El Salvador's fishing industry, although responsible for only 0.1 percent of GDP, produced the fourth largest source of export revenue for the country in 1986. In 1987 the fishing industry consisted of two main sectors, a modern, capital-intensive shrimp fishery, and a small artisanal fishery. Of the two, the shrimp industry was the big money-maker, with shrimp exports totaling 3,700 tons in 1986, valued at US$18.4 million. Shrimp fishermen caught an annual average of about 5,400 tons from 1980 through 1987, up from the 3,000 to 4,000 tons caught each year during the 1960s and 1970s. The abundant shrimp resource supported both a modern shrimp fleet and an artisanal shrimp fishery.
In 1981 the government established the Center for Fisheries Development (Centro de Desarrollo Pesquero--Cendepesca) to develop the fishing industry. Cendepesca regulated the industry and promoted its expansion through such devices as tax credits on the importation of machinery, fishing boats, and inputs for processing and exemptions of five or ten years on municipal and income taxes for companies devoted to fishing. Cendepesca also tried to manage the shrimp fishery (to prevent overfishing) through required registration and licensing of shrimp boats. Cendepesca repeatedly sought to impose a closed season during shrimp reproduction periods, but these efforts were thwarted by powerful lobbyists in the face of opposition from major shrimp companies. Consequently, there was a fear that overfishing would deplete stocks, a development that could reduce the shrimp catch and have a major impact on the country's export earnings.
El Salvador also had an embryonic shrimp culture industry. According to an AID feasibility study, El Salvador has 5,000 hectares of land particularly well suited for shrimp farming. By the end of 1987, however, only four small shrimp farms were operating in El Salvador.
The government also tried with a US$50 million loan from France to establish a major tuna fishery. The funds were used to build a large tuna port, complete with processing facilities, at La Union, already a major shrimp fishing port. The project was completed in 1981 but was never initiated because of the government's poor management of the vessels and the project. The Salvadoran government, which purchased two large tuna seiners for operation in 1981 and 1982, reported meager catches because of technical difficulties. By 1985 the facilities at La Union had languished, and the government was unable to sell the vessels. The weakness of the Salvadoran tuna industry became clear in September 1986 (and again in August 1988) when the Salvadoran government ignored the United States Marine Mammal Protection Act, an act that requires tuna exporters to the United States to report their efforts to reduce concomitant porpoise mortalities. Consequently, the United States embargoed Salvadoran tuna in September 1986 and again in 1988.
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