Illegal overfishing of marine wildlife threatens the Galapagos

di Priscilla Pajdo del 4 August 2020

TORONTO - Fishing vessels swarm the perimeter of the “Galapagos protected zone”, launching a military like assault on the marine life in the area. Diplomatic tensions are rising, and fears heighten over the damage the fishing trawlers wreak on the marine ecosystem that surround the islands.

The Ecuadorian Navy is on high alert after discovering the large fishing fleet, July 16, allegedly mostly Chinese, about 200 miles (330 km) from the archipelago. The throng of vessels, roughly 260, are located in international waters just outside the 188-mile (310 km) protected economic zone surrounding the islands (in the satellite imagine here on the left, the light blue dots represent the fishing fleet) - photo Bbc).

This is a major concern for wildlife activists and those who are passionate about preserving the biodiversity of such a unique area. The massive fishing fleets threaten to decimate the archipelago’s biodiversity.

It is a serious situation in the Galapagos, one with catastrophic consequences that extend far beyond international waters. It has drawn the attention of many countries and organizations calling for action to protect the environment and preserve marine resources.

There is a Canadian element. The Founding President of the Canadian Hispanic Congress (CHC), Elvira Sanchez de Malicki, calls the situation “an ecological and international tragedy”. The CHC membership has sent letters, signed by new President, Eldy Ampuero, to the Federal Government and parliamentarians asking them to find a diplomatic way to request the withdrawal of vessels from the area.

The US, whose relationship with China is strained, sides with Ecuador regarding the presence of fishing vessels in the area. Canada and the US continue a diplomatic “tug-of-war” with China over several issues. Public pressure may be required to co-ordinate diplomatic actions to address the issue and to find a solution to the crisis in the Galapagos.

The Galapagos Islands are located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador. They have been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1978. The archipelago (19 islands and the surrounding marine reserve) is rich in biodiversity and is known for their unique plant and wildlife.

The protected marine reserve is one of the world’s greatest concentrations of shark species, including whale shark, hammerhead varieties, manta rays and other vulnerable species. UNESCO describes the archipelago as a “living museum and showcase for evolution”. It is the place that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution following his visit in 1835.

This year’s fishing fleet is one of the largest seen in recent years. Although the vessels are within International waters, they are very close to the exclusive economic zone. The flotilla is equipped with storage and supply vessels enabling the fleet to stay at sea for long periods.

The vessels are legally bound to stay out of the protected economic zone. However, the marine wildlife does not understand such boundaries. The ships use nets and baited long lines to lure sharks and other marine life out of protected waters and haul in as much as possible.

Any unwanted catch is rejected… collateral damage.

Overfishing in recent years has resulted in fewer species returning to the Galapagos, according to Norman Wray, President of the Galapagos Governing Council.

The Navy is on full alert for any fishing ships that enter Ecuadorian waters. In 2017, the Navy intercepted a Chinese boat in the marine reserve with 300 tons (over 660,000 lbs) of illegal fish and 6,000 sharks on board, according to the Ministry of Environment and Water in Ecuador. It was the largest illegal fishing haul in Galapagos history.

All marine life is interconnected. The assault on the aquatic wildlife and decimation of biodiversity in these waters is a major factor in the greater picture of global food security. And that affects us all.

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