Artisanal fishers’ mobilities, king crab sustainability and social change in Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, Southern Chile

Southern Patagonia is becoming a visible node in the global network. The connections with international markets, the flow of tourists, the development of scientific and conservation initiatives have grown steadily in recent years. In 2005, UNESCO established the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve (CHBR) in Magallanes Region, Chile, which contains more than 4 million hectares including Navarino Island, the southernmost permanent human settlement in the world.

Artisanal fishing is the main social and economic activity in Navarino Island, and king crab the most important species. While from the middle of the 1990, king crab landings have increased steadily in Magallanes Region, local fishers of Navarino have experienced a decrease in the catch per boat of up to 80% in the same period. The higher landings are explained largely by the growing fishing effort, which in turn is driven by international demand originated mostly in USA and East Asia.

The king crab’s fleet has grown the most in Punta Arenas, the capital city of Magallanes Region, and since the fishing spots nearby Punta Arenas are increasingly empty, the regional fleet have started to move southern, reaching the nearby of CHBR. This has prompted both: king crab overexploitation and conflicts between regional and local fishers.

Regional fishers have larger and better-equipped boats, which enable them to move further away, covering wider and deeper zones in looking for fishing spots,  and remain longer at sea. The less king crab remains nearby Punta Arenas, the more the regional fishers move far south, intersecting the pathways of local fishers.

Based on historical landings, Chilean Fishing Undersecretary has recently stated that it is highly probably that king crab fishery is on the threshold between fully exploitation and overexploitation. Consequently, it was established the closing of artisanal registers until 2019, which means that new actors cannot be included in fishing king crab during this period.

So far, neither social research nor public policy has address the capacity of mobility as a key driver on power distribution, fishery sustainability and artisanal fisher communities’ viability. In this regard, this research attempt to analyse how artisanal fishers’ mobility is shaping power relations, influencing resource sustainability and conducting social change of artisanal fisher communities in the CHBR.