Chinese fishing fleet threatens Galápagos Islands’ wildlife

A Chinese fishing fleet is threatening endangered wildlife off the coast of Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands, one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world.

A fleet of 260 ships, mostly Chinese, are fishing in international waters just outside Ecuador’s exclusive economic zone that extends 370 kilometers from the islands, news reports say.

Ecuador has vowed to protect the Galápagos marine reserve and plans to request the fleet’s removal. In 2017, Ecuador seized a Chinese vessel in the Galápagos marine reserve carrying 300 tons of wildlife, mostly sharks.

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo is urging the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to stop massive PRC-flagged fishing fleets that violate international laws and threaten other countries’ fisheries and the environment, according to an August 2 statement.

“It is time for China to stop its unsustainable fishing practices, rule-breaking and willful environmental degradation of the oceans,” Pompeo said in an August 2 tweet. “We stand with Ecuador and call on Beijing to stop engaging in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.”

Man looking at pile of fish (© Galápagos National Park/AP Images)
Ecuador seized a Chinese–flagged fishing vessel near the Galápagos Islands in 2017 that was carrying more than 300 tons of fish, including endangered species. (© Galápagos National Park/AP Images)

A global challenge

PRC-flagged industrial fishing fleets are displacing fishermen and raising environmental concerns around the world.

In recent years, more than 500 small North Korean fishing vessels have washed up on the shores of Japan, their crews starved to death, likely due to overfishing by Chinese ships, according to NBC News. The Chinese vessels are also blamed for driving down squid populations, which have decreased by 70 percent in the region, the news agency says.

According to the China Africa Project, Chinese fleets off the coast of West Africa have created a “serious environmental crisis brought on from over-fishing that also endangers local coastal communities who depend on these waters for their livelihoods.”

Chinese fishing vessels in the South China Sea threaten species including the giant clam, prized for its shell and considered a luxury item in China and elsewhere. The Chinese Communist Party’s island building also threatens coral reefs in the region.

In Ecuador, trash from the Chinese fleet is washing up on the shores of the Galápagos Islands, according to the BBC.

Pompeo is asking countries to join the U.S. in supporting Ecuador and other nations whose economies and natural resources are at risk from PRC-flagged vessels that violate international law and responsible fishing practices.

“Given [the PRC’s] unfortunate record of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, rule-breaking, and willful environmental degradation, it is more important than ever that the international community stands together for the rule of law and insists on better environmental stewardship from Beijing,” Pompeo said.