Nearly 300 Chinese vessels in the waters off the Galapagos Marine Reserve have been fishing primarily for squid, an essential part of the area’s delicate ecosystem, adding to concerns that unsustainable fishing could lead to lasting damage, finds a new report.
Potential overfishing of squid is a concern as it’s key to the diet of well-known local species, such as fur seals and hammerhead sharks, as well as commercial species, including tuna.
The hundreds of Chinese vessels accounted for 99% of fishing activity over a one-month period tracked by Oceana, a non-profit that works on ocean conservation. By comparison, only ten non-Chinese-flagged vessels were in the area during the same timeframe, including mostly Ecuadorian vessels, and ones from Belize, Taiwan and Spain.
Oceana also found that Chinese-flagged vessels were turning off their public tracking devices on average for two days at a time. One vessel disabled tracking for as long as 17 days. Blocking tracking devices could “enable illicit activities,” Oceana wrote in the report.
Environmentalists have been sounding the alarm about the hundreds of Chinese vessels in the Galapagos over unsustainable fishing practices. Conservation groups have also said the vessels were further endangering the ecologically sensitive area by throwing plastic waste overboard, polluting the ocean and nearby beaches.
Such activity “threatens the Galapagos Islands, the rare species that only call it home and everyone that depends on it for food and livelihoods,” said Maria Valentine, Oceana’s illegal fishing and transparency analyst.
“The situation playing out in the Galapagos should raise serious questions and concerns about the impact china’s massive fishing fleet is having on the oceans it sails.”
Ecuador’s naval forces also noted in August that Chinese fishing vessels had turned off their satellite systems and cut communications to prevent their activities from being tracked. Some vessels also changed their names to avoid being monitored.
“It is a breach [of protocol] on the high seas, because they do not want us to know what they are doing and the activities they carry out,” defence minister Oswaldo Jarrin said at the time.
After environmental concerns were raised, China promised a “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal fishing, though Oceana highlighted that recent activity “run counter” to China’s own fishing rules.
China is ranked the worst nation in the world on an international fishing index that tracks illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing worldwide for frequent violations of overfishing, targeting endangered species, false licensing and forced labour.
China also is the world’s largest fishing nation with an estimated 17,000 vessels in its vast distant water fleet, according to the Overseas Development Institute, a UK-based think tank. That compares to around 300 vessels for the EU.