281 Chinese ships stalk the Galapagos and Ecuador seeks to protect itself from illegal fishing and conserve species

As in other countries, the Asian fleet parks at the limit of national waters and is reported to turn off its radars to avoid being detected

Yalilé Loaiza
July 13, 2021
From Quito

Ecuadorian Navy ships surround a fishing boat after detecting a fleet with mostly Chinese flags in the Pacific Ocean near the exclusive economic zone of the Galapagos Islands on August 7, 2020 (File Photo: REUTERS / Santiago Arcos)

Every year, hundreds of boats arrive near the Exclusive Insular Economic Zone (ZEEI) of Ecuador, outside of the Galapagos Islands, known worldwide for their exotic and unique fauna The boats are part of fishing fleets from various countries, mostly from Asia, that fish what is in their path. Although the vessels remain in international waters and do not violate the country’s nautical limits, which prevents direct interventions, the species – some protected – start their migration processes and leave the Galapagos Marine Reserve, thus falling into the networks of the fishing boats.

The fleet that stalks the Galapagos in 2021 is made up of 294 vessels. Of these, the vast majority (281) are Chinese, six are from Panama, one from Liberia, one from Cook Island, one from Singapore, one from the Marshall Islands, one from Canada and two have not been identified.. The fleet is made up of 254 fishing vessels and nine cargo vessels, with 19 with an unknown classification and with 8 in the category of “rare” and four have been classified as others.

In order to periodically evaluate the presence of these vessels and to seek alternatives that protect not only the sovereignty of Ecuador, but also marine species and control fishing, in Ecuador the Inter-Institutional Committee of the Sea was formed. The authorities participate in this body. Directed by the ministries of National Defense, Production, Foreign Trade, Investment and Fisheries, Environment, Water and Ecological Transition, the Chancellor and the Secretary General of Communication of the Presidency also participate.

The presence of predatory fishing vessels does not only happen in the Galapagos Islands. Hundreds of vessels – mostly Chinese – also stalk Argentina’s EEZ every year. According to data collected between January 1, 2018 and April 25, 2021 from the marine conservation organization Oceana, more than half of the vessels near the Argentine coast sailed and fished with their GPS transmitter turned off for a total of more than 600,000 hours.

It is common for vessels to turn off their radars in order to be able to mobilize and fish off the high seas. Faced with this, the Ecuadorian Government has reported that an agreement made with Canada provides the technology to track foreign vessels even when they have deactivated their radars. This would allow greater control, especially by the National Navy, which are in charge of intervening if any vessel violates the maritime border of Ecuador.

Expert lawyers in international law of the sea have explained that although countries cannot extend their 200 nautical miles –established by Convemar for the signatory countries–, there are options to protect the species from fishing predators. Which means that, even on the high seas, there are principles that must be respected and that are related to the conservation of species and sustainability in the use of fishery resources. However, those in charge of this enforcement are the flag States, that is, the country where the ship is registered.

Mauricio Montalvo , indicated that the institution he leads seeks to deploy actions that prevent any vessel from violating its sovereignty and prevent illegal activities on the high seas . In addition, he stressed that Ecuador has joint actions with the international fishing sector: “We must be guided by the regulations of the applicable international instruments, first Convemar, where there is an international court that could eventually assist. We also have the New York agreement,” said the minister.

During the first week of July, the authorities of Ecuador and China held a new virtual meeting in which they discussed the fishing activities of that country’s vessels on the high seas.

As a result of the meeting, the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry officially reported that the Chinese delegation “reiterated its willingness to respect international agreements, the sovereignty of Ecuador and maintain strict control over its vessels to ensure that they do not enter the Ecuadorian exclusive economic zone, nor do they engage in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities.” However, the data shows that the fishing fleet that is close to the Galapagos is mainly made up of Chinese boats.

Faced with this situation, the government of Ecuador will propose actions against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in multilateral forums, as reported by the newspaper El Universo. The first forum is the 37th FAO Regional Fisheries Conference (COFI), to be held in 2022 in Ecuador. The main topic that the conference will deal with will be the fight against illegal fishing.

Ecuador will also participate in a multilateral space corresponding to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity beyond Jurisdictional Maritime Spaces (BBNJ). The fourth session of this space will be held in the first quarter of 2022. There, Ecuador will seek the support of the G77 – a group of developing and underdeveloped countries that seek to help, sustain and support each other in the UN deliberations.

Read the original coverage from InfoBae at https://www.infobae.com/america/america-latina/2021/07/13/281-barcos-chinos-acechan-a-las-galapagos-y-ecuador-busca-como-protegerse-de-la-pesca-ilegal-y-conservar-especies/

Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021


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