Destruction of wildlife spurred by illegal fishing in the Ciénaga de Simití swampland in the northern Colombia department of Bolívar has sparked a full-blown environmental crisis in a local village.
Since August, the ecological group Pescado Sueños (Fishing Dreams) has denounced the killing of caimans and other species of alligators due to illegal fishing practices along the Simití river as it crosses the municipality of Simití.
According to the organization, the use of trammel nets has caused all types of marine life to be caught, even those not of interest to fishermen. They die within hours of being trapped or are killed with harpoons.
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In other parts of Colombia, the use of such nets has endangered local ecosystems. In Orinoquía, a region which forms part of the Orinoco River's watershed, the famous pink river dolphins have also been victims of illegal fishing. While these dolphins are usually caught accidentally, they have also been directly targeted for their meat to be used as fish bait or for their oil, which can fetch a high price on the black market.
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The increase of illegal fishing in the Ciénaga de Simití not only threatens the local ecosystem and native species, but also puts at risk the local population, who depend on a sustainable harvest of the area's marine resources to live.
The difference lies in the use of the trammel nets, which are made up of three layers of netting. These are commonly used to reach species of fish living deeper than normal nets can go. In 2013 authorities began making arrests over the use of trammel nets; however their use only appears to have increased. In early 2019, InSight Crime visited the municipality of Simití and documented a spike in illegal fishing.
A major driver of the rise in illegal fishing is that its profits dwarf those of legal fishing in the area. Local residents told InSight Crime that fishermen operating legally in Simití can bring in hauls worth between 15,000 to 20,000 pesos ($4.50 to $6) a day, while those using the illegal trammel nets can earn between 200,000 to 500,000 pesos ($60 to $150).
Environmental officials in the area confirmed to InSight Crime that they had seized trammel nets of up to 25 meters in length.
Trammel nets drag beneath boats at greater depths, dredging up smaller fish, as well as alligators, birds or even manatees that inhabit the swampland.
Smaller, younger fish are caught by trammel nets, preventing them from growing and reproducing.
Indiscriminate fishing in the Ciénaga de Simití also puts at risk the food security of the local population, whose diet is heavily dependent on fish from the river. A local official told InSight Crime that there is real concern locally about fish running out in the next few years.
While Simití does have an official fisheries inspector, illegal fishing has proven difficult to stamp out. The boats go out to set their trammel nights at night, making it more difficult for patrols to detect them.