Garima Singh

The Galapagos Islands are an attractive  hub for tourists because of their marine life. The islands are home to some of the most exotic aquatic life which exists only due to the meeting of hot and cold currents in the region.  The communities living in the coastal areas survive on the living they make from fishing. Apart from skyrocketing illegal fishing, the massive industrial fishing by the Chinese vessels depletes the stock, leaving them with nothing to survive on. The sole focus on fishing a few species of fish leads to a depletion in the number of species, which must affect the food chain and may lead to a loss of these other species. This destroys the global food chain as nearly 3.2 billion of the human population depends on fish for their protein intake. As per the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, about one-third of fish stocks are being depleted at ‘biologically unsustainable levels’. (Rust, 2020) This would make us search for newer territories which are not only economically infeasible but would also deteriorate environmentally as a result of the ensuing fishing. In this scenario, we are considering a realistic approach without taking into account the marine life whose value is not just present in their purpose as food stock for our large population but also simply in their existence as a species sharing the planet with us.

This is an attack on our resources,” says Ángel Yánez Vinueza, the mayor of Santa Cruz canton, the Galapagos’ equivalent of a province. “They are killing the species we have protected and polluting our biota with the plastic waste they drop overboard. They are raping the Galapagos” (Rust, 2020). In order to extend their voyage for as long as possible, Atkins, a Ph.D. student in fisheries management, adds that Chinese ships refuel on the open ocean. They also have factory ships, to make the end product ready to be sold, he said. The Chinese fishing fleet consists of 17,000 ships fishing industrially in foreign waters. The distant fleet fishing causes many to lose their livelihoods. (VOA news, 2023). This also leads to unhealthy competition among the fish to obtain the very limited stock for their diet. The industrial vessels of China, containing refueling, refrigerated, and factorized massive ships, often contaminate the waters and damage local fishing gear and boats. Out of all the ships operating near the Galapagos Islands, the Chinese fleet constituted 90% of it, between the 19th of July and the 13th of August in 2020. (Al Jazeera, 2022)

The island is not only losing its rich biodiversity but also its economy. Apart from the fishing community, IUU fishing has severely hit their tourism industry. The lack of tourism affects fishermen and farmers as well as many other people who depend on this industry for income. The islands, which were a hub for uncommon species, are consistently losing their Moorish idols, giant tortoises, hammerhead sharks and many other such endangered species due to bycatching. The tourists, for whom the entry tickets used to be $100, provided the islands with income for conservation and upkeep of the environment. Thus, IUU fishing in this region has not only torn down aquatic life but also an economy dependent on tourism. China accounts for one-third of the world’s reported fish production. Over the last two decades, China has by far built the world’s largest deep-water fishing fleet, containing nearly 3,000 ships. In 2017, one of these ships named the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 was caught in Ecuador. It was carrying an illicit cargo of 6,620 sharks for their fins, which are sold in China due to high demand. (NYT, 2022) China was ranked the world’s worst-performing nation on illegal fishing in a 2019 Global Initiative report (Al-Jazeera, 2022).

A study in the Guardian posits that the top 10 companies involved in IUU fishing are responsible for nearly a quarter of all reported cases: eight are from China, led by Nasdaq-listed Pingtan Marine Enterprise Ltd. (Collyns, 2022) Efforts are being made to control the extent of IUU fishing. OCEANA is an organization that tried to track the location of Chinese fishing boats which,  according to The Guardian, reportedly turned off their tracking devices, thus providing conflicting vessel identification information. The vessels which were caught contain around 300 tons of endangered species. “The Ecuador government seeks to pay off its debts to China by giving it the Galapagos,” claims an online petition in Ecuador. The Daily Mail claims that as many as 25000 plastic bottles are thrown into the ocean every day and either trap fish and tortoises or are mistakenly ingested by them as food. The local fishermen keep data on the plastic discarded everyday in hopes of getting compensation from the perpetrators (Collyns, 2022).

This action also serves to worsen their trust in their governments. Various treaties have been signed and measures have been taken to stop this, including the creation of The South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation, the Global Fishing Watch, as well as the signing of the 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF). The surveillance system of the Ecuador Navy, and Electronic Maritime Surveillance is also used. Technical assistance is provided and trade restrictions are also levied against countries found committing IUU fishing.  Countries have also tried to impose sanctions for the same. In 2020, the US levied trade restrictions on Chinese seafood over considerations of IUU fishing under the US High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act, and also banned firms. (Collyns, 2022)  The European Union also issued a yellow card to China in 2019 as a warning; however, nothing has improved.

To be continued…..


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