile entitled "Poverty in the nets," artisanal fishermen are facing a critical problem of hake shortage in two Chilean regions.

Could the common hake be at risk? According to Oceana's latest report in Chile entitled "Poverty in the nets," artisanal fishermen are facing a critical problem of hake shortage in Caleta Portales, in the Valparaíso region, and Caleta Cocholgüe, in the Biobío region.

The common hake population has oscillated between states of overexploitation and depletion, as documented in the annual reports from the Undersecretariat of Fisheries. Despite legal mandates necessitating the establishment of recovery initiatives for fisheries facing conservation challenges, such programs have yet to be actioned.

The fishermen highlight the scarcity of common hake, a problem that has been growing over the years, making their work difficult. "We used to catch hake here in the bay, but for some time now, it is impossible. You have to go 15 or 20 miles out," explained Juan Molina, an artisanal fisherman from Cocholgüe.

Such is the situation that Rodrigo Gallardo, Director of the Artisan Fishermen's Union, asserts from Caleta Portales that many boats have gone out to fish hake during the year and returned empty-handed. Furthermore, Omar Méndez, President of the Fishermen's Union in Caleta Cocholgüe, points out that they can't fulfill their allocated quota: "We have an assigned quota, and we cannot capture it all because the fish are not there."

Comprehending the distinction between artisanal and commercial fishing

The artisanal fishing of common hake employs passive fishing techniques such as gillnets or longlines. In other words, it involves leaving the net or hooks in a specific location and waiting for the fish to come. "When there is a shortage of product, it becomes evident in our nets," explained the report. This is because neither the time nor the fishing nets they use can guarantee the same results as trawl nets.

The distribution of the common hake fishery is divided into a 60%-40% ratio. Consequently, 60% of the hake supply is allocated to the industrial sector, while the remaining 40% is distributed among more than three thousand artisanal fishermen in the central-southern region. According to César Astete, Director of Oceana's Fisheries Campaigns, this problem has deep historical roots. "The critical state of the fishery is a result of historical overfishing, accompanied by illegal activities and the detrimental impact of bottom trawling. This crisis affects not only the environment but also has significant social and economic consequences for artisanal fishing communities," he emphasized.

"Previously, there was an abundance of hake. In August, we had a lot, then in September, we would stop fishing during the closed season to preserve the resource, and in October and November, abundance would return," recounts Alexis Medina, an artisanal fisherman from Caleta Portales. "There used to be plenty of boats, people from the hills of Valparaíso, Viña, and traders would come. But that's not the case anymore. When we arrive with fish, it's very expensive because it's scarce. It's far away, there are many expenses, and production is low."

About Oceana

Oceana is the world's largest international organization with the commitment of conserving the ocean. It has over 275+ victories against overfishing, habitat damage, pollution, and species endangerment. Its global branches collaborate on strategic campaigns aimed at achieving tangible results to restore ocean health and biodiversity. The institution envisions a future where the world's oceans are teeming with life. Oceans, covering 71% of the planet, play a vital role in Earth's natural systems, such as climate regulation and carbon absorption, and are essential for the livelihoods of fishermen and communities worldwide. However, the threat is currently looming as fish stocks decline.