A draft bill which aims to give unlimited rights to large fishing companies in Chile has been condemned as an attempt to privatise the ocean. The initiative – called the Longueira Law was approved by the House of Representatives and is currently under discussion in the Senate.
Critics claim that the law aims to protect the privileges enjoyed by four companies that control 90% of the country’s fishing industry. The Chilean business groups, Orizon, Blumar, Camanchaca and Marfood are entirely controlled by seven families with annual profits of up to three million dollars.
According to analysts, President Sebastián Piñera is reactivating a law which had previously been considered under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.
The country has undergone one of the most radical globalisation processes in the world with the privatisation of the state transport, electricity, telecommunications & food services, the banks and also public services such as social security, education and health.
Juan Carlos Cárdenas, executive director of the Chilean environmental organisation, Ecocéanos, believes that the government wants to complete one of the last neoliberal economic transformations with the privatisation of the sea.
Cárdenas pointed out that “this new subsidy to big business and to the richest sector in the country makes a mockery of the demands to increase the minimum wage, for free and quality education, decent public health care, the right to live decently and improved pensions.”
Furthermore, fishermen fear that the bill could lead to the end of small-scale fishing. At present, only small industry can fish within a five mile radius of the coast. The aim is to protect the coastline which has more wildlife and to avoid over-fishing by trawlers.
Meanwhile, attempts are being made to amend this law, opening this zone up to industrial fishing, giving the four groups access to almost the entire Chilean sea.
This would create a new zone covering approximately 2,400,000 Km2, three times the size of this South American country.
Furthermore, the large companies would receive the fishing rights in perpetuity which could then be passed from one generation to the next.
According to official figures, the fishing sector employs 128,000 people, of which 68% are artisanal fishermen. Industry, on the other hand, employs 5,000 workers on large ships.
The bill has also led to protests from indigenous communities who consider that extending the powers of the fishing industry is in violation of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.
The Convention which was ratified by Chile in 2008 obliges them to consult with the indigenous communities concerned through their representative institutions each time that legislative or administrative measures are being considered which may affect them directly.
Historically, the Mapuche, Rapa Nui and Kawesqar have been linked culturally and economically to the sustainable exploitation of fish, shellfish and algae.
Consequently Ana Nahuelpan from the movement for the defence of the Mehuin Sea states that the indigenous peoples are being stripped of their rights.
“We reject this Law because we have not been consulted as required by ILO Convention 169. We call on the senators to fulfil this obligation and to consult us as required by international law”, she said.