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Tensions rise as Chinese fishing fleet is discovered off the coast of the Galápagos Islands

QUITO, ECUADOR — The Galápagos Islands that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is under threat.

A 260-strong fishing fleet has been discovered on the edge of Galápagos’s 303km exclusive economic zone. Around 243 of these vessels are Chinese-flagged, including companies with suspected illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing records. The fleet consists of fishing boats and refrigerated container ships that are used to store enormous catches of fish.

While Chinese fishing vessels are a common sight close to the Galápagos, this is said to be the largest flock seen in a very long time. “This fleet’s size and aggressiveness against marine species is a big threat to the balance of species in the Galápagos,” said a former environment minister, Yolanda Kakabadse.

The ships have spent three weeks on the fringe of international waters. However, tensions rose when a whale shark, part of a satellite tracking program, stopped transmitting its location dubiously close to where the Chinese fishing boats were present.

The UNESCO world heritage site known for its diverse ecosystems, that are home to many endangered and rare species of animals attracts Chinese fishing vessels every year. Norman Wray, the governor of the Galapagos Islands, said that due to overfishing in recent years, “what we’re seeing is that each time fewer species return to the Galápagos.”

Back in 2017, a Chinese refrigerated container ship was intercepted in the Galapagos marine reserve carrying 300 tonnes of marine wildlife, mostly sharks, including protected species. Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrin told reporters “We are on alert, (conducting) surveillance, patrolling to avoid an incident such as what happened in 2017,”.

Ecuador plans to intensify the diplomatic actions aimed at combating IUU fishing with the help of other Latin American countries, namely Panama, Costa Rica, Columbia, and Peru. “We will work in a regional position to defend and protect the exclusive economic zone around the Galapagos Marine Reserve, one of the richest fishing areas and a hotbed of life for the entire planet,” Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno posted on his Twitter account.

Suffice to say that no matter how powerful the aggressor, Ecuador will protect its precious wildlife passionately.

Reporter: Ananya Sreekumar

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