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13 de Septiembre del 2021
Lectura: 16 minutos
13 de Septiembre del 2021
Franklin Vega

Periodista, experto en temas ambientales.

Meet the Assemblymen who oppose the protection of sharks and exotic animals

This is part of the largest shark fin smuggling seized in Hong Kong in May 2020 and was shipped from Guayaquil, Ecuador. There were 26 tons, 30,500 sharks killed for their fins and the fine imposed Photo: taken from the South China Morning Post, photo by Nora Tam.

In the plenary of the National Assembly, on Thursday, September 2 at 11:30 am, reforms to the Organic Environmental Code will be discussed. This project includes the prohibition of importing exotic animals such as the giraffes that were killed in Loja, the hippopotamuses that two zoos want to bring and the moratorium on the commercialization of sharks captured "incidentally".

In this session of the Commission, the final voting text for the second debate of the project to reform the Organic Environmental Code had to be approved. It seemed a simple task: this project has been two years in the making; it has received contributions and attacks from every imaginable sector: animal protectionists, industrial fishermen, defenders and some authorities.

That is why I can affirm that it is not true what Assemblyman César Rohon said in the plenary session of the Assembly: "the fishing sector did not participate in this debate". In this link is the official letter from the National Chamber of Fisheries, dated April 7, which shows that they were well aware of the bill.

Screenshot of the letter sent by the National Chamber of Fisheries to the Biodiversity Commission of the National Assembly.


For environmentalists and fishing industrialists, the central point of the debate of the bill was in the fourth transitory provision, which establishes a one-year ban on the trade of sharks, rays and any protected species, whether of their bodies or their parts. That is, if approved in the plenary of the National Assembly, Ecuador would join the list of countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States that have already banned the trade of shark fins.

Also proposed is a ban on the importation of exotic animals such as giraffes and hippopotamuses, such as those "already agreed" between two zoos in Ecuador and the guardians of the animals brought by Pablo Escobar that escaped to the Magdalena River in Colombia, the reasons for not importing in this link.

But let's go back to the 14th session of the Biodiversity Commission of the Assembly. In which there was no time for boredom and many surprises. The first one was that the Pachakutik assembly member Gissella Molina, designated as rapporteur of this project, tried in every possible way to have it shelved. The arguments were unbelievable: that "they are last minute reforms", that "this project is being pushed through between the hours of the night", that "it is not comprehensive, that it deals with two legal bodies", that "it needs to be well analyzed"... In other words, she was unaware of the previous report and all the work behind it. If she had any doubts, a few hours on the Facebook account watching the videos of the Commission would bring her up to date with the interventions.

Screenshot of the 14th Session of the Biodiversity Commission when Fredy Rojas, CREO Assemblyman for Galapagos, speaks. Click here for the video
Assemblywoman Molina, who is a veterinarian by profession and claims to be an animal lover, was unaware of the struggle of animal rights groups that have been fighting for more than two years to prevent the import of exotic animals such as the four giraffes killed at the Loja Zoo and to stop the indiscriminate fishing of sharks in the sea of Ecuador. The reactions in social networks were immediate, animal activists rejected her and questioning multiplied.
An advisor intervened to explain that the filing does not proceed. The report of the project will be analyzed for its vote in the plenary, that is to say with the 115 assembly members.

It took more than an hour to start the text that covers two norms: the Organic Code of the Environment and the Organic Code of Territorial Organization, Autonomy and Decentralization. One of the advisors demonstrated, in a didactic way, that it is possible to deal with cross-cutting issues in a single regulatory body.

There was a break and representatives of Imbabura, who are promoting the creation of the Geopark, were received in general commission. And after the presentations. Molina played her role. She asked the guests about mining in the province, she talked about Buenos Aires... The Pachakutik Assemblywoman for Cotopaxi said that "she is not willing to accept a reform made in a hurry and will not allow to leave out the sanctions on mining and says that she is committed to support the animal activists of which I am a member".

