QUITO – Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno reported on Saturday that he has requested meetings with some Pacific coastal nations to seek a regional stance in the face of the threat of international fishing fleets.
He said that the Exclusive Economic Zone around the Galapagos Marine Reserve “is not only one of the richest fishing areas but also a nursery of life, not only for Ecuador but for the whole planet, for biodiversity and food security.”
“It is precisely due to that wealth that we’re under immense pressure in this zone from international fishing fleets,” the president said at a time when dozens of foreign fishing vessels are currently in international waters near the Galapagos, thus sparking local and international concern.
During a speech to Ecuadorian naval personnel on the 485th anniversary of the founding of the coastal port city of Guayaquil, Moreno said that on July 16 the navy reported the presence of the vessels near the Galapagos, which are Ecuadorian territory.
Given the situation, the Foreign Ministry informed “the Chinese government, in a cordial but firm manner, that Ecuador will see to it that its maritime rights over its exclusive economic zone prevail, without distinction as to (which) flag” may be violating them, Moreno said.
“At the same time, I am ready to engage in the necessary consultations with Pacific coastal states, the brother countries of Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Peru and Chile, to have a regional posture on this kind of threat,” he added.
Last Thursday, Ecuadorian Defense Minister Oswalso Jarrin warned that foreign vessels that illegally enter the country’s territory would be seized, adding that the foreign fishing fleet was in international waters at that time.
“At no time has a vessel from the international fishing fleet violated, made incursions into, penetrated or entered (Ecuador’s) exclusive economic zone,” Jarrin said at the time, noting that “many” of the fishing boats are Chinese, although it was not known whether they were government-owned or privately owned.
And he warned that if any boat enters Ecuadorian maritime waters, “it will be seized,” as occurred in 2017.
In August 2017, Ecuador detected a large illegal fishing fleet near the Galapagos Marine Reserve, comprising 297 vessels, one of them the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, which Ecuadorian naval forces seized and last Friday was incorporated into Ecuador’s naval fleet.
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.
According to the Ecuadorian navy, the fleet that is near the Galapagos at present includes “about 260 vessels, including fishing boats, supply and storage vessels” and has stationed itself “outside the limit of (Ecuador’s) exclusive economic zone.”
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.
At this juncture, Norman Wray, the minister president of the Galapagos Governing Council, has expressed his concern regarding the species in the zone.
“Heartrending figures: Esperanza, a whale shark: marked on 09/2019. Stopped transmitting 05/2020. Transmitting for 280 days. Between ZEE and RMG (Exclusive Economic Zone and Galapagos Marine Reserve). Target points Chinese fleet, coincidence?” Wray wrote on his Twitter account.
For its part, the World Wildlife Fund in Ecuador expressed its concern over the presence of the fishing fleet, saying that it represents a recurring threat for fishing resources and marine biodiversity, especially in the vicinity of the Galapagos Marine Reserve.
The WWF also issued an “urgent” call to the Ecuadorian government to take the necessary measures in the short, medium and long term to ensure the preservation of the marine biodiversity, the sustainability of fishing resources and “the resilience of our seas.”
This situation is occurring in international waters, outside the limits of Ecuador’s territory, making it a complex problem that must be dealt with on different fronts and levels, WWF-Ecuador said in a statement.
The WWF also emphasized that there are no clear policies regarding the management or sovereignty over international waters, that is, the situation that Ecuador is currently facing is a geopolitical problem that all countries with ocean coastlines face.
The international organization also emphasized the importance of countries cooperating to administer a global asset like the oceans responsibly and sustainably with an eye toward helping to guarantee international food security for millions of people.