China’s ambassador to Ecuador was called to the foreign ministry Friday and given a formal warning about its fishing vessels encroaching on the Galapagos Islands International Preserve. A fishing ship with 300 tons of catch onboard was taken into custody Monday and remains in port as an investigation continues.
Foreign Minister María Fernanda Espinosa and other Ecuadorian officials reviewed the special protections of the Galapagos preserve with Ambassador Yang Yulin. “I reminded the ambassador of the special status of the Galapogos preserve and that it is protected under international rules established by the United Nations,” Espinosa said following the meeting. “Unfortunately, many of the fish discovered on the Chinese-flagged vessel currently in custody were protected species, especially the sharks, and they were taken illegally.”
The Chinese fishing ship Fu Yuan Yu Leng remains in Ecuadorian custody as investigators continue to examine the catch and interview the captain and crew. The Chinese government has requested that the ship be released but Ecuador says it has not made a final decision about its status.
The incident has prompted more reconnaissance measures by the Ecuadorian navy to monitor Galapagos waters. “The size of the operation on the Chinese ship is especially alarming,” says Walter Bustos, Galapogos National Park director. “We have found tons of sharks that are considered endangered species in the ship’s holds and they appear to have been taken primarily for their fins, which is an illegal practice not only here but in most national waters. Obviously, we need to increase our vigilance to stop the encroachment.”
According to Bustos, 18 fishing ships have been caught and detained in the Galapogos preserve since 2014. “Many vessels fish just outside of the preserve but they respect our special protection zone,” he said. “The current case is an especially bad exception.”
Under rules of the preserve, only fishermen who are legal residents of the Galapagos are allowed to fish in the area.