PRESENCE OF FISHING FLEET IN THE VICINITY OF GALAPAGOS
In recent weeks, the national and international press has highlighted the presence of fishing fleets operating in international waters near the boundaries of the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR), a site recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and by the CBD as an area of ecological importance. According to information available on the Global Fishing Watch platform (www.globalfishingwatch.org), more than 260 highly technified, large capacity boats, mostly of Chinese origin, were detected at the same time in July 2020 on the edge of Ecuador’s exclusive economic zone, southwest of the Galapagos archipelago.
The GMR is a marine protected area belonging to Ecuador, it has an area of almost 138,000 km2 makes it one of the largest of the Eastern Tropical Pacific, and houses more than 100 large islands, islets, and exposed rocks. In this region, there is also an important upwelling of nutrient-laden waters off the western area of the reserve which, together with the Humboldt upwelling (in Peru), is one of the most productive upwelling systems in the world. Year after year, hundreds of species of fish, mammals, reptiles, and marine birds add around the Archipelago to feed, rest or reproduce. The high abundance of species such as tuna, billfish, and squid make the GMR an area of high fishing interest, constantly attracting fishing fleets from Ecuador and other parts of the world.
Although many international fleets operate within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under agreements with the Ecuadorian government, others take advantage of the region’s resources by operating in international waters bordering the EEZ. Unfortunately, the weak legislation that regulates international waters creates a framework conducive to irregular or even illegal activities, and with this puts at risk the populations of pelagic fish, sharks and other marine resources that inhabit in and around the GMR due to their over-exploitation just outside of the Ecuadorian EEZs.
In addition, there is concern that several fishing fleets operate in these waters in a hidden manner, using different fishing gear, like longlines, without reporting their actual activity or position via satellite monitoring systems (VMS or AIS). This problem further increases uncertainty about the actual magnitude of biomass removal in the waters around the GMR and the Ecuadorian EEZs. This is of particular concern to members of MIGRAMAR, a group of scientists who have been studying highly migratory species for several decades, as several species of sharks and turtles threatened with extinction, are listed as common commercial catches in fisheries operating in the region.
This occurs despite the fact that they are protected by regulations from the government of Ecuador and by international treaties such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The presence of these foreign fleets exerting an oversized fishing effort in international waters bordering Ecuador’s EEZ poses a high risk that threatens the natural balance of marine ecosystems, as well as the ecosystem services and food security of Ecuador and the countries of the region. The overexploitation of fishing resources not only threatens the natural balance of marine ecosystems, but also the ecosystem services and food security of Ecuador. The current fossil fuel subsidy framework allows fisheries to boost their operation and further exacerbating potential overfishing issues.
MigraMar research over the past 15 years has testified the decline of the scalloped hammerhead shark –Sphyrna lewini- populations, a critically endangered species, by up to 45% within marine reserves in the Tropical Eastern Pacific; tracked individuals of this and other shark species, have ended their days fished and landed at ports in Central and South America.
Clearly, the protection of these species requires not only strict protection in their areas of aggregation but also in the international waters through which they migrate. The recent enactment of a hammerhead shark trade ban in Ecuador is definitely a solid step in the right direction, but the presence of foreign fleets in the international waters bordering the EEZ may undermine these conservation efforts.
Ecuador is a signatory to several international agreements and very recently joined the Global Ocean Alliance. Ecuador has demonstrated concern about the sustainability of marine resources; however, it is now in a position to assume international leadership in the face of timid regulation in international waters. Today, Ecuador has the responsibility not only to take concrete domestic actions to improve the conservation of marine resources in its EEZ but also to promote actions on a regional and global scale in the face of this complex reality and to stop the threat posed by unregulated fishing in international waters.
In view of the over-dimension of the foreign fleets operating in Ecuador’s EEZ, MigraMar makes available to the Ecuadorian authorities and the region it’s contingent of specialists, as well as information on the migratory species that surround this archipelago to strengthen decision-making on the measures needed to safeguard the marine biodiversity that uses its territorial waters and migrates through international waters. Similarly, MigraMar makes an urgent call to the authorities of the region, particularly Ecuador, Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, to take immediate action to safeguard the marine biodiversity that uses their nation’s sovereign waters and migrates through international waters and to commit to:
- Conduct constant checks and strengthen control actions on vessels operating inside and outside the EEZ, as well as at customs unloading points, to make their operation transparent and to discern whether they are engaging in illegal, unregulated or unreported fishing activities by using state-of-the-art technology, such as surveillance drones.
- To review the current fossil fuel subsidy framework and reduce the benefits of it on detrimental fishing activities that are putting on the risk our future food security and human well-being.
- Assess the possibility of extending the GMR to the extent that EEZs can maintain better long-term conservation outcomes for migratory species.
- Promote with the signatory countries of the San José Statement, the standardization of mechanisms for sustainable management and protection of marine resources at risk, through the creation of MigraVías between Coiba-Malpelo and Cocos-Galapagos.
- Prohibit trade-in hammerhead sharks in the region, and promote their inclusion under CITES Appendix I.
- Enforce wildlife and domestic biodiversity conservation laws on species declared to be threatened with extinction by IUCN and listed under the CITES and CMS Appendices.
- Support the negotiations for the creation of a binding treaty under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) and promote the creation of marine protected areas in international waters.
Read in English or Spanish at bit.ly/ENmigramar or bit.ly/ESmigramar
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© SOS Galápagos, 2021