The Fight Over Chile's Marine Resources

With global fish stocks in decline, and the largest ocean trawlers moving further south to capture what remains, the icy waters off the coast of Chile have moved center stage in a debate over how to manage fisheries once thought inexhaustible.

Last December, the government passed a controversial fisheries law that awarded the largest share of the most lucrative fisheries, including jack mackerel and hake, to four conglomerates. This sparked outrage among artisan fishermen who say the law turns the country’s marine resources into a private oligopoly—a nautical version of Latin America's epic land inequality. And the admission by an industrial heavyweight that it paid thousands of dollars to a government official ahead of the vote, bolstered artisan claims of powerful business interests influencing political decisions. While the law contains notable environmental advances, such as a ban on trawling seamounts, critics say it fails to address endemic overfishing, jeopardizing the future of tens of thousands of artisan fishermen—a situation ripe for conflict.

This project explores Chile's social dysfunction as well as its declining fish populations, told through the lives of artisan fisherman whose livelihood is threatened amid the unbridled plunder of the ocean.