Invoking the Access to Public Information Law that goes into effect today in Chile, this morning the international marine conservation organization Oceana made a request to the Chilean Undersecretary for Fisheries for information related to trawl fishing and the magnitude and distribution of the trawling fleet in Chile.
In a letter to Jorge Chocair, Undersecretary for Fisheries, the environmental organization based its request on the new Law No. 20.285 regarding Access to Public Information, enacted in August 2008 as part of President Bachelet's Integrity Agenda. This legislation regulates public service transparency and the right to access information from the branches of the Administration. In addition, it defines and regulates the procedures for the practice and protection of the right to access information.
"There's a widespread culture of secrecy with regard to environmental information, particularly related to marine resources. The information that we requested today about trawling in Chile we asked for repeatedly last year without any response from the Undersecretary for Fisheries. We hope that under the new law the Chilean Government properly recognize our right to access public information that is fundamental to scrutinize the management of Chile's fishing resources," said Alex Muñoz, executive director of Oceana in Chile.
According to the law, once the request is submitted, the required authority has 20 days from the receipt of the request to determine if the information should be delivered or denied through communication to the requester. If no response is given, either delivering the information or denied it, the recently created Transparency Council may punish the authority or officer with fines of 20% or 50% of their monthly salary. If the infraction is repeated, the fine will be doubled, and the individual will be suspended from office for five days.
Trawl fishing is considered one of the most environmentally damaging human activities worldwide. Both kinds of trawling - bottom trawling as well as mid-water trawling - have serious consequences for marine habitats and ecosystems.
The government has stressed that one of the most important aspects of this law is Active Transparency, which refers to all the information that services and public agencies should maintain publicly in permanent form on their respective web sites, so that they can be accessed through the Transparent Government banner. However, today the web page of the Undersecretary for Fisheries displays the colorful message, "Page Under Construction," without containing any of the information that, according to the new law, is supposed to be there.
The information Oceana requested from the Undersecretary of Fisheries deals with:
· Administrative acts of the Secretary of Fisheries through which the government granted fishing quotas to ship owners that use trawl methods, during the years 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, respectively.
· Regional distribution of the trawling fleet belonging to the ship owners that were awarded said quotas.
· Number of boats from trawling fleet belonging to the ship owners that were awarded said quotas.
· Number of working employees for the ship owners of the trawling fleet that were used for the capture of the individual species in the quotas granted.