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For conservation with no maritime limits: WWF-Ecuador’s statement regarding the presence of a foreign fishing fleet in the vicinity of the Galapagos Marine Reserve

Statement updated on August 28, 2020. Quito, Ecuador.- Regarding the presence of approximately 340 foreign-flagged ships mostly of Chinese nationality, conformed by: fishing boats, tankers, supply vessels and cargo ships, positioned near the Exclusive Economic Zone of Ecuador (EEZ), WWF-Ecuador expresses its concern given this fact represents a recurring threat to fishing resources and marine biodiversity, especially in the vicinity of the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

WWF-Ecuador recognizes and applauds the efforts of the Authorities and civil society in the proactive search for agreements and solutions, and reiterates its call to the Ecuadorian Government to keep taking all the necessary measures in the short, medium and long term to ensure conservation of marine biodiversity, sustainability of fishery resources and resilience of our seas. This event occurs in international waters, outside the limits of national jurisdiction, which makes it a complex problem that must be addressed from various fronts and at different levels.

International waters make up two thirds of the world's oceans, these are all marine areas that are not part of EEZ or inland waters. There are currently no clear management or property policies on international waters, meaning that the situation Ecuador is currently dealing with is a geopolitical problem faced by all coastal countries worldwide. Despite the existence of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), known as the “constitution of the sea”; regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) for the management of certain species such as the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Organization - SPRFMO, of which our country and several other coastal states are members; these international cooperation efforts continue to be insufficient to effectively regulate, order, control and ensure that fishing activities on the high seas are responsible and sustainable. A clear example of this problem is that not all countries are adhered to the UNCLOS, nor are they part of the RFMOs, and consequently, international waters become propitious scenarios for the development of activities that threaten the sustainability of sea resources and the conservation of marine biodiversity, and even become spaces for illegal activities such as piracy, fuel smuggling, human rights violations, drug trafficking and illegal fishing. On international waters, that is the current location of this fleet, according to the UNCLOS, fishing activities can be carried out under management and conservation measures. In other words, there is no freedom to fish indiscriminately, since the UNCLOS itself, a legal instrument ratified by 168 countries, including China and Ecuador, mandates that states cooperate in the management of trans zonal and highly migratory resources through the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs).

Either because RFMOs often ignore scientists' recommendations - putting very short-term economic interests before them -, due to the impunity that illegal fishing often operates with, or because there are governments that subsidize their fishing fleets (the oversized Chinese fleet is an example of this), the planet's fishing resources are decreasing. This is corroborated by FAO, which in its latest report on the State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture - 2020, points out that a third of the world's fish stocks are caught in an unsustainable manner and are overfished.

This is why it is important that countries cooperate to responsibly and sustainably manage the oceans as a global asset, so that they can guarantee food security and subsistence for millions of people.

Important marine currents converge in the marine territory of Ecuador, which is 5.3 times larger than the terrestrial territory: the warm current of El Niño, the cold current of Humboldt and the Equatorial current. This results in an important movement of nutrients that originates the richness of specimens that migrate and swim through our territorial waters. The Galapagos Marine Reserve is a large area of reproduction, feeding and repopulation for the Eastern Pacific Ocean, and fishing boats are taking advantage of what comes out of it, a phenomenon known as the "overflow" effect or “spill-over”.



● Check records of ships operating in the international waters corridor

The maritime and fishing authorities, who have the technological capacity for satellite monitoring, identify the vessels that are present within the area, and compare the information gathered with the registers of vessels authorized by the RFMOs, making sure all of these appear in the registers of authorized vessels which can legally operate in the international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. In case of not being listed in said registries, our country, in its capacity as a cooperating part of these organizations, must report the fact to the corresponding RFMO, and request, through the Ecuadorian fishing authority, that these vessels be immediately included in the lists of vessels involved in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing activities.

● Ecuador with a more articulated presence in RFMOs

The RFMOs not only deal with issues of conservation of fishery resources, but also issues of conservation of marine species of importance to biodiversity, hence Ecuador should have a strong state organic presence in the meetings of the RFMOs, calling all the competent authorities.

