The Controversy Over the Presence of a Fleet of 340 Foreign Ships Near the Galápagos and the Debate on What to Do to Protect the Archipelago

Published:Sep 1, 2020 15:03 GMT
Edgar Romero G.

“These boats come in search of a resource that is the giant squid, which is transzonal and migratory,” explains Bruno Leone, president of the National Chamber of Fisheries of Ecuador.

Ecuadorian Navy ships surround a fishing boat near Galapagos, August 7, 2020 Santiago Arcos / Reuters

Last July, Ecuadorians were scandalized when the news about the presence of a fishing fleet of 260 boats – the majority of Chinese flag, and others from Panama and Liberia – was widely disseminated by all the country’s media, in the vicinity of the Exclusive Insular Economic Zone (ZEEI) of the Galapagos Islands.

According to Bruno Leone, president of the National Chamber of Fisheries (CNP) of the South American country, the number of boats was greater than announced at the time, and reached 340, which were fishing southeast of the Galapagos.

In the presence of this fleet, the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, Luis Gallegos, announced a series of actions. These measures include strengthening the State’s participation in regional fisheries management organizations, such as the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO-PS).

There were also contacts with the foreign ministries of Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Panama to make regional coordination on this issue.

Luis Gallegos, Foreign Minister of Ecuador.Richard Drew / AP

Likewise, the foreign minister announced that he had transferred to the Government of China, “in a cordial but firm manner,” that Ecuador “will make its maritime rights prevail over its Exclusive Economic Zone, without distinction of flag.”

In those conversations, as announced by the minister, China committed itself to some of the requirements made by Quito, such as that all ships from the Asian country will be on a fishing moratorium for several months (September to November) in the western high seas of the area. protection of Galapagos, ceasing its operations during that time.

China also accepted that Ecuador supervise the fishing boats of its country that are on the high seas and requested that if the Ecuadorian side had any indication of illegal fishing by the Chinese fishing fleet, its Government be informed. In addition, the Asian country assured that it would severely punish and with a zero tolerance policy all Chinese vessels related to illegal fishing and the companies to which they belong.

What was that great fishing fleet doing?

Leone explains that “those boats come in search of a resource that is the giant squid, which is transzonal and migratory.”

Generally, these vessels are located further south, near the waters of Peru and Chile, where this squid is found; But, due to the fact that a climatic phenomenon has occurred, with cold waters that rise to the east of the Galapagos, this precious marine animal also arrived in the area and the fishing fleet after it.

Foreign ship seen from Ecuadorian Navy aircraft near Galapagos, August 2020 Santiago Arcos / Reuters

“Today, that has been changing, the squid has been moving south and the ships have been moving there,” the CNP head details.For this reason, he considers it “a mockery” that the foreign minister reported the agreement reached with China on the fishing moratorium, considering that “between September and November this resource is not available” in the area near Galapagos.

International waters

Leone points out that “the idea that the Chinese are tearing up Galapagos has been sold, which is not so.”

In the midst of the scandal, Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrín held a press conference and reported that not a single Chinese ship or those of other nationalities had entered Ecuador’s exclusive insular or territorial Economic Zone.

“In the demarcation of the two areas, the ZEEI of Galapagos and the continental one there is a corridor, which are international waters, in which Ecuador has no interference, that is where they are,” he said then.

Location of foreign fishing fleet between the ZEEI of Galapagos and the EEZ of continental Ecuador.

The minister indicated that the Ecuadorian naval fleet, which is made up of corvettes, coastguards and airplanes, carries out patrolling and maritime exploration on a permanent basis.
This situation is not new. In 2017, 287 vessels from a Chinese fleet were detected; in fact, a refrigerated ship, known [now] as “Hualcopo”, was captured for entering the Galapagos Maritime Reserve. In 2018, some 300 vessels were located and last year the figure reached 245 vessels.

Is it necessary to extend the reserve?

In Parliament, one of the proposals that has begun to gain strength, although it was there before the scandal, is to expand the Galapagos Marine Reserve (RMG); however, Leone points out that “it would not be an adequate solution.”

