A judge has found the crew of the Chinese fishing ship Yuan Yu Leng guilty of environmental crimes for fishing in the protected waters of Galapagos National Park. In addition, she ordered the factory ship to be sold with the proceeds going to strengthen protections of the Galapagos ocean preserve.
Judge Alexandra Arroyo will announce sentences for the 20 crew members at a later date. According to Ecuadorian statute, sentences will range from one to four years in prison and include a fine of $5 million.
Captured by the Ecuadorian navy on April 13, officials found more than 300 tons of fish in the refrigerated holds of the Yuan Yu Leng, including 6,620 sharks, most of them with their fins removed. Shark fins are considered a delicacy in China and other east Asian countries. According to investigators, many of the sharks belonged to endangered species.
Walter Bustos, director of the Galapagos National Park, praised the judge’s decision, saying it “has created a legal precedent for Ecuador, for the Galapagos, and for the entire world.” He also said money from the ship’s sale will provide badly needed funds for patrolling the ocean preserve around the islands.
According to Bustos, the ruling puts international fishing companies on notice that the protection of marine species is being taken seriously. “International fishing agreements have been ignored for years by these large, factory vessels, and because of their size and technology, they can do extreme harm is a short period of time.”
Several international environmental groups have pledged assistance to Ecuador to improve surveillance of the preserve. The activist ship Sea Shepherd has offered its services to help patrol Galapagos waters.
Prosecutors said it was impossible to determine the exact percentage of catch on the Yuan Yu Leng that came from Galapagos waters, but it said it was “substantial.” Among the species of sharks found on-board were hammer head, silky, fox, pelagic fox, and maiko.