Criminal business and monetary damage: a fleet of Asian ships in the Argentine sea

Criminal business and monetary damage: a fleet of Asian ships in the Argentine sea

29 January 2021
CE Noticias Financieras

The Argentine coast is home to a share of the most valuable marine biodiversity on the planet. Brazil’s warm ocean currents meet the cold waters of the Falkland Islands, on a vast plain of seabed that rushes abruptly on the edge of the continental shelf. This allows marine life to thrive.

Studies show a pattern of displacement of predating fleets: they start fishing in the middle of the Pacific for a few weeks; between May, July and August they go to the Galapagos Islands and the coasts of Colombia, Peru and Chile, and are currently in Argentina’s exclusive economic zone. In our case, illegal fishing has illex squid as its main incentive, but also hake, rays and sharks.

The presence of approximately 300 Asian ships, mainly Chinese, recreates unregulated fishing that undermines the development of the [fishing] sector because the domestic industry must compete against predators that, in order to lower costs, exploit resources without respecting processes, cycles or regulations. This negatively impacts jobs and other related activities, such as the shipbuilding industry.

The IUU Fishing Index is a ranking that helps to understand how nations behave in this industry and the efforts they make to keep it under international regulation. In 2020, Belgium was the best rated country; China, the worst.

This criminal activity moves million-dollar sums: it is the sixth most lucrative criminal business in the world, with revenue ranging from $15 billion to $36 billion, according to Global Financial Integrity.

China’s large-distance fleet, which includes fishing, transport, support and supply vessels, totals about 17,000 vessels, as compared to 300 in the United States. According to Greenpeace, China is the largest country responsible for illegal fishing from Argentina to Senegal. Many times those same ships are used to traffic weapons, drugs and people. The working conditions of crew members, many recruited in Myanmar or Cambodia, are often extremely precarious.

Through a statement, the Latin American Alliance for Sustainable Fisheries and Food Security (Apescas), an organization of which the Argentine Chamber of High-altitude Fishing Shipowners is part, made clear his complaint.

“Alpescas rejects the repeated threat posed to our fisheries by fleets of distant-water fishing countries which, without any control on the part of their flag states and by abusing the freedom of deep-sea fishing, invade our fishing grounds,” he said. He also called on all Latin American governments and Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (ORPPs), especially the South Pacific (OROP-PS), to strengthen their regional fisheries management systems.

“China’s colossal deep-water fleet engages in a wide range of problematic behaviors in Latin American waters, including: overfishing; deliberate and accidental capture of protected species; the use of trawling and other practices that accelerate the collapse of fisheries; pollution by plastics and other wastes, and unauthorized entry and fishing into the region’s exclusive economic zones and protected maritime areas” Evan Ellis, an analyst and associate professor at the U.S. Army War School’s Institute of Strategic Studies, highlighted.

The expert further stressed that “Beijing has continually denied the existence of these practices, so it is turning its back on its responsibility to put an end to them.” At the same time he acknowledged that, “even though violations of international law are well-documented and there is several precedents for these activities off the coast of Ecuador and Argentina, geography makes it difficult and costly to protect Latin American waters from Chinese incursions.”

The Chinese fleet is freed by the slight sanctions imposed by Argentine law. A fishing vessel operating in the exclusive economic zone is barely fined $150,000, when it generates profits of more than $4 million per lap. And when your holds fill up, a refrigerated auxiliary vessel known as “refrigerator” or “mothership” appears that unloads fishing, and allows you to continue to depredate. This process is known as transshipment.

The Argentine Government has just created an Argentine Sea Fish Catch and Export Certification Coordination Unit, official as the publication this Friday of Resolution 11/2021 in the Official Gazette. The Unit aims precisely to improve control over this economic activity.

Meanwhile, national deputies Juan Aicega, Francisco Sánchez and Ignacio Torres, submitted a request for reports for the Executive to account for the catches made by foreign ships and the sanctions that were applied to them.

Under the Fisheries Act, 20% of the National Fisheries Fund must be allocated to equipment and tasks of patrolling and police control of the activity.

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

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