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In principle there is free access to the beaches in Chile and in principle everybody has the right to collect loose-lying material in the water and on the beaches.

It seems to be the impression of the Secretaría de Pesca that this is the dominant procedure of the algueros (seaweed-collectors): “… generalmente se basa en la recoleccion de las algas que flotan en la orilla de la playa” (“… generally consists in collecting seaweeds floating at the water's edge”) (Secretaría de Pesca, 1980).

In practice this is true only for the marginal quantities of Durvillea and Iridaea, and after rough weather for some Gracilaria. The bulk of the seaweed harvest is extracted with tools, usually of an illegal type.

The rapid increase in seaweed extraction necessitated regulations which were laid down in “Decreto de Agricultura No. 37”, 1976. This decree demands the fulfilment of certain requirements in order to authorize extraction operations:

  1. Authorization from the Ministry of National Defence.

  2. The presentation of a survey study following norms established by SERNAP. This review should be founded on investigations not more than 6 months old.

  3. Cutting of algae and extraction with mechanical tools may be executed only by persons authorized by SERNAP.

In accordance with this decree, an extensive and costly survey has to be undertaken and paid for. Obviously, a fisherman could never do this. One of the exporting companies working in the area has to cover the costs. The authorization to harvest up to a certain quantity, however, is not given to this company but to all the fishermen of the area, the quantity being estimated on the basis of the data resulting from the survey. In principle, the fishermen are free to sell to any of the competing companies. Normally, 5–7 companies buy from each Gracilaria bed. (In practice, there may be other commitments: e.g., the fishermen owe money to the companies for rubber suits and other equipment and have agreed to work for the company to which they are indebted.)

Two companies might request a survey on the same area (this has happened, but gave no opportunity to compare different survey groups since the companies contracted the same enterprise). It could also happen that nobody requests a survey and consequently no authorization is given to harvest from a certain bed. In this latter case, it usually happens that the harvesting is then carried out illegally.

Attempts to implement the law have been made only with respect to Gracilaria, which at present constitutes 27 percent of the seaweed resources. However, in value Gracilaria still ranks as first among Chilean seaweed export genera and is by far the dominating species socially (i.e., its large harvest provides employment to many fishermen).

The procedure for authorization is very slow. Eight different authorities have to review the request to survey and give their clearance. This normally takes a year and a half. Consequently, when authorization is given, it is founded on a bed size and a biomass density valid two years earlier. Even if the resource has not been overexploited in the meantime, production varies from year to year; if the data on which the exploitation size was founded are still valid, this is pure coincidence.

A minimum change to improve the system could be that all the other authorities give the mandate to the Subsecretaría de Pesca or SERNAP to act on their behalf. If necessary, the acting authority could distribute the acts including its preliminary decision, granting the right to the others to raise objections within one month. If the essence of the regulations is to allow the authorities to stop ongoing overharvesting and depletion of a resource, a 2-year delay in authorization is obviously not conceivable.

Another serious objection is that the present system produces many false data. The harvested quantities are reported by the trading companies to SERNAP, which has no possibility of checking the correctness of the figures. Even when the fishery officers have good reasons to believe that the figures given are not correct, they can do nothing but enter them into their reports of landings. The companies have two reasons to underestimate:

  1. there is a small tax on the seaweed harvested, and this is paid by the companies

  2. if the harvesting is legal, and there is a maximum established for the annual harvest, the companies prefer to show that they have not reached this figure and thus risk an order to stop buying.

The main weakness of the present system is that there is no or very little control. In Coquimbo, SERNAP personnel made occasional checks that the tools used were legal. In 1980 they reported 100 violations of Decree No. 37 to the court. The fines imposed - if any - were moderate, some US$ 43–215; the tools were in most cases given back to the owners; and the number of reports may reflect the number of controls rather than the number of transgressions.

In Chile, as elsewhere, there is a danger that if the observance of laws and decrees cannot be enforced, the general public tends to regard these laws and decrees as matters of no direct concern.

A new management plan must protect the resource, by establishing regulations which have to be respected. The only way to succeed is to make it an interest of the people concerned - fishermen or companies - to protect the resource. A restriction on the number of fishermen harvesting each particular beach seems to be most adequate, as the main social problem is the very low living standard of the seaweed collectors. Reasonably, if a bed is not under hard stress, half the number of collectors could take the same quantities with the same fishing effort, and thus gain a decent living.

There is a possible control which has not been attempted, i.e., the estimate of yield per unit fishing effort. If the daily outcome is too low, there is evidently too high a harvesting pressure on the resource. If the yield per unit effort decreases, the bed is overharvested or damaged in some other way and should be given time to recover. If such controls were introduced, they could possibly be based on the buyers' recording data. If so, it could be risky for them to report too low figures. (False figures are given also for prices. Chile Exportaciones constantly report to the authorities that they pay Pesos 44/kg for dry Gracilaria in Coquimbo, while the fishermen put the figure at a maximum Pesos 27. The lying margin (38.6 percent) is probably to avoid paying income tax).

With regard to Lessonia, which makes up 65 percent of the tonnage landed, nothing is known on biological, economic and social aspects of the harvesting. Only the legal aspect is clear: the harvesting on Lessonia is illegal. During the author's travels in Chile all important Gracilaria beds were visited and not a single site of Lessonia.


At the tenth International Seaweed Symposium in 1980, Santelices and Lopehandía (1981) reported the existence of nearly 60 unpublished quantitative evaluations of different algal beds in the country. Many of these are survey proposals submitted with requests for harvest authorization following Decree No. 37.

This is a rich and continuously growing source of information which should be evaluated. Taken together these proposals should give, first, a clear picture of the biomasses of the country's commercial species. Further and still more important, they should make it possible to observe changes in biomass and thus relate the survey estimates to the actual harvest and to possible influence on the resource.

Regrettably, the data at present available are worth very little compared to the considerable costs involved in their collection. In most reports, the primary material is not accounted for; only mean values are given for density, possibly with standard deviations. Other aspects, such as minimum area and number of samples are scarcely touched upon.

A number of surveys have been made throughout the years, on the bed at the south harbour of Isla Santa Maria, with individual survey methods, individual mapping methods, and consequently offer no basis for comparison to obtain a clear picture of the development of the resource. It is not possible to judge from these data if overharvesting is the cause of the declining resource.

The problem of evaluating a resource on a continuous basis is universal. In only one case has it been solved; i.e., the Macrocystis beds of California. However, these are floating on the surface and can be air-photographed.

With the present system, Chile could take a lead in systematizing surveys. Some of its most experienced technicians could come together and decide upon a standard minimum procedure to be included into any survey system, and suggest which regulations would, with least cost, give most benefit. For instance, it could be specified that: in Gracilaria beds, for every 100 (200?) m a transect should be taken with 1 m2 samples every 10 m. It should be possible to localize the transects for repetitive sampling. In Lessonia fringes a transect of 10 m width should be sampled.

These standard requirements should not lay down rules as to how the surveys should be done and should not specify the sampling procedure. They should only set a general standard, while the details of the survey are determined using the method which proves most suitable.

For immediate action the following is suggested: (1) the request for harvesting authorization should always include a document giving all the sampling values; (2) the maps should be standardized so that each background map is identical to those of earlier surveys; (3) for each 200 m a complete transect should be included and landmarks should be identified in such a way that future surveys can use more or less the same profiles.

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