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  • Harriet

Chinese DWF in the Galapagos

Updated: Oct 16, 2020

To all shark lovers. The largest area of shark biomass is currently being decimated by a fleet of 260 Chinese fishing vessels. The scary thing is, this is legal. The scarier thing is, this has happened for the last three years. It CANNOT continue.

What’s happening?

The massive fishing fleet, identified as the yellow dots on the image below, has placed itself in the international waters between the Galapagos Islands economic exclusion zone (EEZ) and Ecuador's territorial border. The strong currents of the Humboldt carry rich nutrients, attracting marine fauna such as manta rays, tuna, squid, turtles and birds, as well as a plethora of sharks. Sitting in this biological corridor lies the Chinese distant-water fishing (DWF) vessels.

They arrived on 6th July and, as of writing (4th August), are still there. This fleet has returned to the Galapagos for the fourth consecutive year, with each vessel processing and storing an unimaginable amount of marine life.

The 260 vessels in the Galapagos are only a tiny portion of the 17,000 DWF fleet owned by China, believed to be the largest in the world. The fleet isn’t specific to the Galapagos and has been reported previously in Argentinian, West African and North Korean waters. Factory ships load cargo onto mother ships, allowing them to continue to decimate and destroy everything they come into contact with. Mother ships collect the catches of other vessels meaning long-liners can stay at sea for almost a year without ever reaching port. The fleet also has floating cooling ships and fuel tankers. They truly mean it when they call it the ‘floating city’. ODI released a report in June 2020 stating that 1,000 Chinese DWF vessels are known to be registered in other countries, sailing under foreign flags, historically registered as Panamanian, North Korean, Vietnamese, African, or Argentinian.

The Frente Insular Collective estimates that there are 100,000 hooks on each vessel, calculated from the length of the ships. Initially, it was not confirmed whether the fleet was catching squid but horrifying videos of dead sharks and shark fins washing up along the coastlines of islands put an end to such theories. It’s not only sharks that have been found beached, on 2nd August a humpback whale was found dead on the shores of Ecuador.

The Charles Darwin Foundation reported on 30th July 2020 that researchers had observed a broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) and bluntnose sixgill (Hexanchus griseus) in the deep waters of the Floreana Island, Ecuador for the first time. These highly primitive sharks were observed in October 2019 and it begs the question, are they still there now? What is this fishing fleet destroying before we even know it’s there?