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Hundreds of fishing vessels are transferred from the Alantic to the Pacific and vice versa

The route of the Chinese fishing fleets and their illegal antecedents

Thursday, August 13, 2020, 15:00 (GMT + 9)

For about four years the Chinese fleet has been repeating a journey that goes from the South Atlantic, off Argentina, to the outskirts of the Galapagos, passing through Chile and Peru.
The vessel that was pursued by the Argentine Navy for illegally fishing in that country's waters, in April of this year, is fishing in the limits of the Galapagos.
At the beginning of June, a Chinese fleet made up of around 260 boats, reached the limits of the exclusive economic zone of Galapagos to fish for giant squid (Dosidicus gigas). For two months, the fleet has skirted this area, moving west amid the outrage that its presence has caused among Ecuadorians, scientists and conservationists around the world.
Argentine Navy ship firing at the bow of the Hua Li 8. Photo: Armada Argentina
The fleet is in international waters and, according to the Ecuadorian authorities, no ship has crossed the maritime limits of Ecuador. In other words, so far no illegality has been detected. However, the concern is high because, according to scientists and fishery analysts, the volume of fishing is so high that the resource could be being overexploited. In addition, species threatened with extinction could be being captured by these boats. But not only that, within this fleet there are vessels with a history of illegal fishing, says Milko Schvartzman, a marine conservation specialist at the Argentine organization Circle of Environmental Policies who has studied this fleet for years.
Experts assure that the presence of these Chinese ships is not a problem only for Ecuador, but that it reaches other countries in the region. Every year they travel a route that goes from the South Atlantic, in front of Argentina, to the South Pacific, at the limits of the Galapagos, passing through Chile and Peru. Thus, at least two boats that have been caught fishing illegally in Argentine waters and that have been pursued by the Navy of that country are currently fishing south of Galapagos, confirmed the specialist from the Environmental Policy Circle.
Displacement of the Chinese fleet in the surroundings of the exclusive economic zone of Galapagos
The route of the Chinese ships
Between December and May, the controversial Chinese fleet fishes in the Western South Atlantic, off Argentina, another variety of giant squid, the Illex argentinus. Then, between May and July, it moves to the Pacific, passing through the Strait of Magellan, and begins to operate from the north of Chile, bordering the exclusive economic zone of that country, to continue climbing towards Peru in the direction of Galapagos and then to return.
"There are years that start a little further north," says Schvartzman. For example, "this year the fleet started the season closer to Peru than to Chile, but there have been years in which the fleet has been operating on the edge of Chile's exclusive economic zone," adds the expert. These variations depend on the movement of the squid, says Max Bello, an expert in public policy for ocean conservation and member of the Mission Blue organization, created by renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle.
In Bello's opinion, the difference is that this year "[the ships] have come much closer to the exclusive economic zone and two or three years ago we did not have the level of satellite information that we have today," adds the conservationist.

Chinese jigger HUALI8 with a history of illegal fishing. Photo: Marine Traffic
Indeed, the viewing platforms show that "we are talking about a gigantic fleet," says Luis Suárez, director of the NGO Conservation International in Ecuador. However, according to Bello, it is not possible to know exactly how many boats make up the fleet, since "all the numbers that we know are not real or official and we do not have a real clarity of how much they are fishing." As he explains, this is because these ships constantly change their register, turn off their satellite transmitters and have no observers on board.
The large volumes of fish that these boats would be catching are the main concern of scientists. Marine biologist Alex Hearn, Vice President of the NGO Migramar, which specializes in migratory species especially sharks, explains that the overfishing of the giant squid could lead to ecological problems since different species, some of them emblematic of Galapagos such as the hammerhead shark (sphyrna lewini ), feed mainly on it. In addition, scientists fear that the ships are catching species threatened with extinction.
Hua Li 8 route, between February and August 2020. Image: visualized on Global Fishing Watch.
Those who are also concerned are the industrial and artisanal fishermen in South American countries who fish for squid, as well as the companies that process this resource. Pascual Aguilera, Spokesperson for Chile's National Coordinator of Jibieros, assures that "they are real cities, a cordon, a wall [of boats]", which settle to fish in the 200-mile limit where the exclusive economic zone ends or the territorial sea of ​​each country. For this reason, "we see that the resource is increasingly scarce, we have to go looking for it farther and farther," says the fisherman.
In addition, Alfonso Miranda, president of the Committee for the Sustainable Management of the Giant Squid (Calamasur), adds that the concern is greater since this fleet "has illegal, transgressive behavior within our maritime domains," he says.
In fact, Schvartzman has identified that in the fleet that is currently fishing off the Galapagos territory, there are at least two boats that have a history of illegal fishing and that have been pursued by the Argentine Navy, captured and sanctioned. (keep going...)
Author: Michelle Carrere / Mandalay Latam | Read the full article here (Spanish only)
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