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Milko Schvartzman takes a close look at the Chinese squid fleet problem (Image: China Dialogue Ocean/Globalfishingwatch/MS/FIS)

Disclosed: Changes in China's High Seas Fishing patterns | South Pacific vs. South Atlantic geopolitics

Sunday, November 27, 2022, 01:00 (GMT + 9)


In 2020, a fleet of 300 industrial Chinese 'jiggers' fishing near Galapagos Is. reached worldwide news because of a fake picture taken in the  South Atlantic, since then, a few things changed, as a result of public outcry and a mixture of government diplomacy and saving face tactics.

For the ones who track the foreign fleets around South America, before Global FIshing Watch existed, the presence of a couple of hundred Chinese jiggers, fishing right at the border of the Galapagos wasn't new: most of them came from the South Atlantic, and many already have records of Illegal fishing at the East side of South America.

Photo: Argentina Navy

On May 9th, 2001, Argentina Coastguard captured the first Chinese illegal fishing vessel inside Argentina EEZ, since then, the presence of Chinese poachers in the Southwest Atlantic has increased, together with the illegal fishing incursions.

Sixteen years later, at the Pacific Ocean side, on August 13th, 2017, Ecuadorian Navy boarded and detained the Chinese reefer, Fu Yuan yu Leng 999 when it sailed across the Galapagos Is. with a full load of endangered sharks and shark fins , including hammerhead. The catch was fished by four Chinese tuna longliners on high seas.

Image: Milko Schvartzman

More recently, on July 22nd, 2020, an Ecuadorian journalist based in the Galapagos Is. tweeted a picture of the jigger fleet that operates at the Southwest Atlantic, mentioning it was taken by an Ecuadorian fisherman near the Galapagos Is.. The original picture was taken by argentinean fishermen in April, same year. Even though it was fake information, the picture had some truth on it: at least 60% of the Chinese jigger fleet that operates near the Galapagos Is. came from the seas of Patagonia, besides the different size of both fleets, the image showed what the reality looked like near the emblematic Islands.

For 2018, the Chinese jigger fleet at the Pacific was completed, 300 industrial jiggers at full operation competing with artisanal fleets of Ecuador and Peru. It was thanks to the Ecuadorian journalist that tweeted that fake picture, the case became viral in Ecuador social media, then Press, and soon it became worldwide news.

Image: Milko Schvartzman

Public concern drove into strong public pressure over the Ecuadorian Government, and Chinese. The first result of it was the Ecuadorian flagged oil tankers to stop filling the Chinese fishing armada fuel tanks.

One year after the news shaked off the world, in 2021, there was another effect in the water: the Chinese fleet showed a different behavior than past years, instead of fishing, literally, along the imaginary border line of the 'Mile 200' of the Galapagos EEZ, it followed the contour of the line, drawing a stripe of 50 nautical miles, about 90 kilometers wide. 

Image: Milko Schvartzman

The Chinese fleet kept a minimum distance from the Galapagos Is.

As soon as I recognize this, I mentioned that to different Pacific fishing experts, biologists, SPRFM representatives, and government officials: everyone rejected the possibility that the Chinese fleet keeping a 'distance' from the EEZ, all of them suggested it was because of biologic factors like the squid changing migratory patterns because of sea conditions, etc, etc.

In 2022, I have no doubts: the Chinese fishing fleet changed its behavior in the Southwest Pacific: it moved away from the Galapagos Is. following a path that, again, kept a minimum distance of 50 nm/90 km. But this wasn't the only change I noticed, but another one: the fleet kept the same distance also when fishing along the Peruvian EEZ, something that didn't happen in 2021.

Chinese squid distant fleet. Photo: EJF

At an official event at the National Congress, on July 13th 2022, Ecuador Foreign Affairs Ministry publicly mentioned that 'It is very likely that current distance of the foreign fishing fleet from the EEZ obeys a political decision, as a result of the dialogues that have been maintained'.

Taking into account that the actions taken by a fleet of 300 vessels under different ownership but under the same country flag kept being the same, the conclusion is that it has to be because of the same commandment, there is only one power who directs the fleet: the Chinese government.

Image: Milko Schvartzman

Two plundering behaviors from the same actor

The build up of the Chinese fleet that operates along the Southwest Atlantic started 20 years ago, with just a few vessels, now it comprises about 400-420 ships, most of them jiggers, but also many trawlers. Last registered illegal fishing committed by China fleet happened in 2020, when the Hong Pu 16 and the Lu Rong Yuan Yu 668 were chased, detained and taken to port by the Argentina Navy and Coast Guard forces, vessels were freed after paying a fine, chasing associated costs, and catch estimated price.

After two decades of persistent illegal fishing inside Argentina EEZ, the Chinese fleet hasn't changed behavior other than increasing the number of vessels, increasing the extent of the season, increasing illegal incursions, and the hunting of marine mammals and other endangered species such as sharks, all worsening.

Click image to enlarge |  Milko Schvartzman

In less than one year, Ecuador administration achieved something that Argentina didn't  in two decades, for a much worse situation with rampant illegal fishing, including Chinese vessels confronting the Argentina Coast Guard forces.

Argentina and Ecuador are both countries highly indebted with China

Author: Milko Schvartzman / Marine Conservation and IUU fishing specialist | Environmental Policies Circle



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