Ecuador clings to diplomatic negotiations due to the difficulty of stopping catches in the limits of its waters. 42 years ago, Ecuador began its transition to democracy when UNESCO chose Galapagos as the first place in the world to debut the list of Natural Heritage of Humanity.
Now, this “seedbed of life”, defined as the environment where endangered species come to reproduce is at risk. A fishing fleet of 260 Chinese boats stalks the archipelago on the outer edge of the waters of Ecuadorian jurisdiction without the government of President Lenín Morenocan doing more than appealing to diplomacy.
“As long as the diplomatic channel exists, it will be the only one we resort to,” said the State Attorney General, Íñigo Salvador, at a press conference with the country’s new foreign minister, Luis Gallegos; Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrín, and the President of the Galapagos Governing Council, Norman Wray. The four, who represent the different actions that the country has to face the problem, agree in maintaining bilateral negotiations and waiting for the goodwill of the Asian giant.
Chinese ships – which are also accompanied by ships with flags of other countries such as Liberia or Panama, according to the Defense Ministry – are in an international water corridor it separates the two areas of Ecuadorian jurisdiction: the 200 miles that surround the Galapagos Islands and another 200 miles that extend from the mainland.
The area guarded and controlled by Ecuador amounts to a million kilometers but it is split in half and it is right in that corridor at sea where the fishing fleet that threatens marine species has settled. “They reached the outer limit of the archipelago. In the corridor between the two zones. But no ship has ever ventured nor can it do so, ”says the Defense Minister, who acknowledges that this situation is repeated every year. In 2019, the presence of 245 other Chinese national fishing vessels was detected and in 2017, 100 arrived.
That year one of the ships entered the exclusive economic zone of Ecuador and the authorities intervened. They found 300 tons of shark fins in their holds and the ship was seized. Now it is part of the supply logistics of the archipelago. “They come to the Galapagos because it is a protected marine area where life reproduces, where endangered species come to reproduce,” says Norman Wray, the political authority that governs the islands.
Unlike what happened three years ago, this time Ecuador cannot break into any of the boats because they remain outside its surveillance area, although the four authorities acknowledge that the fishing activity of those boats threatens the biodiversity that is moving underwater without artificial borders. “The authorities only have jurisdiction over Ecuadorian territory. An inspection activity has no basis either in international or in Ecuadorian law, ”clarified the country’s attorney general at the request of the Ombudsman to act to protect the natural heritage and the marine reserve of Galapagos.
The presence of the fleet was detected in mid-July but it has been this week when the matter has escalated to the diplomatic level. Ecuador meets on Wednesday with Peru, Chile, Colombia, and Panama, as an observer, within the framework of the South Pacific Commission, to discuss the issue with the coastal countries also affected. Warnings have also been sent to China through embassies, Foreign Minister Gallegos said. And President Moreno ordered to form a group of experts to find solutions.
“It is a difficult situation if China refuses to collaborate. It is not a signatory to the Sea Convention on illegal fishing. The point here is to put pressure on a very large country that has a veto in the United Nations to feel public shame. Because coercively it is very complicated “, acknowledges Roque Sevilla.