Ecuador Counters Illegal Fishing with Help from Canada, US

Ecuador Counters Illegal Fishing with Help from Canada, US

By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo
October 08, 2021

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The Canadian and U.S. governments are supporting Ecuador’s efforts to counter illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, by improving the monitoring and preservation of the region’s ecosystems.

On September 13, 2021, Ecuador and Canada announced in Quito a cooperation agreement to use satellites to detect and track in real time “dark ships,” whose crews turn off location transmitters to evade the authorities’ monitoring efforts.

Canadian technology will help “protect national sovereignty, marine resources, and the unique ecosystem of the Galapagos,” Ecuadorian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mauricio Montalvo said on the day of the signing of the agreement.

IUU fishing “erodes both regional and national security, undermines maritime rules-based order, jeopardizes food access and availability, and destroys legitimate economies,” the U.S. Naval Institute, an independent non-profit association, says on its website. “The most deleterious effects are on vulnerable coastal states without sufficient resources to police their territorial waters,” it adds.

Bruno Leone, head of the Ecuadorian National Chamber of Fisheries, told the Ecuadorian newspaper El Diario that “illegal fishing is the third largest crime, after drug and arms trafficking.”

This activity represents nearly 30 percent of fishing activity worldwide. Crews extract nearly 26 million tons of fish illegally from the oceans every year, with profits totaling $23 billion, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Joint work

To help prevent, discourage, and eliminate IUU fishing, the United States and Ecuador are working on developing sensor and communication equipment to improve conditions at the Ecuadorian Navy’s command centers, El Diario said. In addition, the United States contributes experts who work alongside Ecuadorian journalists and students in illegal fishing investigations, El Diario added.

The Ecuadorian government strengthened bilateral cooperation with Canada to counter illegal fishing, on September 13, 2021, in Quito, Ecuador. (Photo: Ecuadorian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

U.S. officials also trained Ecuadorian prosecutors in law enforcement and deterrence against IUU fishing, the U.S. Department of State reported on its ShareAmerica portal on August 30.

The support for Ecuador includes maritime aerial exploration operations, which a U.S. Orion P-3 aircraft carries out, to collect information on illegal activities related to illegal fishing and narcotrafficking, the Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo reported.

Chinese fleet presence

In late July 2021, hundreds of Chinese fishing vessels approached the Galapagos Marine Reserve, the environmental journalism website Mongabay Latam reported.

This international fishing fleet is located 138 nautical miles off the insular exclusive economic zone, the Ecuadorian Navy reported via Twitter on August 17.

Milko Schvartzman, a specialist who studies Asian fleets in Latin America, estimates that more than 100 Chinese vessels have joined an extensive fleet that was already fishing in the area, Mongabay Latam reported.

China, which owns the largest fishing fleet in the world, is the country with the highest rates of illegal fishing; it violates and disregards regulations, as well as health, labor, and environmental standards, according to the Argentine-based nongovernmental organization Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN, in Spanish).

The Chinese fleet has a recurring presence in the international waters surrounding the exclusive economic zones of Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Peru, FARN said.

“The Chinese government-funded fishing fleet is increasingly focused on the Western Hemisphere because they have already depleted fishing stocks closer to home,” U.S. Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador Jean Manes said on Twitter on September 24. “We must unite the region to prevent this from happening here.”

The Chinese government recognizes that it has nearly 3,000 fishing vessels in distant waters, the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies reported on its website.