China has agreed to allow Ecuadorian authorities monitor the movement of its fishing fleet and to make periodic inspections of its catches in waters near the Galapagos Islands. In addition, the Chinese ambassador to Ecuador said that the fleet would leave the area within a month and not return until December.
The agreement was reached Wednesday during meetings between Chinese and Ecuadorian officials. Although fisheries and some environmental consultants called the agreement “an excellent start,” others said it a “joke and a mockery” that offers little protection to the Galapagos marine preserve.
Galapagos Islands environmental consultant Yolanda Kakabadse says the agreement is a justification of Ecuador’s interests to protect marine life near the islands. “The Chinese are acknowledging our claim to defend the preserve,” she said. “In the past, the fishing fleet refused to talk to Ecuador about our interests and said they were in international waters and had a legal right to fish there.”
Kakabadse added that it is notable that, for the first time, China appears concerned about its reputation for observing international fishing regulations. “This is a very important first step,” she said.
In comments before a National Assembly committee, Foreign Minister Luis Gallegos agreed with Kakabadse and said he believed Ecuador can work “effectively” with the Chinese in the future to protect Galapagos environmental interests. He said that Chinese ambassador to Ecuador Chen Guoyou will issue a statement Thursday on Chinese support for the agreement.
Some Assembly members questioned the legitimacy of the accord, however, saying it offers no protection for the Galapagos. “We need concrete regulations, not simply a deal justified with a handshake,” says Assemblyman César Rohón. “We need a regulatory structure that involves all the countries affected by Chinese fishing, not just Ecuador.”
Rohón called China’s promise to withdraw its fleet between September and December a “joke”. “This is the period when fishing is not as good, when the Antarctic Current carries fewer fish from the south,” he said. “The fleet would not be there anyway during this period.”
Gallegos admitted that many details of the agreement remain to be worked out, particularly regarding the onboard inspections of Chinese catches. He said the fleet has agreed to turn on tracking systems on all its fishing vessels so movements can be tracked by satellite.