Are Foreign Vessels Really Staying Out of the Galápagos Islands’ Economic Exclusion Zone?

ARE FOREIGN VESSELS REALLY STAYING OUT OF THE GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS’ ECONOMIC EXCLUSION ZONE (EEZ)?

WHERE IS THE FLEET?

Since July 16, a fleet of approx. 260 Chinese fishing vessels has lined the edges of Ecuador’s two economic exclusion zones. 

This map is from July 23 – the red dots shows the fleet is along the southern edge edge of the Galapagos’ protected waters. 

Governmental response in Ecuador has maintained that these fishing vessels have stayed out of protected waters and that their activities have remained legal.

HOW BIG IS THE FLEET?

In this view, you can see that the fleet is almost as wide as the entire archipelago of the Galapagos Islands itself. The fleet is approx. 524 kilometers or 283 nautical miles across its diameter

The fleet includes ships for fishing, processing, storing & refueling, creating a self-sufficient industry at sea. They constantly seek out remote destinations as their fisheries have already been entirely depleted.

MARITIME TRACKING

There are a number of conventional fleet monitoring systems (such as Vessel Tracker, Global Fishing Watch and Marinetraffic) that are open to the public

These platforms do not always include data on “dark” fleet vessels and will not always have access to data on ships who are trying to operate off of the radar

The following image combines data from AIS Satellite, LRIT and Radar SAR images simultaneously. 

Radar images from the European SENTINEL satellite and the system integrates information from CLS-France.

The following image shows both legal and “dark” vessel locations from February 1 – February 23, 2020. 

FEB 2020 IN THE GALÁPAGOS

Green and Yellow indicate cooperating vessels – their locators are turned on and the vessels are identified

Red indicates vessels who have turned off their locators, or “dark” fleet vessels. All vessels conducting legal activities within the marine reserve and/or the economic exclusion zone should have their locator on

VESSELS GOING “DARK” IN FEB 2020

The large gray circle in the center marks the Insular Economic Exclusion Zone (ZEEI). The slightly smaller area in the center of the ZEEI is the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

All vessels conducting legal activities within the marine reserve and/or the ZEEI should have their locator on.

Some are left wondering whether this means that the government allows the presence of these dark vessels

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

This historical monitoring data suggests that the fishing fleet may have already conducted illegal fishing within protected waters.

At a minimum, this demonstrates that Ecuador is not regularly enforcing or requiring foreign vessels to have their locators turned on

Some local officials within the Galapagos Islands have demanded the right to inspect the catches of these vessels to ensure that no threatened species are being captured and that all operations have been in compliance with local and international maritime law

So far, the Ecuadorian government has not supported this type of peaceful inspection and has simply reiterated that there is not evidence of illegal activity associated with these vessels.

WHY IS THIS SUCH A BIG DEAL?

If fishing vessels are allowed within protected waters without their location on, there is no way to monitor the legality of their operations and travel.

Animals don’t understand borders and will continue to pass through these fleets in their regular migration patterns, even if the ships remain in international waters.

Many feel that this is an indication that Ecuador is not being transparent or honest in their maritime practices

Tropical coastal ecosystems are inherently fragile and billions worldwide are dependent upon marine ecosystems and their resources to maintain subsistence living, not just in the Galapagos

WHAT CAN I DO TO SUPPORT THE GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS?

Share this post and the work of @sosgalapagos with others – not everyone can read Spanish, but reaching other audiences is critical!

Demand that Ecuador return its protected territorial waters to 200 miles from the coast – not the 12 miles it was reduced to by CONVEMAR in 2016

Show your support to LOCAL Galapaguenos, not companies or foreign non-profits who happen to have a foothold in the Islands. Not sure where to start? Send us a DM

Check your sources before posting new and breaking news. Consider if the facts may be skewed or biased by the person reporting them. Be skeptical of information that cannot be independently verified.

Check free fleet monitoring platforms (like Global Fishing Watch or Fleet Mon). If you have access to historical satellite data, look for “dark” vessels that have their location turned off

Tag conservationists, news personalities and outlets. Share resources & news to as many people as possible to raise awareness about this threat

Demand transparency from Ecuador’s government on why this “dark” vessels were in protected waters

Educate others on the reality of distant-water fishing fleets. See if there are distant-water fleets near you or near other protected areas worldwide.

Pay attention to who is reporting news about these fleets and who is staying silent. Remember which groups have failed to act and aid those in the islands. Choose to not support and to not patronize these organizations when post-pandemic travel resumes.


Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2020

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