Ecuador’s tuna fleet has grown to the second largest in world, trailing only Thailand in “catch capacity.” The 116-vessel fleet brought 93,000 tons of fish to port in 2017 but it faces a challenge.
To maintain its dominate position within the industry, many of the fleet’s fishing ships need to be replaced with newer models. According to Gustavo Núñez, vice president of the Ecuadorian Chamber of Tuna Processors (Ceipa), the average age of ships in the fleet is between 30 and 40 years old.
“Because of this, we are at a competitive disadvantage,” Núñez says. “The fleets in the eastern Pacific are more modern than ours and more efficient. We must upgrade now to stay in the game,” he adds.
Núñez says that Ecuador’s government has promised assistance to fishing operators in Manta and Guayaquil, where the majority of the country’s tuna industry is based. “They understand the importance of the tuna industry to the national economy and we are hopeful they will provide the support, such as low-interest loans, that we have discussed with them.”
According to Ecuador’s Central Bank, the tuna industry was responsible for nine percent of the country’s non-petroleum exports in 2017, or $1.1 billion.
“Protecting and upgrading tuna operations is one of the government’s priorities,” says Katuska Drouet, Minister of Aquaculture and Fisheries. “We understand we need to replace older ships and streamline our processing systems,” he says.
Drouet has invited several European and Asian shipbuilders to Ecuador this month to make proposals for new boats. “After we talk to them and receive their offers we will talk to fleet owners and determine the assistance they need to make purchases. We are hopeful that we can begin significant upgrades to the fleet within a year to 18 months.”