On the 17th of July, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported an unusual concentration of Chinese-flagged fishing vessels congregating in the high seas of the Eastern Tropical Pacific, a maritime region that includes the Galapagos Marine Reserve. The Galapagos Marine Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to the largest concentration of sharks in the world.
“The presence of these fishing vessels in a high seas pocket between the Galapagos Marine Reserve and Ecuador’s sovereign waters is not technically illegal, but it does violate the spirit of the marine protected area since many of the species, including sharks, are migratory and regularly leave the sanctuary for the high seas,” said Captain Peter Hammarstedt, Director of Campaigns for Sea Shepherd. “Once in the high seas, they have fewer protections than under the Ecuadorian laws governing the Galapagos Marine Reserve.”
The fleet was detected using data gathered by Global Fishing Watch, an ocean conservation group that employs satellites and other technological solutions to monitor fishing activity. Sea Shepherd has been working with Global Fishing Watch since 2018, investigating incidents of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the high seas of the Eastern Tropical Pacific as part of Operation Treasured Islands. The Eastern Tropical Pacific is one of the world’s most critical areas of marine biodiversity, and an area where sharks have less protection because the waters do not belong to any state.
These monitoring missions have included the observation of a Chinese-flagged vessel, the Fu Yuan Yu 019, retrieving a longline teeming with silky sharks, a species with heightened protections under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) because of its near-threatened status.
While presently limited due to the logistical challenges posed by COVID-19, Sea Shepherd is dedicated to continued vessel operations in the Eastern Tropical Pacific – working with authorities to stop illegal fishing where governments have national jurisdiction, and monitoring high seas areas where there is a law enforcement vacuum.