Report: Chinese Fishermen Illegally Plundering Galápagos Islands

A squid swims underwater off the shore of the coastal city of Qalamun, north of the Lebane

A marine conservation group published an analysis on Wednesday, revealing that an armada of Chinese fishing vessels carried out more than 73,000 hours of illegal fishing in the Galápagos between July and August, pulling thousands of tons of squid and fish up in the process.

The analysis, carried out by the marine conservation group Oceana, found that around 300 Chinese vessels were involved in “pillaging” the waters of the Galapagos Marine Reserve in search mainly of squid. The report pointed out that squid are “essential to the diet of iconic Galapagos species such as fur seals and hammerhead sharks, as well as for many commercial and recreational fish species, including tuna and billfish, that contribute to the local economy.”

“Oceana analyzed data from fishing vessels found near the Galapagos Islands from July 13 to Aug. 13, 2020. During this one-month period, Oceana documented the Chinese fleet, which was primarily fishing for squid, logged more than 73,000 total hours of apparent fishing,” the analysis explained. “In fact, 99% of the visible fishing activity off the Galapagos Islands during this one-month period was by Chinese-flagged vessels.”

The vessels reportedly use a variety of tactics such as disabling their public tracking devices to avoid detection. China currently ranks as having the world’s worst fishing standards according to a 2019 IUU Fishing Index for, among other behaviors, violating environmental standards by overfishing, targeting of endangered species, the illegal intrusion of foreign waters, false licensing, and forced labor.

“For a month, the world watched and wondered what China’s enormous fishing fleet was doing off the Galápagos Islands, but now we know,” said Marla Valentine, one of Oceana’s illegal fishing and transparency analysts. “This massive and ongoing fishing effort of China’s fleet threatens the Galápagos Islands, the rare species that only call it home and everyone that depends on it for food and livelihoods.”

In July, the Ecuadorian Navy confirmed it was monitoring the presence of hundreds of fishing vessels, the majority suspected to be Chinese, near the Galápagos Islands and pledged to increase patrols to prevent the ships from entering the jurisdiction. The efforts have not, at press time, prevented aggressive fishing from continuing to take place.

Chinese vessels have long been caught illegally fishing in and around the Galápagos Islands, once studied by Charles Darwin as he worked on his theory of evolution. The most noteworthy incident took place in 2017 when a crew of Chinese fishermen was caught in illegal possession of 6,600 sharks Galapagos, leading to a diplomatic dispute between the two countries. The crew was eventually found guilty and sentenced to between one and four years in jail as well as a $5.9 million fine.

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