After plundering the marine fauna near the Galapagos Islands, in Ecuador, a gigantic fleet of Chinese fishing vessels is heading toward southern waters, threatening the ecosystems of Chile and Argentina. The nearly 300 industrial vessels that fish for squid (known as jiggers), are 60 to 80 meters long and have 25 to 40 crew members each.
“The environmental impact of these boats is terrible. They have no control over the quantity of specimens they capture and the toxic waste they throw away,” Milko Schvartzman, an Argentine specialist in marine conservation and member of the nongovernmental organization (NG) Environmental Policies Circle, told Diálogo.
“The environmental impact of these boats is terrible. They have no control over the quantity of specimens they capture and the toxic waste they throw away,” Milko Schvartzman, an Argentine specialist in marine conservation and member of the nongovernmental organization (NG) Environmental Policies Circle.
After plankton, squid is the most important species in the South Atlantic’s food chain, which is worrisome to experts.
“A third of the world’s fish populations is already in an unsustainable state. We don’t want squid to become another one,” César Astete, head of the fisheries campaign of the NGO Oceana Chile, told Diálogo.
Astete says that numerous Chinese vessels remain in the fishing area for extended periods of time, sometimes for up to two years. In addition, there are ships that supply fuel, food, and cargo transshipment. “This interlinking of situations is a risk for biodiversity,” Astete added.
Chinese jiggers also threaten the economies of the countries in the region. “They compete in the same markets without paying taxes, with subsidized fuel, and slave labor,” Schvartzman said.
According to the expert, the Chinese vessels’ crew members are Indonesian, Filipino, or African. Only the captains and officers are Chinese.
“The Chinese fleet’s third threat is to the countries’ sovereignty. When there is no surveillance or military presence in the area, these vessels carry out illegal fishing [in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ)],” Schvartzman said. “And the Chinese State, even knowing what they do, does not sanction them.”
In May 2020, the Argentine Navy captured the Chinese vessel Hong Pu 16, which was fishing in the Argentine EEZ and carrying more than 300 tons of fish in its holds. In April, the Argentine Naval Prefecture detected the Chinese vessel Lu Rong Yuan Yu 668, fishing some 390 kilometers offshore from the city of Puerto Madryn.
Chinese vessels often are undetected because they turn off their Automatic Identification System (AIS). “Of the 300 Chinese ships, sometimes only 140 or 200 transmit the signal. Some never do it. Others transmit [it] and then turn off the AIS for a week,” Schvartzman said.
Some ships manipulate the GPS and send dummy signals. “I detected the case of a ship that, while in the Galapagos area, transmitted its AIS in a position at the South Pole,” Schvartzman said.