Carlos Merizalde, representative of Imbabura, patiently and skillfully settled the issue: "we do not and will not support illegal mining because it violates human rights". Molina retreated, but momentarily.
Representatives of the artisanal fishermen of Galapagos were also heard in this parenthesis. Dionisio Zapata spoke, the equivalent of Rohon in the null evolution of his speeches, which can be summarized as: bad environmentalists, good fishermen. Since 1998, like his industrial fishing colleague, he has been accusing conservationists of the backwardness of his sector: "We fishermen are the ones who really take care of Galapagos, we have lobster and cucumber bans... the last cucumber fishery was a success. He added with conviction: "the press and the paid journalist bring out the effects that are not real".

Zapata on sea cucumbers omitted to say that, in general terms, the holothurians have not recovered. For example, in 2001 they fished 3.5 million cucumbers and this time there were 600,000 and after waiting five years for the cucumber populations to recover somewhat (in this link some data).

But the fishermen were there because of the ban on the use of longline and its variants in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. This prohibition was in the second paragraph of the aforementioned fourth transitional provision and sought to ban this fishing gear that is characterized by being unselective and having a high percentage of bycatch such as sharks, turtles and seabirds, species that are not supposed to be the target of fishing.

After the Galapagos artisanal fishermen, Cristina Cely, a veterinarian like Molina, spoke, but she is a long-time animal activist and one of the promoters of the moratorium on the commercialization of sharks and their fins. Cely spoke as if she were at home, I have seen at least five interventions in the same Biodiversity Commission and the Plenary of the Assembly providing data on shark fishing, the Chinese fishing fleet, demanding answers on the smuggling of shark fins and denouncing the longline fleet that turns off its identification and location systems near Galapagos.

With firm and technical arguments Cely explained the reasons for the moratorium on shark commercialization. "Environmentalists work so that fishermen are not left without fishing, I am not against an activity on which thousands of families depend on the coast. Sharks play a fundamental role in the sea by maintaining healthy fish populations that artisanal fishermen catch", were some of the phrases she dedicated to the fishing sector with the skill of a surgeon expert in dealing with the apparent lack of reasons.


After listening to the guests, the session was reinstated. The Assemblyman for Galapagos, Pedro Zapata, explained the reasons why the Commission cannot request the project to be filed, once again telling Molina that it should be in the plenary. Zapata suggested voting article by article. By then it was already three hours of meeting and the debate began, to call it that way; but before that he said he was not opposed to the moratorium as he had seen in a tweet of an "Animal Log", referring to the portal Bitácora Ambiental.

Giraffes in their natural environment in the Kruguer National Park in South Africa. Photo Franklin Vega
I was anxiously awaiting article 11 that establishes the prohibition of importing exotic animals, such as the four giraffes that died in the Loja Zoo a few weeks ago. But to my surprise it was not Assemblywoman Molina who proposed the elimination of this prohibition. It was Assemblywoman Viviana Veloz of the UNES party who made the request. Luckily for the animals, her colleagues did not join the request, which, if approved, would leave the way clear for the arrival of Pablo Escobar's hippopotamuses, which two zoos in Ecuador already have their eye on.
In this way, the rest of the articles were analyzed; in total there were 27 in which observations and novelties were registered. And after five hours and 45 minutes they arrived at the transitory provisions. When they reached the fourth - the moratorium on sharks, their fins and longlining in Galapagos - a slight uproar began and the first vote sanctified the elimination of the ban on longlining and its variants in Galapagos. The first step in the victory of the animal rights movement and the ban on the commercialization of sharks seemed to have materialized.

Just before starting the celebrations for the sharks that will be saved and how Ecuador will stop being the third world exporter of shark fins - at least for a year or until this bloody business is controlled - the secretary of the Commission read the proposal of Assemblyman Rohon, who had presented it in the plenary a week before the debate in the Commission. The document of the Assemblyman for Guayas, and fishing industrialist, asked for the elimination of the entire fourth transitory provision, that is to say, the moratorium and the longline issue.

