Giant distant-water fishing fleets, mainly from China, are turning off their tracking beacons to evade detection as they engage in possibly illegal hunting of squid and other lucrative species on the very edge of Argentina’s extensive fishing grounds, according to a new study conducted by Oceana, an international NGO dedicated to ocean conservation.
Each year, ships crowd along the boundaries of Argentina’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to take advantage of the lucrative fishing grounds.
By monitoring ship tracking beacons between January 2018 and April 2021, Oceana discovered 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 Alta sea.
“During this three-and-a-half-year period, there were more than 6,000 cases in which these fishing vessels appeared to go ‘dark’ by potentially disabling their electronic tracking devices, known as Automatic Identification Systems (AIS),” the report says. , published Wednesday, titled Now you see me, now you don’t: ships disappearing along Argentine waters.
In total, these vessels were “hidden” for more than 600,000 hours during which Oceana suspects that they crossed into Argentine territorial waters for illegal fishing.
“It’s very suspicious that they have the AIS turned off for a large part of the time they are fishing,” said Marla Valentine, an ecologist at Oceana, an international NGO dedicated to ocean conservation.
“Billions of dollars in marine life, such as squid, hake and shrimp, which feed on species such as tuna, are being removed from ecosystems. This can have a lasting impact on their reproductive cycle, ”said Valentine.
Almost 66% of the “dark” boats were Chinese flag squid jiggers, boats with bright lights and hooks designed to catch squid.
But Spanish trawlers that tow heavy nets along the seafloor to catch species like Argentine hake and red shrimp darkened more than three times more than Chinese boats, according to the report.
The presence of so many ships off Argentine waters has led to a series of confrontations on the high seas with the Argentine coast guard. In April 2020, approximately 100 squid fishermen, mostly under the Chinese flag, were allegedly caught fishing illegally during night raids in Argentine waters, each with their AIS turned off.
“In 2016, a Chinese trawler sank after it reportedly tried to ram a Coast Guard vessel and in 2018 four Chinese fishing vessels allegedly joined forces to protect a fifth vessel being pursued by the Coast Guard,” the report says.
“There is a fine line between what is legal, sustainable, responsible and regulated,” said Valentine. “They could be just one inch outside of Argentina’s exclusion zone and it would be considered legal.”
Argentina has one of the largest squid fisheries in the world with a commercial value of almost $ 4 billion in 2016. The country’s squid “is critically important to the global economy, food security and the resilience of the oceans.” the report says.
Oceana also reported last year on illegal fishing by huge Chinese fleets along the Pacific coast of South America, affecting Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The vessels of that group were also charged with disable your public tracking devicesand participate in potentially suspicious transshipment practices, all of which can facilitate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism