Hundreds of Chinese-flagged ships have been approaching the Galápagos Island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), raising alarms among the Ecuadorian government and international marine conservation organizations.
In late June and early July, more than 100 Chinese-flagged vessels crossed from the Atlantic to the Pacific to join an extensive fleet that was already fishing in the area, the U.S. environmental news website Mongabay reported. “They are moving from west to east, toward the Galápagos, which means that they will be at the edge of the archipelago’s EEZ in the next few weeks,” Milko Schvartzman, a marine conservation specialist with the Argentine organization Environmental Policies Circle and former coordinator of Greenpeace international campaigns, told Mongabay.
In mid-July, the ships were about 400 miles off the Galápagos’ EEZ, prompting the Ecuadorian Navy to deploy a surveillance and control operation, the naval institution reported.
“Surface and aeronaval units execute continuous surveillance and control in maritime spaces, using missile corvettes, missile speedboats, auxiliary ships, airplanes, and naval helicopters. With this logistics deployment, [the units] protect the sovereignty of the territorial sea and the sovereignty of resources in the Exclusive Economic Zone against threats and risks,” the Ecuadorian Armed Forces’ Joint Command said on Twitter on June 30.
On July 7, during a meeting of the Interinstitutional Committee of the Sea, a agency of the Ecuadorian government responsible for facilitating national policies regarding maritime space, Vice Admiral Darwin Jarrín, Ecuadorian vice minister of Defense, said that most fishing vessels in the area — 281, according to a report from Ecuadorean newspaper El Universo — were Chinese-flagged.
The fishing fleet, Schvartzman warned, might be as large as last year’s, which prompted discussions about the need to regulate fishing on the high seas, as well as to implement a global system that would allow the identification, control, deterrence, and prosecution of operators and those who profit from illegal fishing.
Illegal fishing vessels are known to turn their automatic identification systems, location transponders, on and off at their discretion. To address this problem, the Ecuadorian government announced that it is benefiting from an international program to track illegal fishing using satellite technology, which the Canadian government launched in early 2021. The program to detect the so-called dark ships provides state-of-the-art satellite data and analysis to small island nations and coastal states around the world that suffer from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, the Canadian Embassy in Ecuador said.
On July 21, Rear Admiral Brian Penoyer, the U.S. Coast Guard’s 11th District commander, visited the Ecuadorian Navy’s Naval Operations Command, National Directorate of Aquatic Spaces, and Coast Guard Command. The fight against IUU fishing was one of the topics discussed, the Ecuadorian Navy reported in a statement.
“This visit seeks to strengthen bilateral relations […] in order to protect aquatic spaces at a general level,” the statement said.
For its part, the U.S. Embassy in Ecuador said on Twitter that the U.S. Coast Guard delegation met with its Ecuadorian counterpart to analyze the possibility of expanding maritime patrolling to counter illegal fishing by including C-27 aircraft.
In early 2021, the U.S. Coast Guard announced that it will expand its partnerships with Latin American and Caribbean countries by deploying 15 training teams in the next 10 months to combat IUU fishing.