Algae collection. Photo: Subpesca

As reported by Fish Information Services, algae capture is now more profitable in Chile than artisanal fishing. Many fishermen are exchanging their nets for wetsuits and returning with their boats loaded with algae.

Some brown algae (black huiro, huiro palo and sargazo) are precious in Japan, China and France, where they are used for producing food thickeners, cosmetics, drugs and animal feed. However, a small part of the catch remains in Chile and marketed as human food (cochayuyo) or for the cultivation of an exotic mollusc, abalone.

Studies reveal that Chilean brown algae are in a state of “full capture.” If they are harvested respecting 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 Gonzalo Olea, marine biologist at the Ecos research center.

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,” says Cesar Villarroel, a member of the reserve’s advisory board.

For researchers at the Ecos center, the regulation of algae management and free access areas have not been well developed, though there has been some progress. “A few years ago,” says Felipe Thomas, a marine biologist at the Ecos center, “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 necessary.

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

Read More