From the waters of Japan, South Korea in the east to those of Ecuador, Chile, and Argentina in the west through the African continent, the Chinese fishing vessels have posed a serious threat to marine environment across the globe. Catching somewhere between 50-70% of world’s total squids, the methods and activities of Chinese DWF vessels are highly suspicious as well as controversial.
Despite a distance of 19,000 km from the western part of south America and 22,000 km from the eastern part of the continent, the presence of Chinese fleets in the region have been increasing at a rapid rate. In early July 2020, the Ecuadorian navy reported presence of about 260 fishing vessels at the edge of Ecuador’s EEZ (exclusive economic zones). By the end of the month, the number increased to 340. The Galapagos Islands, which are a part of Ecuador’s territory, are the worst victim. The problem arises due to the fact that the EEZ of Ecuador’s mainland and the Galapagos do not overlap, thus creating an international corridor where any country can fish. The Chinese fleet often freely fish in the area after turning off their identity transponders to avoid detection. It was found that almost half of the Chinese fleet is engaged in this practice, often known as “marine radar evasion” in the illegal fishing sector.
Not only do the Chinese overfish and kill protected species such as sharks and turtles, but they also dump a huge amount of waste in the ocean water. Experts estimate that almost 30% of the garbage collected on the shores of Galapagos Islands come from the Chinese fleets. This includes bottles, containers of marine oil, Chinese-labeled jute bags and waste generate overboard the ships. The issue of Galapagos has been raised again and again by various media outlets. IJ-Reportika spoke with many local fishermen, who confirmed that Chinese ship often fish in the area with transponders disabled or with deceiving flags known as ‘flag of convenience’. The menace of Chinese DWF fleets is not just limited to the Galapagos, but in the entire continent. Argentina is home to the second largest squid fishery in the world which makes it an important target of Chinese trawlers. Even though the Argentine authorities have taken strict measures and even sunk a fishing trawler flying the Chinese flag after being caught illegally fishing within the country’s EEZ, the vessels have spent close to 600,000 hours ‘dark-fishing’. Similar issue persists in Brazil where a massive gain in Chinese fishing activities was observed in the last three years.
In Uruguay, the navy caught a Chinese-flagged vessel within their EEZ, carrying 11 tons of Squid. These vessels are causing a lot of concern for Uruguayan authorities as well as locals as they are not only present near the EEZ but also dangerously close to their land boundary. In Peru, the local fishermen sounded the alarm about Chinese overfishing of giant squid, which is the country’s second biggest marine resource after anchovies. Because of Chinese incursions thousands of Peruvians have lost their jobs and the fishing industry is on the verge of being wiped out. Moreover, the Chinese presence have completely derailed Peru’s thoughtful sustainability program for squid population in the region. As a result, diplomatic and legal protests are erupting all through the continent of South America against the Chinese DWF fleets. These fleets are often linked to illegal activities such as encroaching other nations’ territorial waters, abusing workers and catching protected and endangered species. Although Shark fishing is banned throughout Central and South America, Chinese communities consume it as a delicacy. This demand encourages the ships to mock the laws and completely ignore the bans, hiding their illegal catch by transferring it between ships to evade naval or coast guard patrols. On top of that, they have been generating and dumping huge amounts of plastic waste into the ocean, thus polluting the water and land alike.
The ever-increasing presence of Chinese vessels in Latin America is posing diplomatic, security and environmental threat to the region. Protected species and marine protected environments are at a greater threat due to unregulated fishing by the Chinese. The Distant-water fishing (DWF) operations affect not only the marine ecology but also the local fisherfolk population who lose their jobs and subsequently engage in illegal activities such as drug trafficking to make ends meet. Latin American countries must impose stricter controls in order to protect and defend their resources from illegal exploitation by the Chinese.