Opposition prepares to confront Chile’s controversial fishing law











Members of indigenous Mapuche groups, artisanal fishing union and civil activists call for civil disobedience.

Opposition groups to Chile’s proposed new fishing law called for civil disobedience against the proposal Monday, a week before the bill’s final vote in Congress.

The opposition coalition incorporated representatives from National Council for the Defense of Artisanal Fishing (Condepp) representing 50,000 fishermen throughout the country, Group for the Collective Rights for the Mapuche Community (GTDC), and Centro Ecocéanos, a civil and environmental awareness group.

“If this law is approved in its current form, we will call for disobedience. In the face of an unjust law, (civil) disobedience is an obligation,” Cosme Caracciolo, spokesperson for Condepp told the press. “I say this, not as a threat, but as a logical step.”

“We are fishermen. Fishing is what we know how to do,” Caracciolo added. “So our way of disobeying the law will be to fish.”

According to the opposition’s argument, as it currently stands, the new fishing law would smother the artisanal and indigenous fishing communities by gifting fishing quotas to a small number of industrial businesses, leaving small-scale fishermen and indigenous communities without quotas.

“I am the grandson of a fisherman, the son of a fisherman and my oldest son died at sea while fishing,” Caracciolo told The Santiago Times. “I am from the fishing tradition but now I won’t be allowed to go out and fish.”

The bill is currently in the Senate to be voted on Nov. 19. If the Senate approves the bill, it then has to return to the House of Deputies to be reapproved in its modified form. If the two houses can’t reach an agreement, a mixed committee of deputies and senators will be formed to come to finalize the law.

However, the government has expressed desire to push the bill in order for it to be active by Jan. 1, the date that the current fishing law expires.

Opposition groups took issue with the bill on three key issues.

“Firstly (it would) do away with the state’s ownership of the fish of the nation and puts that right in the hands of seven families who already control 92 percent of fish quotas,” Cardenas said.

“Second it gives fishing licenses to those seven families for 25 years, and those permits are automatically renewable for the 25 years after that,” he added. “Thirdly, it does not include bidding part of the yearly industrial fishing quota, which is the only mechanism that the government has to recuperate part of the profits that should be used by the state for high quality public education.”

According to Cardenas, Chile’s fish industry generates about US$900 million a year, but those businesses holding most of the quotas never had to pay to have access to them. The state only recuperates about US$30 million a year by way of taxes collected when fish are landed – about 3 percent of total profits.

While this current fishing law passed under Lagos, 10 years ago it was far from ideal and still concentrated quotas among big business, and the opposition agrees that this new law would be far worse.

According to the opposition, the government would shed its role entirely in the fishing industry with all fishing quotas permanently to a handful of businesses. They describe a world of buying, selling and renting quotas run by these businesses, or worse still, industrial fishing business with all the quotas but no boats, who pay simply artisanal fisherman a pittance for their catch.

Besides highlighting flaws in the legislation itself, the groups argued that the process itself was “illegitimate” and “illegal.”.

“Senators are participating (in the voting) who have commercial and economic interests in the fishing industry,” Juan Carlos Cardenas, executive director of Centro Ecocéanos told the press.

Last week the Foundation for Intelligent Citizenship identified three such senators: Andrés Zaldívar, Carlos Larraín y Jovino Novoa as having direct monetary stake in the fishing industry.

“The second element is that the indigenous community has not been consulted,” Cardenas said.

According to Chilean law in Agreement 169 by International Labor Organization (ILO), indigenous communities must be consulted before any legislation regarding their interests or rights is passed.

The administration has maintained the stance that this matter does directly affect indigenous communities, and therefore they do not need to be consulted before passing the new fishing law, a stance that has generated much frustration and unrest among indigenous communities and their allies.

“They are denying the existence of indigenous communities that have fished off these coasts for more than 10,000 years, and today still subsist by this traditional practice,” Sergio Millaman, spokesperson for GTDC told the press. “What they’re doing is killing indigenous fishing.”

Indigenous communities are in the process of filing a report with the National Institute for Human Rights (INDH) in protest of being excluded from the legislative process.

“We are going to continue with the different human rights cases we have presented, continue with social mobilizations and continue fishing. It’s the only way we have of surviving,” Millaman said.

After Monday’s meeting, about 200 protesters marched from Alameda to the former Congress building in downtown Santiago, where Senate committees were discussing the fishing law behind closed doors. As usual, protesters were met by police and their water cannons.

Another protest is scheduled for Wednesday morning where organizers say 2,500 fisherman from across the country are to storm La Moneda presidential palace in downtown Santiago.

Opposition prepares to confront Chile’s controversial fishing law.

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