Algae capture is more profitable than artisanal fishing

[Chile] Algae capture is now more profitable and that is why many fishermen are changing the nets for wetsuits with which each morning they go out to dive and return in their boats loaded with algae.

Experts warn of the risks of marine deforestation and seek solutions for sustainable activity.

As it has been for years in the Mediterranean with Posidonia, or in the Atlantic with sebadales, the South Pacific is experiencing an increase in capture of its marine forests.

Algae appreciated in the Japanese market

Some brown algae (black huiro, huiro palo and sargazo) are very precious in Japan, China and France, where they are used for producing food thickeners, cosmetics, drugs and animal feed.

However, a small part remains in Chile and is marketed as human food (cochayuyo) or for the cultivation of an exotic mollusc, abalone.

The ecological value of these aquatic forests is enormous. As Felipe Thomas and Gonzalo Olea, marine biologists at the Ecos research centre, explain: macroalgae are habitat structuring.

In addition to feeding herbivores, these algae “create areas that allow larval settlement and growth of species of both commercial value and ecological importance,” Thomas points out.

Full operation

The studies of these experts reveal that Chilean brown algae are in a state of “full capture”.

If they are harvested respecting the good practices, the prairies have great capacity of renovation; but the degree of conservation of the species today is uncertain and variable, depending on the zones.

On the coast of the province of Huasco (Atacama), where Isla de Chañaral Marine Reserve, part of the Penguin Reserve of Humboldt, is located, there is an important biomass of brown algae, “probably thanks to the protection of the reserve, less pollution and to the fact that historically the operating pressure has been lower, ” says Olea.

Scarce inspection and illegal fishers from other ports are concerning.

“Isla de Chañaral is still a reserve with a very important biodiversity, but we need more control to protect it,” ensures Cesar Villarroel, a member of the reserve’s advisory board.

Scarce inspection and illegal fishermen from other ports are concerning.

“Isla de Chañaral is still a reserve with a very important biodiversity, but we need more control to protect it,” ensures César Villarroel, a member of the reserve’s advisory board.

Regulation and control

For researchers at the Ecos centre, the regulation of algae management and free access areas is little developed although there has been progress.

“A few years ago,” says Felipe Thomas, “the restrictions were only on the size of the algae and it was possible to collect all that was stranded, but now there are regional and provincial quotas, which must also be administered locally.”

At present, the management areas, some 70 hectares, must be supported by a registered organization, such as a fishermen’s union, which is granted exclusive capture. Those who do not want to associate are left out of the system.

In the “free access” areas it is possible for algae collectors from the whole region to work and it is where the self-regulation becomes really necessary.

There coexist “exemplary models” with other less healthy ones, but there are cases that deserve to be imitated and validated by the administration.

For example, there are areas where the community has parceled out so that each family works in a small area and takes care of it, operating with good practices. “They are the most interested ones in obtaining higher income”, explains Olea.

Unemployment in mining and other sectors, the effects of overfishing, and the development of algal exports, all contribute to the growth of this economic activity.

As an example, Emilio Morales, formerly a shellfisher and now dedicated to huiro, says that in a couple of hours, he can collect a ton and a half of the product.

The price at which he will sell this capture amounts to a million and a half pesos (about USD 2,300). A very lucrative sale for a region negatively affected by the lack of economic expectations.

 

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