Analysts have found that the fleet of some 300 Chinese fishing vessels positioned off the coast of the Galapágos islands are mainly fishing for squid. The findings were released by environmental protection NGO Oceana on Wednesday.
According to data collected from fishing vessels from mid-July to mid-August, the vessels collectively logged a total of 73,000 hours, amounting to 99 per cent of recorded fishing activity in the area within the one month period.
The findings are based on information captured by the Global Fishing Watch mapping tool developed by Oceana, in partnership with Google and Skytruth, a nonprofit environmental watchdog.
“This massive and ongoing fishing effort of China’s fleet threatens the Galapagos Islands, the rare species that only call it home and everyone that depends on it for food and livelihoods,” said Oceana’s illegal fishing and transparency analyst, Dr. Marla Valentine.
Valentine added that the findings were merely the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to the impact of mass fishing operations conducted by Chinese vessels: “The situation playing out in the Galápagos should raise serious questions and concerns about the impact China’s massive fishing fleet is having on the oceans it sails.”
Squid forms an essential part of the diet of creatures native to the oceans surrounding the Galápagos Islands, including hammerhead sharks, as well as commercially-traded fish such as tuna. The group has voiced concern that overfishing by the Chinese vessels will undermine the marine ecosystem, while also negatively impacting the local economy.
Oceana’s deputy vice president for U.S. campaigns, Beth Lowell, called for a coordinated international response: “The governments of the world must work together to ensure that all seafood is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced and honestly labeled to protect the oceans and the people who depend upon them.”
Analysts also found that the vessels had disabled their public tracking devices, a move used to facilitate illicit activities.
According to the report, the mass fishing operations violated fishing regulations implemented by the Chinese authorities in April which aim to curtail illegal fishing operations and promote “sustainable” and “transparent” fishing practices.
Operating off the borders of the Galápagos Marine Reserve, an UNESCO-protected marine park, the fishing fleet sparked concern from environmental protection groups when reports of their presence emerged in July.
The Ecuadorian Navy has also condemned the Chinese fishing operations.