Today is World Wetlands Day, and the Salvadoran Ministry of Environment (MARN) announced some thrilling news: it will soon be able to better monitor illegal fishing activity along the coast with the help of state-of-the-art technology. This is a major victory for organizations like EcoViva and ICAPO, together with community allies, who continue to raise public awareness about destructive dynamite fishing.
In a video released today of the launch of the Wetlands Surveillance Network, Minister Lina Pohl explained MARN would be installing a hydrophone – an underwater microphone – off the coast. Capable of registering underwater sounds up to 50 kilometers away, the hydrophone, once calibrated, will allow the Ministry to detect blast fishing in the Bay of Jiquilisco.
Blast fishing, in which fishers use home-made bombs to fish, is incredibly destructive, indiscriminately killing all living things in the radius of the blast and razing underwater habitats. Fishers risk losing limbs or even their lives when fishing with bombs.
MARN also announced that it will install 50 GPS radios on industrial fishing ships to gather data about ship location and better enforce laws prohibiting industrial fishing within three miles of the coast.
Since 2009, EcoViva and the Mangrove Association have been working to curb the destructive practice of blast fishing. We train former blast fishers in sustainable fishing techniques, monitor the Bay of Jiquilisco with authorities, and provide a viable model of small scale fisheries management. Our work in Pesca Limpia (“Clean Fishing”) has been adopted by authorities in the Ministries of the Environment and Agriculture as an effective method to reduce blast fishing, and involve fishers themselves in stewarding El Salvador’s largest wetland area.
El Salvador will be the first country in the region to boast a “direct link” to the ocean with this kind of technology. Both the hydrophone and the GPS radio systems will transmit data in real-time, enabling MARN and other Salvadoran institutions to better monitor illegal activity and protect the country’s marine environments. Our community partners will also be leading these efforts locally, having recently installed real-time monitoring equipment at our field headquarters in the bay.
In 2005, the Bay of Jiquilisco was designated a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention because of its incredible biological diversity and its critical importance to local communities who fish, farm, and live around the bay, and depend on its bounty of fish, shellfish, wood, and clean water.
Over a billion people worldwide depend on wetlands for their livelihoods. World Wetlands Day, celebrated every February 2 in recognition of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands this day in 1971, draws attention to these beautiful and invaluable ecosystems.