A coalition of environmental organizations is demanding that Ecuador take a tougher stand against a massive armada of fishing ships working off the Galapagos Islands.
“Ecuador’s timid response to the crisis is absolutely appalling,” says Reuters Ian Vargas, spokesman for the Free Pacific collective, a group of 25 animal and sealife welfare organizations. “Because the government is shown so little resolve in confronting the situation, we are calling for international assistance to confront it.”
According to Vargas, the fishing fleet moored just outside the Galapagos protective preserve has grown to 340 vessels, most of them Chinese-flagged, since Ecuador said it had reached an agreement with the Chinese government. “Basically, the Chinese agreed to do what they had planned to do along, which is to leave the area in September. This is when the [Humboldt] current weakens and brings in less fish so it is when the fleet moves on to greener pastures.”
Vargas says one of the international groups that has volunteered to join the fight is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which operates four ships that engage foreign fishing fleets engaged in illegal practices. “Although other countries, including Peru, have agreements with Sea Shepherd to protect its waters, Ecuador has so far refused to let them help.”
Last week, Darwin Jarrín, Ecuador Naval commander, said he had been in contact with Sea Shepherd officials and told them he did not need their assistance. “I made it clear with them that it the responsibility of the Navy to patrol our waters and we do not want outside interference,” he said. “Of course, they can do whatever they want in international waters.”
“It is a proven fact that the fishing fleet is involved in illegal activities that cause environmental damage to the Galapagos,” says Sea Shepherd operations director Peter Hammarstedt. “We have extensive evidence of this, including the capture of the Fu Yuan Yu Leng vessels in 2017, which was loaded with protected species and shark fins. Many of these fleets are nothing more than marine rapists.”
Hammarstedt says the fishing fleet, which he points out includes ships from Japan, South Korea and other countries in addition to those from China, also pollutes the waters in areas where it operates. “The shores of the Galapagos are littered with bottles, cans, razor blades, toothbrushes as well as human waste released from the fishing boats in violation of international maritime law.”
Vargas and Hammarstedt agree with Ecuadorian authorities on one point: that Ecuador’s maritime boundaries should be extended to connect the Galapagos with the mainland. “This would go a long way in protecting the Galapagos, especially if the marine preserve limits are extended,” Vargas says. “The United Nations has said it supports expanded boundaries and this should be pursued as quickly as possible, definitely ahead of next year’s fishing season.”