Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrin is warning environmental groups not to take private action to disrupt the operations of a Chinese fishing fleet that is anchored near the Galapagos Islands. “I understand the anger but this situation must be coordinated through official channels,” he said. “Currently, the vessels are in international waters and none of them have entered the reserve.”
Over the weekend, environmental groups said they had been in touch with organizations that engage in acts of “maritime civil disobedience” for the purpose of protecting the world’s oceans.
Jarrin said that the 260-vessel fishing fleet is being monitored by naval and airborne patrols as well as by satellite tracking. “We are working with other countries to protect the designated waters of the islands and interference from private groups would not be helpful at this point and could, in fact, disrupt our surveillance efforts as well as communication with the operators of the fleet,” he said. “If any of the vessels enter protected waters they will be seized by the Ecuadorian navy.”
Although he did not name the organizations he has been in contact with, Xavier Salgado, director of Sustainable Ecuador, said Sunday that the government appears unwilling or unable to dislodge the Chinese operation. “There are international non-profit organizations that operate ships that have successfully challenged predatory fishing vessels and we believe that direct engagement may be the only way to stop the destruction of marine life in the Galapagos,” he said.
Salgado said he was aware that the fleet was in international waters but said the Chinese factory fishing operations are destroying protected species. “Look at what they found in the Chinese boat that was taken three years ago,” he said. “The holds were filled with illegally caught fish and sharks that were harvested for their fins, which is against international law.”
Salgado added that the fleet was dumping large amounts of toxic waste into the water. “The area around the fleet is filled not only with fishing waste but with paper, plastic and human excrement and this too is a violation of the laws of the ocean.”
In addition to Sustainable Ecuador, other groups pressuring the government to take forceful action are the Citizen Board of San Cristóbal Island, the International Humanist Movement of Azuay and the Galapagos Anti-Corruption Oversight Commission.
According to the environmental and government organizations pushing for action, the most important step is to extend the Galapagos protected waters with those of the mainland. “As it is now, fishing fleets can operate between the Galapagos Islands and mainland Ecuador. Efforts to close this corridor started in 2014 but were never concluded and they should go forward now,” he said.
He added: “The United Nations says it supports this extension and will use international law to enforce it.”