Chinese Fishing Vessel Transporting Illegal Shark Catch Seized by Ecuadorian Authorities
A Chinese fishing boat with 20 crew members has been seized by Ecuadorian authorities carrying up to 300 tonnes of fish, much of which was illegally caught sharks, including hammerheads, which are listed as endangered by the IUCN.
According to a statement from Ecuador's Ministry for the Environment (in Spanish, click here for an English translation), the Chinese flagged boat Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 was seized at around midnight on 14 August, east of San Cristóbal island in the Galápagos archipelago.
The Galápagos is a UNESCO world heritage site and widely recognised as one of the most biodiverse regions of the world's oceans. Fishing within the national park's boundaries is heavily restricted, and the capture, trade and transport of sharks is outright forbidden.
Environment minister Tarsicio Granizo said that the origins of the catch were unknown, but stated that 'the fact that it inluded young sharks, even baby sharks, indicates that they could have been caught within the reserve.'
The boat is the largest vessel to be captured inside the marine reserve, and follows the seizure of up to 200,000 shark fins during raids by Ecuadorian police in 2015.
Shark fins are highly sought-after commodities within the Asian market, and especially in China, where they are used to make shark-fin soup, a highly prized and very expensive delicacy. The trade is almost entirely responsible for the decline in the world's shark populations, with an estimated 100 million sharks killed for their fins each year.
The captured vessel is reported to be over 300ft / 100m long with six cargo bays, mostly full, and is thought to be a 'mothership', a larger vessel which collects the catch from smaller boats, allowing fishing to continue in an area for a prolonged period of time.
Ecuador’s Minister of the Environment, Tarsicio Granizo, said the government is committed to protecting the Galápagos marine protected area. 'Our policy is zero tolerance for the transport and trafficking of protected wildlife,' he said.
The crew – who could face up to three years in prison if found guilty – have been held in custody pending court procedings.