Environmentalists: Illegal Chinese Fishing Fleet Returns to Destroy Galapagos Islands

View of the Chinese-flagged ship confiscated by the Ecuadorean Navy in the waters of the Galapagos marine reserve, on August 25, 2017. - The Ecuadorian Navy reported on August 14, 2017 that a Chinese-flagged vessel had been seized in the Galapagos Marine Reserve carrying some 300 tons of fish, including …
JUAN CEVALLOS/AFP via Getty

An Ecuadorian conservation group called Más Galápagos denounced China on Tuesday for deploying an illegal fishing fleet near Ecuador’s sovereign maritime territory in recent days, the Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio reported.

“The first Chinese industrial fishing vessel named Shun Xing 18 is installed in the south of # Galapagos,” Más Galápagos wrote in a Twitter statement on June 29. “We ask for concrete actions to guarantee that they do not enter the exclusive insular economic zone.”

Más Galápagos spokesman Eliecer Cruz told El Comercio on June 29 that the Chinese fleet so far remained in international waters, but was likely to approach and even penetrate Ecuadorian waters, as many illegal Chinese fishing fleets have in the past.

“The bulk of the fleet is about 400 kilometers west of the [Galápagos] archipelago. It is still quite far away, but … [the way] this [type of] fleet operates is that they send one or two ships forward and once they find the squid banks they call the rest [of the ships] and the entire fleet come[s] over,” he explained.

Ecuador’s environment minister, Gustavo Manrique, told El Comercio on June 29 that the fleet was “international and not from a specific country.” He said the fleet had so far not entered Ecuador’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),  which is a maritime area over which a sovereign nation retains exclusive rights to explore for natural resources. Manrique said that Ecuador’s defense ministry was monitoring the fleet to ensure that it does not enter Ecuadorian territory. He said that if the fleet did enter Ecuador’s EEZ, the country would respond with “corresponding sanctions.”

The commercial fishing tracker Global Fish Watch is also “monitoring the path of Chinese vessels,” Cruz told the Argentine news site InfoBae on June 29.

Ecuador’s navy said it was “on alert” last July after spotting an illegal Chinese fishing fleet inching “very close” to the edge of Ecuador’s EEZ, which surrounds the Galápagos archipelago. The fleet contained at least 260 illegal fishing boats, threatening the precious aquatic life surrounding the island chain. The archipelago is officially known as the Galápagos Marine Reserve and is protected by Ecuador as an environmentally sensitive zone due to its unique biodiversity. The reserve is also a designated UNESCO world heritage site.

Ecuador’s navy seized a Chinese boat in 2017 for illegally fishing within the boundaries of the Galápagos Marine Reserve. Ecuadorian security officials arrested 20 of the vessel’s crew members, who were found with nearly 7,000 endangered sharks on board.

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