Details on the Fleet
Every year, a Chinese fishing fleet makes its way to the international waters near the Galápagos Islands. This year, 260 fishing vessels made the journey across the Pacific Ocean and are stationed a few hundred miles off the coast. This annual journey is made with the goal of catching unique, and often endangered, marine wildlife. Although this year has been especially alarming due to the aggressiveness and number of vessels, their presence is unsurprising. In 2017, for example, a vessel violated international boundaries, and over 300 tons of wildlife were found on board. As of now, no boats have strayed from the international water, but their intentions are clear. The fleet of Chinese ships to the Galápagos poses environmental and political dangers and must be stopped once and for all, no matter what economic benefits it provides to the fishers.
The Fleet’s Motivations
These fleets hope to catch marine wildlife, mostly sharks, to sell for a profit. Due to the mixture of cold and warm oceans there, is an “explosion of life” in the waters surrounding the Galápagos, which makes it attractive for the fleet. Unique species like hammerhead and whale sharks, along with manta rays and turtles, seem to be the main motivation of these fishermen. Many of the Chinese companies that the fleet is associated with are notorious for their “illegal, unreported, and unregulated, or IUU, fishing”. Numerous vessels currently in the Galápagos have been used illegally in the past. Although the Chinese embassy has defended their practices and maintains that the fleet will practice responsible fishing, their malicious intentions are clear. One delicacy that these fishermen hope to get is large amounts of shark fins. Shark fin soup is a status symbol in China and is therefore highly coveted. However, more information is emerging about the health risks of the wet markets these items are sold. The most current and obvious example is that it is suspected of being ground zero for COVID-19, which has affected the entire world. The markets are unregulated, and the toxins found in the food being sold are harmful to those who consume it. From shockingly high levels of mercury, to arsenic and diseases, serious health issues can result from the consumption of these animals. The economic benefit the fishermen make off fishing in these waters cannot be justified when considering the significant threat it poses to consumers’ health. Stopping the fleet in the Galápagos would be a big step towards ending this harmful practice, as it is an opportunity for them to acquire a copious amount of fish and other wildlife.
The Galápagos and its surrounding waters are known for their teeming wildlife; it is, after all, the place which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. In 1978, the seas around the Galápagos were named a UNESCO World Heritage site for its unique wildlife. The wildlife already struggles to survive in a sensitive marine ecosystem, and the fleet further threatens this. Fishing for larger predators like sharks or even bottom of the food chain fish endangers all species in this delicately balanced ecosystem. Due to this unnatural overfishing, noticeably fewer species are returning to the region. Unfortunately, it seems as though this problem will only get worse. With global warming, more species will flock to the Galápagos, making it even more appealing to fleets. Steps need to be taken before it is too late.
Not only does this fleet threaten the environment, but it is also a threat politically. From the 2017 incident, it is clear that getting caught did not hinder the Chinese fishing fleet in the past; therefore, proactive actions must be taken to prevent the poaching from happening again. It is easily possible that the long fishing lines of the fleet could, or have already, drift into the economic zone which they are prohibited from fishing in. This would be violating international agreements, which could lead to intense conflict between many countries. Not only would there be heightened tension between China and Ecuador, but other countries might need to take a side on the conflict. Considering the implications of globalism, political conflict with a country as large and influential as China could have dramatic economic effects as well. China, as a growing power, needs to be kept in check and aware that it must abide by the same rules as everyone else.
What to Do?
Although some measures have already been taken, the Chinese fleet still poses a threat. It will continue to do so for this year, and many more, unless concrete steps are taken. It is nearly impossible to monitor the activity of all vessels of this fleet; therefore, Ecuador’s protection strategies continue to fall short. It is positive that the Ecuadorian navy continues to keep an eye on the fleet, but it is very challenging for them to know what is going on below the water. Even though some diplomatic efforts are said to have been made, these often fall into a bureaucratic trap and take too long to implement. Similarly, efforts to “enforce international agreements that protect migratory species” take time.
One promising initiative is to extend the restricted economic zone to a larger area to make it impossible for the fleet to reach these animals as it would impinge on the currently international waters between the archipelago and the mainland. This would hopefully deter the fleet from coming in future years. Collaboration and support from other countries would certainly help make this possible. Although countries like the United States have announced their solidarity with Ecuador, their financial and diplomatic support would be more effective. Individuals can sign petitions and raise awareness of this issue through social media. The dangers of the Chinese fleet in the Galápagos have not gained much international attention, but if it did, it could put pressure on politicians to take concrete action. The Galápagos is one of the most exceptional ecological sanctuaries—truly one of a kind—and there is only one chance to do the right thing and protect it.