The Privatization of Chile’s Sea
Many small-scale fishermen say new fishing law could spell the end of their livelihood
Voiceover: A series of protests have erupted across Chile over the past year regarding a law that will impact the countryâ€™s fishing industry. Proponents say the law is needed in order to protect depleted fish reserves and ensure the sustainability of the industry, but opponents say the law seeks to privatize the Chilean sea and its resources to the benefit of 7 powerful families that control a handful of large fishing businesses.
David Dougherty, Valparaiso, Chile: Many small-scale fishermen in Chile say that a way of life is at stake with the new fishing law. Fishermen in coastal towns and cities across Chile, like here in Valparaiso, are raising fundamental questions about whether the Chilean sea and its fish should be considered private property.
Gabriel Valenzuela Andaur, President, Caleta Membrillo Fishermenâ€™s Union, Valparaiso: As small scale fishermen, artisanal fishermen, we donâ€™t really approve of this new law, itâ€™s going to be more of the same law, which has treated us very poorlyâ€¦(why, how has it treated you bad, what has been the impact)â€¦because it has enabled the large fishing businesses, they are destructive pillagers, theyâ€™ve damaged the ocean floor, they havenâ€™t let the species regroup and reproduce and this has resulted in the collapse of fishing resources.
Miguel Angel Maureira, Artisanal Fisherman, Caleta Membrillo, Valparaiso: The ships that go after all the large fish, they have radar they have everything they need to capture the big ones and follow the schools of fish, they always take the biggest ones and leave the smallest ones, these are what they leave, the fish for the people, the rest are for foreigners, they are industrial fishermen, we are artisanal fishermen, and these are the only fish left for us.
Voiceover: Chileâ€™s current Minister of Economy Pablo Longueira, a founding member of the rightwing Independent Democratic Union party presented the law, which opponents have named the Longueira Law. Longueira is one of a number of current members of President Sebastian PiÃ±eraâ€™s administration who were early supporters of and later collaborators with General Augusto Pinochet, who ruled the country under a military dictatorship after grabbing power in a US-backed coup in 1973 that ousted democratically elected leftwing president Salvador Allende. Longueira and other officials pushing for the law, which essentially seeks to consolidate and expand a shorter-term law approved in 2002, say the measures are necessary in order to ensure the sustainability of the fishing industry, which has faced severely diminishing yields in recent years due to overfishing.
Pablo Longuiera, Minister of Economy, Chile: What this project does, which makes it difficult to implement, I fully understand that this is not an easy project, what it establishes in the first article is that the object of the Chilean Fishing Law is the sustainability of these resources.
Voiceover: The 2002 law established a quota system that essentially divided up whatâ€™s left of the remaining depleted fishing stocks; the new law would extend the quota system for an additional 20 years and make it renewable and transferable, which critics say essentially enables the future generations large scale fishing industry giants to be born into ownership of the quotas several decades down the road. A number of species targeted by the fishing industry have faced near total collapse since the 90â€™s, like the jurel, or jack mackerel, having declined 90% in the past 20 years in the southern Pacific, with stocks diminishing from 30 million tons annually to less than 3 million. Some marine biologists like Gonzalo Araya have warned against the potential harmful environmental impacts of the law, which he says have already manifested themselves after 10 years under the existing quota system.
Gonzalo Araya, Marine Biologist: If we do an analysis of the past 10 years of the implementation of this system that they want to extend for an additional 20 years, I think there is no doubt that the majority of the resources subject to the quota system are in collapse, they are in a state of full exploitation and declineâ€¦they need exclusive rights to the exploitation of the fish, for what they hope is indefinitely, to improve their economic efficiency, which is not conditioned on the sustainability of fishing resources.
