Innovative Management for Galapagos Red Spiny Lobster Fishery


The red spiny lobster fishery is the most economically important fishery in the Galapagos Islands, but over the last decade, landings have been declining steadily. The lobster fishery has never been formally assessed, therefore the driver of this decline is unclear. To ensure the long-term stability of the fishery and to protect the livelihoods of the fishers who depend on it, we developed this project to answer two critical questions: (1) is overfishing occurring in the red spiny lobster fishery, and (2) if overfishing is occurring, how can we rebuild the stock without reducing fisher profits?
At the onset of this project, the Galapagos red spiny lobster fishery was managed with a limited season and a total allowable catch (TAC) for each season, but for several reasons, this approach had limited success in controlling overfishing. Rather than using science-based stock assessments to inform the TAC, the TAC was set each year based on the previous year’s lobster landings. Furthermore, the TAC was often increased mid-season when fishermen demanded access to more lobster, and this undermined the its ability to effectively control fishing effort and maintain sustainable levels of harvest. In an effort to identify a solution to these problems, we investigated the potential of a spatial-rights system to curb overfishing. Furthermore, in order to prevent lobster fishers from losing profits under this new system, we also explored the possibility of offsetting expected losses (due to mandated reductions in catch) by increasing the amount of lobster sold within the local market.


The red spiny lobster is a keystone species in the marine ecosystem of the Galápagos Island archipelago. It is currently the most valuable commercially-harvested species in Galapagos, and it is the source of many fishers’ livelihoods. Despite the TAC and limited season, lobster landings have continued to decline over the last decade, and the health of the stock and the future of the fishery have become uncertain. Using data-poor assessment methods, we identified overfishing as a major factor contributing to the decline in landings, and the results of our assessment suggested that a reduction in catch was necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability of the fishery. 


We explored two management strategies that could drive a necessary decrease in fishing pressure in the red spiny lobster fishery without significantly reducing fisher profits. First, we assessed the feasibility of establishing a territorial use rights fishery (TURF) for spiny red lobster. Our analysis suggested that while there are some barriers to implementation, a TURF is an effective strategy for reducing fishing pressure and generating immediate benefits for fishermen. Next, we projected the degree of income loss fishermen would experience as a result of a mandated reduction in catch. We found that fisher income loss could be offset by increasing the amount of lobster sold within the local market through marketing campaigns aimed at increasing demand.


This project was a collaborative effort between SFG, the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, Conservation International, Rare, World Wildlife Fund, Charles Darwin Foundation, and Galapagos National Park.