The Galapagos Islands, located 1,000 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador, have a ring that surrounds them, of 200 nautical miles, which makes up the ZEEI. Within this area there is a smaller ring, 40 miles, which is the RMG, of 133,000 square kilometers, which is a Natural Heritage of Humanity.

“They say that you have to expand the reserve from 40 to 80 miles, but this new polygon of 80 would be within 200 miles; then, the Chinese would continue at mile 201, where they are, which is international waters,” explains Leone.

Bruno Leone, president of the National Chamber of Fisheries (CNP) of Ecuador. National Chamber of Fisheries

In a participation he had in the Sovereignty, International Relations and Integral Security Commission of the National Assembly, which studies this issue of the Galapagos, the head of the CNP stated that, in addition, the expansion of the RMG would affect 60% of the tuna catches within the ZEEI, directly harming the national fishing sector.

This is due to the fact that the Ecuadorian fishing sector operates between the 40 nautical mile line, where the GMR ends, up to 200, where the ZEEI ends and international waters begin.

Another proposal that has sounded is “the creation of a kind of micro-path between the Galapagos Islands and Coco Island (Costa Rica), to protect straddling species,” including some of the protected species in the Ecuadorian archipelago, says Leone.

This would be towards the north of the Galapagos; For this reason, the head of the CPN says that “it is not a solution either”, since the presence of the boats is towards the south, where the squid is, which, he says, is a kind of cold water that will never reach those latitudes.

The CNP proposals

With these proposals, Leone considers that the debate on the Galapagos is being handled “wrongly”. “We have to focus the discussion correctly, technically, to take the best action,” he says.

Insular Operations Command executes naval presence on the border of the ZEEI, in Galapagos.Twitter / @armada_ecuador

“We (CNP), I must say it emphatically, are the first and the most interested in ensuring that Galapagos remains in the way it has been until now, as a heritage of humanity; for us it is very important that the resources are in a healthy state, because that is what we live from, to be able to capture them sustainably, “he stresses.

In addition, it indicates that it is evident that an intense fishing operation in a small area, such as where this fleet of more than 300 boats was located, “definitely has an environmental impact.”

Given this, from the CNP, in the first place, they have proposed that, as a member of the PS-RFMO, Ecuador attend the meeting that will be held next January in Saint Petersburg (Russia) and request – with data and information to the hand – management measures for those foreign squid vessels, that is, to regulate, in some way, this task at sea.

“It is good that they fish in international waters and within the concept of freedom […] what there cannot be is debauchery, that they fish without respecting the reproductive cycles of the species or, eventually, capture juvenile species,” says Leone.

Remember that they, the members of the CNP, being members of the IATTC, have regulations, such as closures of 72 days, a regional limit of ships, the closure of a space area west of Galapagos and observers on board in each of their ships. In addition to this, they take the necessary steps so that if a shark, turtle, manta ray or other vulnerable species enters the fishing nets, they can be released alive into the sea.

Birds fly over fishing and tourist boats in San Cristóbal Bay, Galapagos, May 2020, Adrian Vasquez / AP

They also call for more rigorous compliance with the Agreement on the application of the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, of December 10, 1982, relating to the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish populations, which was ratified by Ecuador in 2016.

Article 21 of that regulation, says Leone, talks about “the right to visit”, the one that a country has to board and inspect fishing vessels of other flags that are near its waters, in order to ensure compliance conservation and management measures for straddling fish stocks and highly migratory species.

In addition to this, they have communicated to the Government that a good action would be for case studies to be carried out for the creation of an Ecuadorian squid fleet, as do other countries in the region, such as Chile and Peru.

For now, the members of the CNP have spoken with Norman Wray, Minister President of the Government Council of Galapagos, and Danny Rueda, director of the Galapagos National Park, in order to form a working table where they can discuss what is best to do. you can implement in the Ecuadorian archipelago.

“What we cannot accept is that there are voices, and worse behind our backs, who want to take measures that may affect a very important sector for the Ecuadorian economy,” criticizes Leone, referring to the fishing sector that, he specified, “has been one of the few who did not fire anyone during the pandemic. “

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Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
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