QUITO – The Ecuadorian navy said on Friday that it was monitoring a large Chinese fishing fleet just outside the exclusive economic zone of the Galapagos Islands.
The ship’s captain, Dean Almeida, said during a flight over the area where the foreign fleet is located that naval and air units were constantly monitoring the situation to prevent foreign vessels from entering the Ecuadorian jurisdiction.
According to Almeida, the Chinese fishing fleet is about 223 nautical miles (about 413 kilometers) away from the Galapagos Islands, which means it is outside the 200 miles that correspond to the exclusive economic zone.
The captain told journalists aboard the surveillance aircraft that the navy’s area of control extends over a large area, both in the continental and island exclusive zone.
This includes a surveillance area of 76,200 nautical square miles (about 197,300 square kilometers) in the continental exclusive maritime zone and another 162,000 nautical square miles (about 419,700 square kilometers) in the Galapagos area.
Almeida said these are considered “risk areas,” where potential revenue could result from the foreign fishing fleet comprising of nearly 300 vessels.
Therefore, frequent aerial and maritime patrols were carried out with surface units and surveillance aircraft equipped with powerful radars, in addition to satellite support, he added.
During Friday’s surveillance operation, several of the fishing vessels and the maneuvers of the naval units were observed.
Ecuadorian authorities and environmental groups have expressed concern about the presence of the fishing fleet in areas near the Galapagos, which are often migratory corridors of marine species, some of them endangered.
On Wednesday, the government of China accepted a request from Ecuador to initiate urgent bilateral consultations on the presence of the fishing fleet in the vicinity of the Galapagos Islands.
The Chinese government said it understands and respects Ecuador’s concerns that were promptly conveyed by diplomatic channels over the presence of the fishing fleet near Galapagos.
Moreover, China has announced that it will begin a three-month fishing moratorium on Sept. 1 in international waters off the coast of the Ecuadorian Galapagos Islands.
China also expressed its willingness for Ecuadorian authorities to monitor Chinese fishing vessels on the high seas as well as to establish communication channels to report any sign of illegal fishing by its fleet.
In an official statement, the Chinese government vowed zero tolerance with all its vessels involved in illegal fishing and with the companies they belong to.
In August 2017, Ecuador detected a large illegal fishing fleet near the Galapagos Marine Reserve, consisting of 297 ships, including Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, which was then seized by the Ecuadorian authorities 34.5 nautical miles east of the island of San Cristobal, the easternmost of the Galapagos archipelago.
With a keel measuring 99 meters (325 feet) and the ability to sail without refueling for 60 days, the boat was captured with 300 tons of illegally caught fish in its holds, including protected species such as hammerhead sharks, which are endangered and included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
Located around 1,000 kilometers from the Ecuadorian mainland, the Galapagos archipelago is made up of 13 large islands, six smaller islands, and 42 islets, and because of its rich biodiversity, it is considered to be a natural laboratory that, among other things, enabled English scientist and naturalist Charles Darwin to flesh out his theory of evolution and the natural selection of species, which is a key mechanism of evolution.