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Ecuador & China face off over massive Chinese fishing fleet damaging Galapagos Islands ecosystem

In July 2020 Ecuador raised serious concerns with the large fleet of Chinese fishing vessels positioned just south of the Galapagos Islands exclusive economic zone. The vessels pose a unique threat to the delicate ecosystem in the waters surrounding the islands due to the massive size of the fleet and the persistent nature of their fishing practices. Below is a comparison of the Chinese fleet and Ecuadorian vessels in the area. They are accompanied by fuel oil vessels to refuel the fishing ships and cargo vessels to carry away the catch so they can stay in the fishing grounds.

Chinese fishing vessels are often found in this vicinity, and thousands of illegally caught endangered sharks have been seized on Chinese vessels in this area. At least one vessel currently among the fleet HUA LI 8 has been previously found guilty of illegally fishing in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Argentina, and was later detained in Indonesia after a first ever international arrest warrant was issued for a fishing vessel by Interpol.

China heavily subsidizes the commercial fishing industry mostly in the form of fuel subsidies. In 2018 the total value of these subsidies was more than $7 billion. a 2018 study The economics of fishing the high seas concluded that without these subsidies the area south of the Galapagos islands would be unsustainable. While the large fleet off Ecuador is extremely harmful it still only accounts for 1.5% of China's total Distant Waters Fleet which consists of at least 12,500 vessels which are regularly involved in similar over fishing and encroachments on other nations exclusive economic zones.

On August 4th the Ecuador Navy dispatched an offshore patrol vessel ISLA SAN CRISTOBAL from the Galapagos Islands to confront the Chinese fleet and make them aware that they are being monitored and any vessel that strays into their EEZ will be seized. The United States State Department & Navy have expressed their support for Ecuador in this dispute but as of now we have not observed any U.S. assets move into the area with their AIS turned on. This does not mean they are not in the area just that they are not broadcasting their location currently. The U.S. 4th Fleet has at least 2 Arleigh Burke class Destroyers within a few days of Galapagos Islands, USS Halsey & USS Kidd are both currently tasked to the Joint Inter Agency Task Force South and sailing along the west coast of Central America.

I hope China can start to act more responsibly in its fishing practices but I don't hold out much hope.

Written by Simon Bolivar

with information and graphics from planet-tracker.org & marinetraffic.com