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The Juan Fernandez Presidium (Chile)


It takes two and a half hours by plane from Santiago, half an hour on foot, and an hour by boat to reach the lone tiny village on the island of Robinson Crusoe in the Juan Fernandez archipelago.

The name of this island is linked to the incredible adventures of Alexander Selkirk, made legendary in Daniel Defoe’s novel, and somehow the island still retains an evocative atmosphere. Landing on the airstrip is an adventure in itself, as the plane coasts to a stop in a desert-like landscape. In the distance the plaintive cries of gulls and seals can be heard as they float serenely in the water. A boat takes you round to the other side of the island into a lush world of woods, streams and pastures reminiscent of high altitude meadows. 83% of animal and plant species on this island are indigenous, including native species of seaweed, birds and mammals and, in particular, fish and shellfish. Goats and wild rabbits live in inland areas and a few cattle are farmed, but the real life on the island is found in the sea.

Almost all the island’s inhabitants have fished for a living for at least three centuries. The most celebrated catch, which dates back to at least the XVIII century, is the local rock lobster. This species, Jasus frontalis, is found only here and in the waters of the Desventuradas Islands of San Felix and Sant’Ambrosio, a three-hour boat trip to the north. These lobsters are caught at a depth of 2 to 200 meters by lowering rectangular traps made by the fishermen from the branches of the local maqui tree. Until a few years ago the traps would be lifted by hand; a small motor is now used—the only concession to innovation.

The small wooden boats are based on the design of old whaling ships and have historically been built on the island by the Chamorro family. Lobster fishing on Robinson Crusoe Island is only allowed between October and mid-May and the specimens caught must be at least 12 to 14 years old.

The waters of the island have many other species of interesting fish, mollusks and shellfish of gastronomic interest, such as the red crab (Chaceon chilensis), which is caught at a depth of five to six hundred meters using the same wooden cages as the rock lobster, the black sea urchin (Aspidodiadema microtuberculatum), and the sea bream (Cheilodactylus gayi), a fish with fine white flesh, the trevally (Pseudocaranx chilensis) and the yellowtail amberjack (Seriola lalandi), both caught with a very long hook called an espinel. There are many fish, mollusks and shellfish of gastronomic interest found in the waters around the islands, but only the rock lobster has been used to date. Excellent fish such as the sea bream are simply used as bait.

This Presidium was established in collaboration with STIPA, the Juan Fernandez Archipelagus Fishermen Syndicate to protect a unique ecosystem and exceptional example of exclusively artisan fishing. The aim is to make the island’s fish resources more widely known, without focusing solely on lobster fishing, which, in spite of present limitations on catching season and size over the long term, risks compromising stock levels.

The Presidium is working for the creation of an artisan structure for the production of local fisheries that use sustainable methods and also employ the women of the island. At the same time the Presidia will continue to support the local fishermen's union in their struggle against the large groups of industrial fisheries to expand the protected marine area to 20 miles around the island. Production Area Robinson Crusoe and Alejandro Selkirk Islands, Juan Fernandez Archipelago, Valparaiso Region

Presidium Coordinators:
Juan Torres de Rodt : Sindicato de Pescadores Artesanales del Archipiélago Juan Fernández jtorresderodt@yahoo.es

Producers:  

105 fishermen united in the: Sindicato de Pescadores Artesanales del Archipiélago Juan Fernández.

Click here if you wish to make a donation to help the Juan Fernandez fishermen


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