• By The Financial District


Nearly 300 Chinese vessels are pillaging the waters in the Galapagos Marine Reserve primarily for squid, which is part of the diet of local Galapagos species such as hammerhead sharks, as well as for many commercial and recreational fish species, including tuna, according to an analysis by the non-government organization (NGO) Oceana.

Using the Global Fishing Watch mapping tool, Oceana analyzed data from fishing vessels operating near the Galapagos Islands from July 13 to August 13. During this period, the NGO documented estimates the Chinese fleet logged more than 73,000 hours of apparent fishing. In fact, 99% of the visible fishing activity off the Galapagos during this period was by Chinese vessels, the Argentina-based Fermin Koop reported for ZME Science on September 19, 2020. Years ago, Argentina sunk a Chinese trawler that refused to leave its territorial waters and Beijing questioned the action taken by Buenos Aires to protect its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) from Chinese fishing fleets that do not respect the territorial waters of other countries.

“For a month, the world watched and wondered what China’s enormous fishing fleet was doing off the Galapagos Islands, but now we know,” said Dr. Marla Valentine, Oceana’s illegal fishing and transparency analyst, in a statement. “This massive and ongoing fishing effort of China’s fleet threatens the Galapagos Islands, the rare species that only call it home and everyone that depends on it for food and livelihoods.” Oceana also documented Chinese vessels apparently disabling their public tracking devices, providing conflicting vessel identification information and engaging in potentially suspect transshipment practices, all of which can enable illicit activities. China has the largest fleet of distant-water vessels in the world, estimated at more than 17,000.

The Galapagos Islands are a remote area nearly 900 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador and was once a “living laboratory” that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The area is an oasis for ocean wildlife with more than 20% of its marine species found nowhere else on Earth. The Galapagos Marine Reserve covers more than 133,000 square kilometers surrounding the Galapagos Islands. There are more than 30 species of sharks living in Galapagos, some of which are threatened with extinction, such as the Endangered whale shark (Rhincodon typus) or the critically endangered hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini.) Many of them constantly move between the islands and the mainland.

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