● Search for solutions through the formation of an intersectoral panel of experts

WWF supports all transparent dialogue processes based on scientific evidence, therefore, seconds the formation of a national intersectoral technical table to build a viable country proposal for the sustainable management of fishery resources and for the protection of key marine species and ecosystems in the country's EEZ. As part of this process, and based on solid scientific information, it should be possible to construct different scenarios for the analysis of all the involved and participating actors, which include viable alternatives to preserve marine areas of ecological importance and also to carry out a sustainable use of their resources. WWF-Ecuador is willing to contribute with specialists to support this panel and promotes this type of participatory process where issues of national interest are discussed.

● Signing of an Agreement with Global Fishing Watch (GFW)

The GFW is a platform that promotes the sustainability of the oceans by creating and publicly sharing tools that allow visualizing, tracking, and providing transparency to global fishery activities. It is convenient that Ecuador, like Peru, Chile, Costa Rica, and Panama, sign an agreement with the GFW in order to share information and expertise in fighting illegal fishing. An action of this nature would help lay the foundations to create a scenario of transparency from Costa Rica to Chile, and thereby support governments in the design of common policies for the region.



● Place observers on these ships

The presence of observers (human or electronic) on board these fishing boats will allow us to understand the true impact on the marine ecosystem produced by these fleets. In addition, the observers would ensure that the conservation measures of the RFMOs (IATTC or SPRFMO) are complied with. In the event of non - compliance, the observers' reports will serve as the basis for the initiation of processes at the national and international level, on cases of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. In the SPRFMO, Asian vessels do not carry observers, and in the IATTC, the level of coverage for Asian longline vessels is only of 5%.

● Ban transshipment activities in the High Seas.

The Chinese fishing fleet operates almost permanently, that is, it does not return to port, because they travel accompanied by cargo ships (reefers), which receive the fishing catch on the high seas. This situation enables boats to fish all the time, increasing the fishing effort tremendously, something that if not properly supervised and controlled could lead to overfishing certain stocks. The prohibition of transshipments would force the fishing fleet to return to its home ports once the loading capacity of each trip has been completed. Due to the distance from their ports of origin, the fishing operation would become unfeasible from an economic point of view. It could also become an entry point for illegally caught fish to enter the chain of commercialization for legal products. In the same manner, fishing catch transshipment is closely related to the use of convenience flags, as well as to poor onboard working conditions due to the long periods of stay at sea, which opens doors to a series of abuses against humans rights.

● Work at different levels for China to ratify the FAO Port State Agreement

This important Agreement, which aims to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, was approved in 2009, and it is unique because it is the first international treaty focused on fighting the scourge of illegal fishing. China, despite being a global fishing power, has not ratified it yet. By adhering to this instrument, the states commit before the international community to implement measures and good inspection, monitoring, and control practices to ensure the legal origin of fishery products.

● New Treaty Of International Waters

Ecuador should adopt a much more proactive leadership position in relation to the negotiation process of the future United Nations Treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in the waters beyond national jurisdiction (Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction - BBNJ), which has been dubbed as the Global Ocean Treaty.


It is necessary to strengthen the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor so that it may become a regional initiative for the conservation and sustainable use of the marine resources of Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador.

Ecuador is the first country to recognize the Rights of Nature at a Constitutional level; it is a signatory to several international agreements, CONVEMAR among them; and it is an active member of two RFMOs in the region. In view of the foregoing, today the country has the opportunity to assume a regional leading role in the face of this complex problem, taking concrete actions at the national level and promoting actions at the regional and global level that help curb this constant threat. What about the role of citizens? Although the problem needs political will, this does not mean that citizens don´t play an important role. It is everyone's responsibility to be well informed. Gettining involved, investigate and the constant follow-up is key to demand decision-makers to prioritize this on the agenda and seek viable solutions that guarantee the right to resilient, healthy oceans that contribute to the health and livelihoods of millions of people.

© WWF-Ecuador / Fibios.org
¡Por una conservación sin límites marinos!