Chinese fishing vessels overfished the ocean around Galapagos

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Large Chinese fishing ship
Large Chinese fishing ship

Large Chinese fishing ship. This ship was confiscated by the Ecuadorian authorities in 2017 in a dispute at that time. Photo: Juan Cevallos/AFP via Getty Images

Background

The Galapagos Islands were made famous by Charles Darwin who studied the species on the islands leading to his theory of natural selection explaining evolution which is presented in his book On the Origin of Species. The islands are owned by Ecuador. The islands and the surrounding water is called the Galapagos Province of Ecuador and the Galapagos National Park and further, the Galapagos Marine Reserve. The islands were first visited in 1535 when the Bishop of Panama was surprised to discover them on a voyage to Peru. Ecuador took the islands from Spanish ownership in 1832. The islands are precious to the world and of course need protection. The Galapagos are famed for their endemic species. Darwin studied them in the 1830s.

Huge Chinese fishing fleet

It is reported that satellite and radio tracking information disclosed that almost 300 vessels of China’s distant water fishing fleet were stationed off the islands during July and August. The fleet includes fish processing plants and refuelling vessels. It’s fishing on an industrial scale. It is said that they have caught several thousand tonnes of billfish, tuna and squid.

This marine wildlife is a vital resource for the protected species on the islands. Also, the Chinese fishing fleet has been accused of polluting the environment in that area with plastic waste. Park guides say that the islands are strewn with plastic waste and equipment packaging. It appears that it has been discarded from the Chinese ships because of Chinese labelling.

The US Coast Guard say that some of the Chinese vessels deliberately conceal their position by switching off GPS transponders. One ship apparently reported an alternative location thousands of miles away in Alaska. The number of ships has been described by a US official as a “city” at sea.

Tourism

Ecuador’s tourism industry has been hurt badly by the coronavirus pandemic. The Galapagos being a marine nature park is open to restricted tourism. Each visitor pays a $100 entry fee. Current takings are one tenth of the usual amount because of the pandemic.

Legal steps

The Ecuadorian government want to block off the sea route to the islands by declaring the zone around the islands an exclusive economic zone which links up with the areas it controls off the mainland. I presume that it is lobbying international neighbours and other countries which use the route vis-à-vis shipping for the right to do this.