Chinese fishing vessels were involved in the majority of potentially illegal fishing activity detected off the coast of Argentina over the last three years, according to newly-released analysis by a US-based ocean conservation organisation.

In a report released on Wednesday, non-profit Oceana said hundreds of foreign vessels had “suspiciously disappeared” for periods along the border of Argentina’s territorial sea – a sign they may be pillaging marine life inside the country’s national waters.

Blue spots mark apparent fishing activity along Argentinian coast. Photo: Global Fishing Watch Screenshot.

Analysing data collected by the organisation’s tracking map Global Fishing Watch from January 2018 to this April, researchers found over 800 vessels may have conducted up to 900,000 hours of fishing activity along Argentina’s national waters.

“These distant-water fleets mainly fish for shortfin squid, which are vital to Argentina’s economy and the diet of numerous commercial and recreational species, such as tuna and swordfish,” a statement read.

More than 400 Chinese vessels were detected in Argentinian waters, amounting to over 69 per cent of overall visible fishing activity found in the area.

‘Wrecking havoc’

Chinese fleets also conducted the majority of potential hidden fishing. Fishing boats are required to carry an electronic beacon so that their location can be recorded. But this can be swiltched off. Analysts found vessels were untraceable for over 24 hours a total of 60,000 times, during which they may have conducted illegal fishing.

“These vessels were invisible for more than 600,000 total hours, hiding fishing vessel locations and masking potentially illegal behavior, such as crossing into Argentina’s national waters to fish.,” a statement read.

Photo: Erik Schepers via Flickr.

Chinese vessels were responsible for 66 per cent of these incidents, the organisation found.

“Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing threatens the health of the oceans. The vessels that disappear along the edge of the national waters of Argentina could be pillaging its waters illegally,” Oceana’s deputy vice president of U.S. campaigns, Beth Lowell said.

“IUU fishing is wreaking havoc on our oceans, coastal communities, and people who depend on the oceans for their livelihoods,” she continued.

Korean, Spanish and Taiwanese vessels were also detected in the area, conducting potentially up to 251,000 hours of fishing.

Photo: Alexandra Koch via Pixabay.

Argentina’s commercial fishing industry makes up 3.4 per cent of its GDP. Over 500 different marine species can be found in waters off Argentina’s coastline.

The findings are the latest in a series of reports of illegal fishing activity by Chinese fishing vessels in international and foreign waters. Last April, Chinese vessels found pillaging Argentinian waters for squid sparked protests from the country’s fishing industry and calls for stronger legislation against illegal fishing.

Last July, hundreds of Chinese fishing vessels were detected off the coast of the Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO-protected heritage site. The incident sparked serious concerns among environmental activists of irreversible damage to the oceans’ biodiversity.

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Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.