© Reuters. Ecuadorian Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrin holds a press conference in Guayaquil about a Chinese fishing fleet operating near the Galapagos Islands
By Yuri Garcia
GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador (Reuters) – The Ecuadorian Armed Forces said Tuesday that dozens of vessels in a predominantly Chinese fishing fleet operating near the Galapagos Islands (NASDAQ 🙂 have turned off tracking systems to prevent their activities from being monitored.
Of some 325 vessels still fishing in the waters near the environmentally sensitive Galapagos Islands, 149 have cut communications in the past few months, Navy Commander, Rear Admiral Darwin Jarrin told reporters.
Some have also changed the names of the ships to avoid surveillance, he said.
"During that time, 149 ships shut down their satellite systems … we know the names of the ships," Jarrin said during a press conference. He refused to identify the ships.
The complaint arises because the South American nation is trying to prevent unsustainable fishing off its coast while avoiding confrontation with China, its largest financier and an important market for its shrimp export business.
A representative from the Chinese embassy declined to comment.
According to Ecuador, the fleet has not entered its territorial waters. However, environmentalists say this type of fishing allows ships to take advantage of the abundant marine wildlife that moves in the waters between the Galapagos Islands and the mainland.
"It is a violation (of the protocol) on the high seas because they do not want us to know what they are doing and what activities they are doing," said Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrin.
He said turning off satellite equipment is against the rules of the Regional Fisheries Organizations (RFOs), a group of international agencies committed to sustainable fishing.
The New Zealand-based South Pacific RFMO, one of the organizations providing guidance on fishing practices in the region, did not immediately respond to an email asking for comment.
Since 2017, the Chinese fishing fleet has arrived at the edge of the Galapagos Conservation Area in the summer months and is attracted to marine species such as the giant squid and hammerhead shark, the latter of which are threatened species.
China has promised a "zero tolerance" policy towards illegal fishing and has given the Andean country the power to monitor the vessels.
A fishing moratorium has also been proposed near the Galapagos Islands between September and November, although fleets usually leave the area before that time.
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