While the islands have been declared a Unesco world heritage site since the 70s, Chinese fishing vessels sail through every year. This year’s fleet hosted 248 vessels, 243 of which were flagged to China, with some registered to companies suspected of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, the Guardian reported.
The fleet may have attempted to appear as though it was not near the Galapagos at all. News Hub in New Zealand reported that some of the vessels may have been sending out false signals that indicate their position was between the Chatham Islands and New Zealand, some 10,000 km away from their observed location.
The arrival of the latest fleet also stirred public outrage and a formal complaint by Ecuador as its navy is on alert for any incursion into Ecuadorian waters.
Global Fishing Watch and Skytruth analyst Bjorn Bergman told Stuff in New Zealand, “No Chinese flagged fishing vessels are currently fishing within New Zealand’s EEZ [exclusive economic zone, which gives jurisdiction over natural resources].
“The tracks that are appearing below are in fact from vessels near the Galapagos Islands broadcasting false coordinates.”
Some of the ships reportedly are hunting for squid, while others have been accused of illegally hunting sharks.
“This fleet’s size and aggressiveness against marine species is a big threat to the balance of species in the Galápagos,” Yolanda Kakaabadse, a former environment minister, told the Guardian.
Kakabadse and an ex-mayor of Quito, Roque Sevilla, took charge of designing a “protection strategy” for the islands. Sevilla said that diplomatic efforts would be made to request the withdrawal of the fishing fleet, but it seems the fleet has continued to operate.
“They just pull up everything!” the captain of a tuna boat, who asked not to be named, told the Guardian. “We are obliged to take a biologist aboard who checks our haul; if we catch a shark we have to put it back, but who controls them?”