A little more than a decade ago, the Fishing Law was based on acts of corruption. Investigations by the Public Prosecutor’s Office uncovered the financing of parliamentarians at the time by the big fishing companies and established the bribery of a deputy (Isasi) and a senator (Orpis), who was convicted. Both are from the UDI party, a political organization that has been the protagonist of the most corrupt acts in our recent history.

The law was drafted by Longueira, leader of the same party, who received donations from the big fishing companies using false receipts kept by his secretary (as she did at SQM). The Public Prosecutor’s Office obtained the statements of the professionals who passed on their receipts, their current accounts, and their transfers to “la Titi Valdivieso”, the right-hand man of the corrupt Longueira.

But all this has not affected one iota of the “legal” benefits that the big business groups have obtained for their fishing companies, and they have gotten away with it, i.e. the commercial organizations of the biggest fishing companies have participated in this corruption, namely Asipnor (Northern Zone), Asipes (Biobío) and Fipes (South-Austral), in coordination with the buying of parliamentarians from the National Congress, and have thus achieved that the Fisheries Law puts their petty and eco-criminal interests above all else. The law passed in 2012, granted them licenses for 20 years, with automatic renewal.

“The fish will have to learn to walk on land because the water will run out” (El General en su laberinto, Gabriel García Márquez).

70% of Chile’s sovereignty is the sea. The sea has been drowned by extractives, a favored activity of a primary export economy, where the excessive exploitation of resources takes precedence over ecosystems, with the areas where these activities have been installed having a high environmental impact, a true reflection of how a system of accumulation devastates life.

The application and consolidation of this model means, above all, the privatization of the sea, the destruction of ecosystems, the forcing of entire communities to reinvent themselves, the transformation and “legal” appropriation of collective social goods and rights into private property, unleashing a series of national eco-territorial conflicts (sacrifice zones), which seek a solution ranging from fierce resistance to the negotiation of better conditions for the use of resources. Furthermore, the subsidiary state promotes and guarantees the processes associated with extractivist, with opaque legislation of policies oriented towards profit and production (concession allocation mechanism).

Even though Chile is at the top of several lists related to the fishing industry, the Chilean Sea is a victim of overexploitation. According to the latest report from the Undersecretariat of Fisheries and Aquaculture (Subpesca), dated March 2023, most species are in crisis, 29% of fisheries are overexploited and 28% are depleted. In addition to this grim diagnosis, some activities warn of the current state of our seas, such as the high levels of pollution from the fishing industry’s own waste, plastics, and salmon farming. Despite the data, last month the Senate’s Joint Commission rejected a ban on the installation of new salmon farming concessions in protected areas.

It is worth noting that Chile is the second country in the world to ratify the ‘Decade of Ocean Sciences for Sustainable Development from 2021 to 2030’ (UN 2017), which aims to restore the health, resilience, and productivity of the ocean through the regulation of resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits.

Despite this and the changes made to Chilean institutions based on the discourse of “sustainable development”, there is a paradox between caring for the environment and promoting economic activities to support growth and development; The current development model is not being questioned in any time, instance or debate, nor are the modes of appropriation of the natural commons and/or the democratization of decisions regarding the installation of extractive investment projects, and the future challenges do not focus on more and better regulation, an institutional framework in line with the urgency of conservation and protection, and a change in the development matrix, which has been predominantly consumerist and extractivist.

Prioritizing artisanal fishing, a Boric promise

Cristian Arancibia Chandía, president of the board of directors of the Federation of Artisanal Fishermen of the Biobío Region (Ferepa Biobío), attended the presentation of the draft fisheries law signed by President Gabriel Boric in Quintay Bay last December. The leaders of the fishing sector hope that this legal initiative, which incorporates the main points of their demands, will overcome a right-wing Congress.

Hernán Cortés, president of the Confederación para la Defensa del Patrimonio Pesquero A.G. (CONDEPP), said: “We have denounced from the beginning that the fishing industry had links with parliamentarians in the Fisheries Commission that approved the Longueira Law, so we appreciate that the government is fulfilling its commitment to present this bill. “The new Fisheries Law must have a spirit of justice, unlike what the Longueira Law was, so it is essential that the division is favorable to artisanal fishing, especially on issues such as the sardine quota, which is 100% fished by artisanal fishermen, so the quota must be 100% artisanal, there is no justification for the industry to have a quota for this fishery because they cannot fish. Another fundamental point is that there must be a social platform to support this activity, which is dangerous and has a high level of insecurity.

Hernán Machuca, a spokesman for the group, commented: “We are hopeful, but we are not naive, we will read the proposed law and the articles carefully to make sure that it does not have the black hand of the big fish of corruption”. “The devil will be in the details and we will follow the process with a clinical eye to avoid the industry ‘passing’ indications such as those introduced by Jaime Orpis and Marta Isassi, whose only objective was to benefit the industrial fishing industry that paid them bribes”.

The executive’s supervisory role

The State’s specialized service, which operates based on current legislation, is overwhelmed in its efforts, and unbridled extractivism is leading to the collapse of marine biodiversity.
Eleuterio Yáñez, a scientist at the Catholic University of Valparaíso, has denounced that “… years of approving fishing quotas without taking into account the complexity of marine ecosystems are showing their serious consequences. It is worth mentioning the case of pelagic fishing quotas, where Subpesca only cares about the state of anchovies and sardines, but knows nothing about the state of species such as mackerel, pampanito, and machuelo, which are part of the same ecosystem, or copepods and euphausiids (small krill), the main food of the former, and phytoplankton, their other food, which inhabit the pelagic zone and are part of the water column.

The picture is even worse if we add to this exercise the lack of concern to include the study of damage to the rich microbiome that, when healthy, supports the whole scaffolding of the biological cycles of these marine ecosystems”.

There is no more time to delay a radical change in the way we fish.

Our country must address environmental problems with a focus on development that makes economic growth and environmental protection compatible, with a vision that prioritizes the quality of life of the population. Economic power in Chile is concentrated in very few hands, a situation that is felt at the regional and local levels, in the daily lives of the majority.

The consequences of this concentration of economic and productive activity have left us with a very fragile economy, given its high degree of dependence. On the other hand, the regions are unable to generate productive processes according to their own needs, as they respond to the orientations of large national and transnational companies.

Hydrobiological resources, such as fish, shellfish, crustaceans, algae, etc., have been subject to large catches in recent years, which has led to disputes over the regulation and management of fishing activities, with legal instruments such as “bans”, “no-fishing zones”, “maritime concessions”, etc. The high demand for the export of fishmeal has led the fishing industry to marginalize small-scale fishermen, creating a serious social conflict. The extermination policy imposed by the over-export model has led to a very high level of exploitation of fisheries and coastal resources, which are transformed into fishmeal. On the contrary, domestic consumption of nutritious marine products is still very low among the neediest.

We need to change the paradigm, we need courage and commitment for future generations, without fear of confronting the barbarity of the economic groups in their devastation of the seas; speeches are no longer useful, and it is time to change this catastrophic situation.

Contributors: Ricardo Lisboa Henríquez; M. Angélica Alvear Montecinos; Sandra Arriola Oporto; Guillermo Garcés Parada and César Anguita Sanhueza. Public Opinion Commission