An Ecuador court sentenced a Galapagos resident to three years in prison, earlier this month, for the illegal trafficking of sea cucumbers. (Photo: Galapagos National Park rangers sorting through the confiscated sea cucumbers (DPNG)).
This particular conviction is a victory for the local community and authorities as it serves as an important deterrent for those considering carrying out illegal fishing and trafficking of protected species. Historically, the legal system tended to be more lenient towards local perpetrators; however, this verdict goes a long way in showing that wildlife laws are applied equally to all, regardless of origin.
After two days of deliberation, the Seventh Tribunal in Guayas unanimously sentenced a Galapagos resident to three years in prison for trafficking 3,712 sea cucumbers (181 lbs). The sea cucumbers were discovered January 2016 during a routine search by Galapagos National Park and National Police officers at the Baltra island airport. The trafficker had attempted to smuggle the sea cucumbers inside three cartons, where fish were used to hide the dried and salted sea cucumbers.
Sea cucumbers are marine animals with leathery skin and elongated bodies that are considered a delicacy in Asian cuisine. They act as scavengers and are often referred to as the earth worms of the sea because they break down nutrients and recycle debris on the sea floor. The demand for sea cucumbers has led to their massive decline worldwide and listing on the IUCN Red List of endangered species. They are considered a protected species in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Once widely abundant in the Galapagos, the fishery has been indefinitely closed due to overharvesting.
Galapagos National Park Director, Walter Bustos, stated that “it’s not fair that one sector of the fishing community respects the closure, while others abuse and traffic these protected species,” to emphasize the need for continued enforcement operations and the zero tolerance stance from the Galapagos National Park Service towards illegal fishing.
Since 2002, WildAid has worked with the Galapagos National Park Service to prevent illegal fishing, raise awareness, strengthen penalties and protect nearly 3,000 marine species thanks to the support of the Helmsley Charitable Trust, Conservation International, IGTOA, the Walton Family Foundation and WWF.