Chinese fishing vessels switch off their tracking beacons to evade detection while sailing into Argentina’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
In the summer of 2020, I reported that a fleet of Chinese fishing ships plundered the ecologically sensitive waters off of Ecuador, including the iconic Galapagos Islands.
These ships continue to target to coastal waters of South America. The boats go “dark” by turning off tracking equipment as they sail into Argentina’s national waters.
Giant distant-water fishing fleets, primarily from China, are switching off their tracking beacons to evade detection while they engage in a possibly illegal hunt for squid and other lucrative species on the very edge of Argentina’s extensive fishing grounds, according to a new study by Oceana, an international NGO dedicated to ocean conservation.
…By monitoring the ships’ tracking beacons between January 2018 and April 2021, Oceana found that more than 800 vessels apparently conducted nearly 900,000 hours of fishing within 20 nautical miles of the invisible border between Argentina’s national waters and the high seas.
“During this three-and-a-half-year period, there were over 6,000 instances in which these fishing vessels appeared to go ‘dark’ by potentially disabling their electronic tracking devices, known as Automatic Identification Systems (AIS),” says the report, published on Wednesday, titled, Now You See Me, Now You Don’t: Vanishing Vessels Along Argentina’s Waters.
In all, these vessels were “hidden” for over 600,000 hours during which Oceana suspects they crossed over into Argentina’s territorial waters for illegal fishing.
“It’s very suspicious that they have their AIS turned off for such a large proportion of the time they are out fishing,” said Marla Valentine, an ecologist at Oceana, an international NGO dedicated to ocean conservation.
The incursion into Argentina’s Exclusive Economic Zone would be astonishing if any other nation did it. But it is clear China does not follow rules that do not suit its purposes.
Argentina’s commercial fishing industry constitutes 3.4% of the country’s gross domestic product and is worth about $2.7 billion. The industry is mostly driven by the catch of four species: Argentine shortfin squid, Argentine red shrimp, Argentine hake (Merluccius hubbsi), and Patagonian grenadier (Macruronus magellanicus). The shortfin squid fishery in and of itself is the second-largest in the world, generating an average of $597 million each year for South America’s economy.
Foreign vessels are not allowed to fish within Argentina’s EEZ without proper authorization, but they can legally fish beyond the EEZ in the high seas.
Nations, including Argentina, targeted by the Chinese fishing fleet are beginning to take action.
Indonesia, where officials described Chinese fishing as “transnational organized crime,” has blown up at least one Chinese fishing boat. African countries have detained and fined Chinese vessels, and Ecuador jailed a Chinese crew caught with 300 tons of illegally caught fish.
Chile and Argentina have both had run-ins with Chinese fishing vessels. Argentina’s coast guard has chased, fired on, and sunk Chinese vessels it said were fishing illegally in Argentine waters.
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