The Chinese fishing fleet and boats from other countries prey on the fauna of the Galapagos: what the governments of the region can do to prevent it

The vessels stay close to the Exclusive Economic Zone of Ecuador and capture what is in their path. There are international laws that protect them, but there are also agreements that protect endangered species on the high seas

Yalilé Loaiza
July 5, 2021
From Quito

Aerial photograph of international vessels near Galapagos (Stock photo courtesy of the Ecuadorian Navy)

The arrival of international vessels – most of them Asian – to fish near the Galapagos Islands has become recurrent. Fishing vessels arrive in a season where various marine species – some protected – begin their migrations, which causes many of these animals to end up in the fishing nets of the vessels. Most of these vessels belong to the Chinese fishing fleet.

The waters near the Galapagos Islands and the coasts of Ecuador are the habitat of multiple marine species that are protected. As the fishing fleet remains in international waters, the intervention of the State – in this case the Ecuadorian state – is restricted by international agreements.

On June 29, the Más Galapagos collective warned about the arrival of the first Chinese boat. The Shun Xing 18 fishing vessel was installed in the south of the islands, outside the Insular Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). As reported that same night by the Ecuadorian Government, the ship was approximately 300 nautical miles from the ZEEI and about 470 nautical miles from the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

The Government of President Guillermo Lasso delivered a speech on the protection of sovereignty. In the first statement he issued on the Más Galapagos alert, he stated that “Ecuador has the necessary technology to safeguard the sovereignty of the country.” In the statement, the Government made reference to an agreement made with Canada that provides it with the technology to track foreign vessels even when they have deactivated their radars.

From the alert, it was publicly known that the Interinstitutional Committee of the Sea, which includes the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Production, Foreign Trade, Investments and Fisheries, the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition already the General Secretariat for Communication of the Presidency had been activated and had met on three occasions to periodically evaluate this type of situation.

One of the Committee’s spokesmen, the Minister of the Environment, Gustavo Manrique Miranda, was the first to speak on the arrival of the Chinese fishing boat. In a video shared to the press, the minister explains how the maritime miles that correspond to Ecuador are distributed: 40 miles that correspond to the Galapagos Marine Reserve and 160 miles from the ZEEI. What add up to a total of 200 nautical miles where Ecuador has jurisdiction.

Manrique Miranda confirmed that there are foreign vessels that have approached the ZEEI, but stressed that “they are in international waters, where the law and different organizations allow them to operate.”

In addition, the minister referred to surveillance and explained that Ecuador has technology that allows it to know the name of the vessels and the speed at which they move.” There is a fleet, both marine and aerial, that carries out permanent monitoring,” said the minister, referring to the surveillance carried out by the Armed Forces of Ecuador, through the Navy.

The Ecuadorian Navy in 2020 carried out multiple overflights to monitor vessels fishing near the ZEEI of Ecuador.  (File photo courtesy of the Ecuadorian Navy)

“The international fleet has not entered and will not enter Ecuadorian waters; if they try to do so, we will apply the full rigor of the law,” concluded the minister.

In a press conference, the representatives of the institutions that make up the Interinstitutional Committee of the Sea, referred to the presence of fishing vessels and they stressed that the ships correspond to an international fleet and not to a specific country.

The Interinstitutional Committee of the Sea of ​​Ecuador includes the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Production, Foreign Trade, Investments and Fisheries, the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition and the General Secretariat of Communication of the Presidency

The vice minister of defense, admiral in passive service Darwin Jarrín explained that since 2017, when a fleet arrived that exceeded 350 fishing boats and landed near the ZEEI, the Armed Forces, through the National Navy, carry out permanent monitoring through “satellite means, maritime surveillance aircraft, ships and coast guards”. From the Naval Operations Command, centered in Guayaquil, the movement of the fishing fleets is monitored 365 days a year, Jarrín reported.

The National Navy has already acted when maritime border violations occur. For instance, in 2017, the Navy intercepted the fishing vessel Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, which entered Ecuadorian waters. It had more than 300 tons of sharks on board, including hammerhead sharks, an endangered species. Later, in 2020, the intercepted Chinese ship was incorporated into the Ecuadorian Navy ships under the name Hualcopo.

The Minister of Environment also referred to surveillance and pointed out that to protect the Galapagos marine reserve, Ecuador has ” 3 oceanic control vessels, 7 fast navigation vessels, a light aircraft and a control room .”

Ecuadorian Navy personnel conducting surveillance of international vessels near the Galapagos in 2020 (File photo courtesy of the Ecuadorian Navy)

In the meeting with the press, Foreign Minister 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 the Convemar, where there is an international court that could eventually serve. We also have the New York agreement.”

