Skip navigation


Illegal shark fishing in Galapagos
© Galapagos National Park

What is overfishing?

Overfishing is an incredibly important issue in conservation across the world. It is a form of overexploitation where fish stocks are reduced to below sustainable levels.

Overfishing can occur in water bodies of any size, such as ponds, rivers, lakes or oceans, and can result in resource depletion, reduced biological growth rates and low biomass levels. Continual overfishing can lead to the fish population being unable to sustain itself, and possible negative impacts on the whole ecosystem.

A shark entangled in a discarded fishing net
A shark entangled in a discarded fishing net © Csaba Tokolyi

Overfishing around the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos is home to some of the most environmentally sensitive waters on the planet. New species of fish, shark and mollusc have recently been discovered in the waters surrounding the Islands. This indicates that there may still be lots of other new marine species in the waters surrounding Galapagos that we have yet to discover. Overfishing in the waters surrounding Galapagos combined with changes to the marine climate has led to the destruction of the majority of the coral reefs in the Archipelago, many of which had existed for hundreds of years. 

The impact of overfishing on sharks in Galapagos 

Some forms of overfishing, for example the overfishing of sharks, have led to the upset of entire marine ecosystems. Between 2009 and 2017, the Galapagos National Park (GNP) captured 19 illegal fishing boats in the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR). The waters surrounding the Islands are home to one of the highest concentrations of sharks in the world and they are usually the main target of illegal boats, harvested solely for their fins to fulfil the high demand for shark fin soup in Asia. In 2017, the GNP captured an illegal Ecuadorian fishing boat which contained a total of 156 individual sharks, and a Chinese fishing boat which contained over 6,000 individual sharks. 

Sharks are not just at risk from illegal fishing in the GMR. Many of the sharks found in the GMR are migratory, including whale sharks and scalloped hammerhead sharks. Once these sharks move outside of protected waters, they become highly vulnerable to being caught as bycatch by industrial fishing fleets. 

Whale shark monitoring
Whale shark monitoring © Simon Pierce
Scalloped hammerhead shark in the Galapagos Islands
Scalloped hammerhead shark © Simon Pierce

Other marine life

Sea cucumbers have become favourable targets for local fishermen, as these are also popular within the Asian market, famed for their supposed aphrodisiac or medicinal qualities. Due to the alarming decrease in sea cucumbers in the early 1990s, an Executive Decree enforced by the GNP banned all fishing of sea cucumbers. The ban was then lifted and replaced with a quota, for both sea cucumbers and lobsters. Today, however, the waters surrounding Galapagos still contain low levels of sea cucumbers and lobsters. In addition, the removal of so many large predatory fish and lobsters from the Islands’ seas has led to huge numbers of sea urchins colonising the area. Subsequently, the sea urchins have overgrazed the coral, damaging it further and preventing it from re-establishing. 

The Galapagos Marine Reserve

In order to counteract some of the damage done by the fishing industry, a marine reserve was established in 1986 by Leon Febrès Cordero. In 1998 it was expanded and officially named the GMR and in 2001, UNESCO expanded the World Heritage Site status of the Galapagos Islands to include it.  

Help the wildlife of Galapagos survive and thrive

There are many ways to support our vision for a sustainable Galapagos: why not adopt an animal, become a GCT member or donate today?

Find out more about overfishing...

Galapagos shark
11th May 2023
Ocean protection Overfishing

Sharks: Our ocean’s superheroes, not villains

While sharks may appear scary to some, the majority of shark species pose no threat to humans, and we ignore their vital role in our marine ecosystems at our peril.
Read more
Scalloped hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos Marine Reserve
1st Sep 2022
Ocean protection Overfishing

Galapagos marine reserve expansion brings hope - but new management challenges

Highly productive waters support incredible marine biodiversity in Galapagos. The Galapagos marine reserve expansion brings hope for greater protection of this diversity but also new management challenges.
Read more
1st Feb 2022

Global relevance: COVID-19 and sea cucumbers

The brown sea cucumber fishery in the Galapagos Islands was reopened in 2021, six years after it was deemed that the population needed time to recover. After only two weeks it was closed again, with the quota of 600,000 sea cucumbers having been...
Read more
28th Jan 2022
Climate Overfishing Plastic pollution

Future oceans: Climate change, overfishing and pollution

Climate change is probably the single biggest threat facing the world’s biodiversity. If humans continue to live as we do today, rising temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events will cause widespread extinction.
Read more

Get the latest news from Galapagos

Join our mailing list to receive our monthly email newsletter, bringing you the latest news on Galapagos and our work to protect the Islands.

Share This Page