The vote was summary, Rohon's request did not pass. He was already preparing the headline of the article: Sharks 1 Rohon 0. Washington Varela, president of the Commission, proposed to change the rapporteur before the plenary and offered to replace Molina, who again asked if "the report could be changed in the plenary of the Assembly". While they were preparing the resolution for the change of rapporteur, the audio problems began, there were murmurs and from the screen it was not clear what was happening; only the text of the fourth transitional provision was shown, marked in yellow the prohibition of the use of longline fishing in Galapagos.
When calling one of those present, one could hear the phones of the Assembly members ringing, both from those present in the Commission and from the screens, the source could not or would not say anything. It was evident that something was cooking, the advisors of the Galapagos Assembly members were talking with the members of the Commission; they were worried and busy. The audio was removed from the screen and Pedro Zapata intervened, but he was only heard inside the Commission. Then he spoke again, he said he did not understand why strange things happen in Ecuador.

Immediately, the Assemblyman of Galapagos, Fredy Rojas, requested the reconsideration of the vote and the audio went away again. The objective was clear: to open a door to eliminate the temporary ban on the commercialization of sharks and the prohibition of the use of longlines in Galapagos. However, only Efren Calapucha, representative of Pastaza, changed his vote in the reconsideration.

At the end of the vote, the text remained as it was at the beginning. The longline prohibition was eliminated and the temporary moratorium for the commercialization of sharks was maintained in the bill. Varela will be responsible for presenting the bill to the plenary. I welcomed the openness to conservation of the person responsible for cutting down all the guayabos and cucardas of Tena, where he was mayor.

Thus, the Galapagos deputies and the fishing industry were left with the desire to eliminate -with the typical tricks of politics- the temporary moratorium on the commercialization of sharks. Now we have to wait for how it will be voted in the plenary of the National Assembly, in one or two weeks. It is known that Assemblywoman Molina is on a personal crusade in Pachakutik for the bill to be shelved and I also know that not everyone in that movement is willing to let the fishing industry continue exporting sharks and the smuggling of shark fins to position Ecuador as the third largest exporter in the world.

For now, I am going to send 115 emails to the assembly members asking them to approve the ban on importing exotic animals and the moratorium on sharks (in this link are the addresses and emails of each one: ) and I will start with the Biodiversity Commission.

Screenshot of the Legislative Observatory website

Now it is your turn: readers concerned about the exotic animals that come to die in the zoos of Ecuador and the massacre of sharks in the seas of Ecuador. On Thursday, September 2, the continuation of the Session No. 723 is scheduled in semipresential mode; in this conclave, the future of the seas of Ecuador will be decided (it is not an exaggeration; without sharks the sea dies).
I think it is time to demand that the Assembly members vote in favor of the temporary moratorium for the commercialization of sharks and that the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition protect wildlife in the seas as well as in the continental territory with the support of the citizens.
Nothing hidden under the sun, fin smuggling in the spotlight
Shark fin exporters and smugglers are worried in Manta and Guayaquil. The fifth transitory provision of the draft reform to the Organic Environmental Code establishes that the National Customs Service of Ecuador, within eight months, will deliver to the Ministry of Environment and Water a detailed study of the shipments sent as "dried or frozen fish", as well as all shark species products that have been authorized for export, with dates and responsible parties, from 2004 to 2020.

How many more cases like the 26 tons seized from Hong Kong will be uncovered? In this crusade for transparency, the Assembly has not stood out so far, but it has an opportunity to say that the health - which implies that artisanal fishermen can continue fishing - of the sea matters to them.

*This article was originally published at and is reposted in Plan V with the author's permission.

Read this article in its original version herw

Translated by Manuel Novik
Meet the Assemblymen who oppose the protection of sharks and exotic animals



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