Article 118 of the Convemar refers to the fact that the States will cooperate with each other in the conservation and administration of living resources in the areas of the high seas. Likewise, Article 21 of the New York Agreement for the Conservation of Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish establishes that vessels can be approached and inspected on the high seas, establishing procedures for “visit and inspection” in coordination with subregional or regional management organizations for fisheries.

In an interview with Infobae,,César Llivichuzca, a lawyer specializing in environmental law, explained that even on the high seas, “there are principles that must be respected that are linked to the conservation of species and sustainability in the use of fishing resources,” however, the flag states where the ship is registered areIn charge of this.

Although countries cannot extend their 200 nautical miles, there are options to protect species from fishing predators. Llivichuzca indicates that a marine area could be created outside of state jurisdiction “as has been done in the Northeast Atlantic with the Ospar Agreement.” In order to promote the creation of these spaces, the expert explains, in 2017, the United Nations General Assembly announced the start of formal negotiations to develop an instrument aligned with the Convemar, legally binding, that allows the protection of marine biodiversity in high seas.

Llivichuzca refers to the text for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas outside national jurisdiction. However, the legal instrument has not yet seen the light of day, and according to the latest resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, the meeting to address the issue of the COVID-19 pandemic has been postponed until the first quarter of 2022 .

In this same season in 2020, more than 300 vessels were located near the limits of the EEZ. Since they were in international waters, they fished for several weeks. It was even reported that a whale shark, which had a marking tracker to follow its migratory route through the Galapagos Islands, stopped transmitting a signal from its device when it left the ZEEI. It is assumed that it was caught by a fishing vessel.

The presence of fishing vessels is something that concerns organizations dedicated to the conservation of Galapagos species.

Mónica Calvopiña, spokesperson for Más Galapagos, the organization that warned about the arrival of the first fishing boat this year, indicated in an interview with Infobae that it is necessary that as a country, the international commitment to expand the marine protection zone is fulfilled. This would help “to sustain fishery resources in the long term, not only to conserve iconic marine species, but also so that the exploitation of resources is done in a sustained way,” indicates Calvopiña.

Migratory species are the victims of predators. Studies conducted in the last two decades show that these species travel throughout the region and enter and leave the Galapagos Marine Reserve. “It has been identified that around 30 marine species, in recent years, have been affected in a decline in their populations, going from being slightly threatened to highly threatened species such as hammerhead sharks, species of sea turtles, the albatross,” indicates the spokesperson for Más Galapagos.

The request they make to the government as a group, Calvopiña points out, is that the marine reserve increase its protection area or declare a new marine protection area around Galapagos. This is because “fishing pressure has been increasing, climate change and illegal fishing have increased, but the reserve has remained the same size.”

After the alert issued by Más Galapagos,* it was known that China announced that it temporarily prohibited its fishing fleet, the largest in the world, from capturing squid in some parts of the Pacific and Atlantic where overfishing brought these populations to the brink of collapse.**

On July 2, according to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry, the authorities of Ecuador and China held a new virtual meeting in which they discussed the fishing activities of the vessels of that country on the high seas and different topics on fisheries cooperation.

Photograph provided today by the Galapagos National Park that shows hammerhead sharks on the island of Darwin, in the north of the Galapagos (Ecuador) (EFE / Galapagos National Park)

The meeting discussed the importance of protecting the unique ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands and joint efforts for sustainable fishing and the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing . They also discussed issues related to collaboration in regional fisheries management bodies, with respect to expanding the coverage of observers on board vessels that carry out fishing activities on the high seas; among others.

The Foreign Ministry of Ecuador 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 or engage in illegal fishing activities. not declared and not regulated ”.

Read the original coverage from InfoBae at https://www.infobae.com/america/america-latina/2021/07/05/la-flota-pesquera-china-y-barcos-de-otros-paises-depredan-la-fauna-de-las-galapagos-que-pueden-hacer-los-gobiernos-de-la-region-para-evitarlo/

Editorial Notes:

*The original announcement was made by Milko Schvartzman, though Más Galapagos subsequently reposted Schvartzman’s tracking capture of the vessel. Más Galapagos has been credited with the discovery, when the announcement was originally from Milko Schvartzman. Issues with a variation in the naming convention for the vessel were not known to Más Galapagos but were quickly clarified by Milko Schvartzman.

**The moratorium is only for several months out of the year and mirrors the same moratorium that was ultimately issued by China in 2020. They will still fish on the outskirts of the Ecuadorian EEZ for months before the moratorium takes effect. Read more about the moratorium announcement from China here.


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

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