The presence of a Chinese fishing fleet in international waters around the Galapagos worries Ecuador, which is trying to articulate a short- and medium-term policy to avoid its return.
With our correspondent in Quito, Éric Samson
In the short term, how can [Ecuador] control the presence of 260 Chinese trawlers, factory ships, oil tankers and logistics vessels that this fleet needs to stay at sea permanently?
Ecuador has a few escort ships, patrol boats and planes, and even a former Chinese ship captured in the waters of the Galapagos Marine Reserve. But the Chinese fishing fleet uses every trick they can to avoid detection when they fish in Ecuadorian waters. For example, they put the same name on several ships or turning off the satellite identification system that tracks the movements of the ships.
On August 14, 2017, Ecuador confiscated this Chinese fishing boat in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, with 300 tonnes of fish on board, including some endangered species such as the hammerhead shark. JUAN CEVALLOS / AFP
Can Ecuador take action if the fleet stays outside its special economic zone?
Yes, because even in international waters, fishermen are not free to just do anything. First, there is the Convention on the Conservation and Regulation of High Seas Fishery Resources. Second, Article 21 of the United Nations agreement to avoid overfishing of trans-territorial and migratory fish [states that] the nearby country that is affected the most [by the fleet] can approach the vessels to see if they are using prohibited fishing practices such as longline fishing, or nets that scour and destroy the seabed.
Financial Dependence on China
Ecuador could therefore approach Chinese vessels to inspect them even in international waters. But, given Quito’s financial dependence on China, it is hard to imagine. Another problem: vessels in this fleet have flags from African countries that have not signed the Convention and can therefore refuse any inspection.
In the medium-term, the aim is to ban fishing in this region. The Ecuadorian government has created a committee to protect the biodiversity of the Galapagos. Roque Sevilla, A businessman in the tourism sector and former mayor of Quito, is one of them.
Expand exclusive economic zones
“The plan is to demarcate, to close a large triangle between the Galapagos, Costa Rica and the mainland,” he explains. Our goal is to act very quickly so that this area is declared a protected area by an agreement between Ecuador and Costa Rica. We will take advantage of the fact that there is an Ecuadorian Exclusive Economic Zone that starts from the Galapagos Archipelago and touches the Costa Rica Exclusive Economic Zone which expands out from Cocos Island. The idea is to make this area a large marine reserve. “
Then, the idea will be to expand the two exclusive economic zones of the Galapagos and mainland Ecuador to try to block the entry of the Chinese fleet from the south. Meanwhile, the Chinese ambassador to Ecuador has indicated that the fleet will voluntarily withdraw from September to December. This offer was poorly received in Quito: this is in fact the time when these vessels do not fish in the Pacific anyway, but rather in the South Atlantic.
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