China Agrees to Halt Illegal Fishing Activity in Waters Around Galápagos
Leading shark conservation charity Shark Guardian has reported that China has responded to global concerns about the massive DWF (Distant Water Fishing) fleet operating close to the borders of the Galápagos Marine Park.
As of 1 September, China will place the fleet under a three-month fishing moratorium 'in the high seas west of the Galápagos Marine Reserve'. China has also agreed that Ecuador supervises its fishing vessels while they operate in international waters.
'If the Ecuadorian government has any indication of illegal fishing by the Chinese fleet,' writes Shark Guardian spokesperson Harriet Moore, 'China is to be informed and, as such, will severely punish and uphold a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ to all related vessels and the companies to which they belong.'
While the fleet is fishing legally for squid and tuna in international waters, it is almost certainly gathered in the region to take advantage of the seasonal migration of sharks and manta rays, which are not confined by maritime borders. In 2017, one of the fleet's 'motherships' was seized and found to contain more than 300 tonnes of illegally caught sharks.
This year, reports of dead sharks washing up on Ecuador's beaches seem to confirm that the fleet is once more illegally catching protected species. A widely shared video from the Project Hiu shark conservation initiative shows a dead whale shark washed ashore with its fins cut off. Furthermore, locals have reported that the beaches of Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands are littered with many plastic bottles of Chinese origin.
The global outcry surrounding the fleet's presence in the region, spearheaded by organisations such as Shark Guardian, prompted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to issue a statement on 2 August:
'The People’s Republic of China subsidizes the world’s largest commercial fishing fleet, which routinely violates the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of coastal states, fishes without permission, and overfishes licensing agreements. Given this unfortunate record of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, rule-breaking, and wilful environmental degradation, it is more important than ever that the international community stands together for the rule of law and insists on better environmental stewardship from Beijing.
The Ecuadorian government has done just that in raising the alarm about the hundreds of PRC-flagged vessels fishing near Ecuador’s important Galápagos marine reserve and harvesting endangered sharks for their fins, along with many other protected species. We firmly support Ecuador’s efforts to ensure PRC-flagged vessels do not engage in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and stand with States whose economies and natural resources are threatened by PRC-flagged vessels’ disregard for the rule of law and responsible fishing practices.'
While it is undoubtedly good news that a moratorium on the illegal slaughter of sharks will be imposed, many would agree that it might be too little, too late, for many of the region's protected species. The fleet of 260 boats arrived on 6 June and will have been in operation for two months before the moratorium begins. It is, nevertheless, a step towards protecting some of the most important and most heavily overfished species in the world's oceans.
'Shark Guardian is highly invested in monitoring the situation, finding solutions and keeping the public informed on the most recent events,' said Harriet Moore in an e-mail to DIVE. 'Education, legislative changes and public outcry is key in protecting, not only the Galápagos, but sharks and our oceans everywhere.'
You can read Shark Guardian's detailed report 'What's Going on in Galápagos' here. To join in the public outcry over the mass slaughter of sharks around the Galápagos, sign the Stop DWF in Galápagos petition here, and join the movement to ban the import of shark fins into the UK by signing Shark Guardian's 'Finspire Change UK' petition. For more information, visit www.sharkguardian.org