Fed Mary I Galapagos

The Fer Mary I after being apprehended with hundreds of shark carcasses in 2011.

Back in June we reported that a court in Ecuador issued a landmark ruling when it  convicted all the defendants in an illegal shark fishing case within the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Now it appears the case, which has been dragging along for four years, is officially closed as the captain and crew have all been sentenced to prison.

The fishing boat Fer Mary I was apprehended on July 19, 2011 inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve with 286 thresher sharks, 22 blue sharks, 40 Galapagos sharks and 6 hammerhead sharks in its holds. Sharks are a protected within the reserve and it is against the law to fish for them.

The captain of the vessel was sentenced to two years in prison. Each of the nine crew members was sentenced to one year. The ship was seized and will be sold at auction.

The convictions in June made international news because it was the first time that all of the defendants in a marine crime case within the GMR were successfully brought to trial and convicted. The recent prison sentences are also gaining widespread attention as they seem to send a fairly strong message to would-be criminals that authorities are at long last cracking down on illegal fishing within the reserve.

Illegal fishing is a huge problem within the reserve, which is difficult to effectively patrol because of its size. In the past, even when suspects were apprehended, they typically avoided punishment because of what many activists have referred to as “inadequate judicial response” by Ecuadorian courts. Often, marine crimes cases were referred to judges on the mainland who claimed to lack the competence to preside over them and charges were dropped. In other cases, defendants were released on their own recognizance to their home provinces and effectively disappeared.

We applaud the Ecuadorian judicial system for taking this small but symbolically powerful step towards protecting the incredible natural riches of the Galapagos Marine Reserve and the Galapagos Islands at large.