Voiceover: The Chilean fishing industry is estimated to be the 6th largest in the world and a major pillar of the national economy. Several decades of monopolization and mergers have resulted in the establishment of 4 major conglomerations controlled by 7 families, who also have major investments in other critical sectors of national the economy and abroad. Juan Carlos CÃ¡rdenas is the director of the Ecoceanos Center, a citizenâ€™s organization that works with a number of community organizations and coastal communities on issues surrounding maritime resources and environmental sustainability. He explains how historically strong ties between the fishing industry oligarchs and elected officials have encouraged a system where the political process and public policies are influenced and driven by powerful economic interests.
Juan Carlos CÃ¡rdenas, Director, Ecoceanos: Itâ€™s important to note that they obtained and gained access to a large number of resources during the period of the dictatorship, later during the end of the dictatorship and the start of the civilian governments, they conditioned the first fishing and aquaculture laws in a way that would maintain their control â€¦ there is not a deputy or senator from a coastal region who was elected without funding from the fishing and aquaculture companies.
Voiceover: At least 4 senators have been accused of conflicts of interest due to investments and ties with the fishing industry, although their votes were not voided. The law was made a priority for discussion in parliament, with aspirations for a quick approval before the expiration of the existing fishing law at the end of 2012. However, the lawâ€™s passage was temporarily paralyzed after it was determined that the indigenous communities involved in the fishing economy were not properly consulted as required by law. Cardenas explains how the fishing law and its quota system seek to consolidate a market model open to speculation, which he describes as among the most privatized in the international fishing industry.
Juan Carlos CÃ¡rdenas, Director, Ecoceanos: The system is based on eliminating the property of the state, along with access and use of the fishing resources, and transferring them to the market through an individual quota system of fish, they are transferable, which means the quotas can be sold, purchased, rented, or leased. They are also applying this quota system to the artisanal fishermen, and most likely they will have to leave the system within a matter of years because their quotas are small and they would have to sell them to the industry, this system makes it so that in the future, the fishing quotas on paper are going to have more value than the physical resources that actually exist in the water.
Voiceover: Ironically for a country characterized by its extensive coastline, fish is considered a luxury for many Chilean families due to high prices that make it out of reach for regular consumption. The overwhelming majority of fish captured by the large-scale industry is destined for export to international markets, with most of it converted into fish oil or powder to be used as animal feed in aquaculture and factory farming. The fishing law has ignited questions over national food security and whether the majority of fish should be destined for domestic consumption as a national resource, or exported to foreign markets under the current industry model.
Gabriel Valenzuela Andaur, President, Caleta Membrillo Fishermenâ€™s Union: The large businesses have always been those who benefit the most, we have always denounced that fishing in the country is generally in the hands of 7 familiesâ€¦Here itâ€™s worth much more to protect the interests and pockets of a few people than the benefit of the people who feed themselves with this product.
Voiceover: Some divisions have arisen among more than 73,000 artisanal fishermen regarding the new law. A classification system based on boat size has led to ambiguities where some producers considered to be small-scale artisanal fishermen have been found to be operated by or working directly with the large-scale businesses. Minister Longueira signed an accord with 2 federations representing artisanal fishermen, but other fishermen like Gino Bavestrello of the national council for the patrimonial defense of Chilean fishermen, say that the groups consulted constitute a minority and do not represent the interests of the majority of small-scale fishermen in Chile.
Gino Bavestrello, National Director, CondeppÂ¬Â¬Â¬Â¬Â¬: In order for the law to be approved, Minister Longueira called upon a group of artisanal fishermen who represent their own interests. Our organization, the Council for the Defense of the Patrimonial Fishermen of Chile, is the largest group of artisanal fishermen, and theyâ€™ve never called on us to ask how we feel about this lawâ€¦We think that artisanal fishing is going to disappear, because theyâ€™re basically handing over the fishing resources to a handful of businesses that are going to exploit them commercially.
Voiceover: While the fishing law currently remains held up due to the failure of legislatures to consult indigenous communities, many are concerned that it will only be a speed bump to the eventual passage of all or most of its major provisions. Fishermen opposed to the measures have announced that they intend to not comply if they are signed into law, saying they are struggling to protect their way of life.