(August 24, 2020) Ecuador. In recent weeks, the national and international press have highlighted the presence of fishing fleets operating in international waters near the limits of the Galapagos Marine Reserve (RMG), a site recognized by UNESCO as a Natural Heritage of Humanity and by the CBD as an area of ecological importance. According to information available on the Global Fishing Watch platform (www.globalfishingwatch.org), more than 260 highly technical vessels, of large capacity and mainly of Chinese origin, were detected at the same time in July 2020 on the edge of the economic zone exclusive to Ecuador, southwest of the Galapagos archipelago.
The RMG is a marine protected area belonging to Ecuador. Its extension of almost 138 thousand km2, one of the largest in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Region, and houses an archipelago of more than 100 islands, including islets and exposed rocks. One of the most important outcrop events in the world occurs in this region, along with the Humboldt outcrop (in Peru), where nutrient-laden waters from the depths increase biological productivity. Every year hundreds of species of fish, mammals, reptiles and seabirds form aggregations around the archipelago either to feed, reproduce, or simply rest. The abundance of species of high economic value, such as tuna, billfish, sharks and squid, gives the GMR a high fishing interest, constantly attracting both domestic and foreign fishing fleets.
Certainly, foreign flag fleets operate within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Ecuador under agreements with the Ecuadorian government. Unfortunately, others operate in international waters bordering the limits of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Ecuador, taking advantage of the weak legislation that regulates fishing in international waters, where there are favorable conditions to carry out operations without regulating or documenting, this puts The populations of pelagic fish, sharks and other marine resources that inhabit the GMR and its surroundings are endangered due to their overexploitation just outside the Ecuadorian EEZs. In addition to this, there is concern that there are several foreign fishing fleets that operate in these waters in a hidden way using different fishing gear, in particular the longline, without reporting their activity or position via satellite monitoring (VMS or AIS). This further increases the uncertainty about the actual magnitude of biomass removal in the waters around the GMR and the EEZ. This is of particular concern to members of MIGRAMAR, a group of scientists that has been studying highly migratory species for several decades, as several threatened species of sharks and turtles are listed as common commercial catch in fisheries operating in the region. . This occurs despite the fact that they are protected by regulations by the Ecuadorian government and by international treaties such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The presence of these foreign fleets exerting an oversized fishing effort in international waters bordering the EEZ of Ecuador represents a high risk that threatens the natural balance of marine ecosystems, as well as the ecosystem services and food security of Ecuador and the countries of the region. The overexploitation of fishing resources not only threatens the natural balance of marine ecosystems, but also the ecosystem services and food security of Ecuador. The current fossil fuel subsidy framework enables fisheries to boost their performance and further exacerbate potential problems of overfishing.
MigraMar research over the last 15 years has detected a 45% reduction in abundance of the hammerhead shark Sphyrna lewini, a critically endangered species within the marine protected areas of the Eastern Tropical Pacific; Sharks tracked with transmitters of different species have ended up in fishing ports in the region. Obviously, the protection of these species requires not only strict protection in their areas of aggregation, but also in the international waters through which they migrate. The recent enactment of a hammerhead shark trade ban in Ecuador is definitely a solid step in the right direction, but the presence of foreign fleets in the international waters bordering the EEZ may undermine these conservation efforts.
Ecuador is a signatory of several international agreements and very recently joined the Global Ocean Alliance. Ecuador has shown to maintain a constant concern about the sustainability of marine resources; however, it is now in a position to assume international leadership in the face of timid regulation in international waters. Today Ecuador has the responsibility not only to take concrete domestic actions to better conserve marine resources in its EEZ, but also to promote actions on a regional and global scale in the face of this complex reality and curb the threat posed by unregulated fishing in International waters.
Faced with the oversizing of the foreign fleets that operate on board the Ecuadorian EEZ, MigraMar makes its contingent of specialists available to the Ecuadorian authorities and the region, as well as information on the migratory species that surround this archipelago to strengthen the decision-making of the necessary measures to safeguard the marine biodiversity that uses its territorial waters and that migrate through international waters. Likewise, MigraMar makes an urgent call to the authorities of the region, particularly Ecuador, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia, to immediately take the necessary measures to safeguard the marine biodiversity that uses the sovereign waters of their nation. , and that they migrate through international waters and to commit to:
- Carry out constant controls on vessels operating inside and outside the EEZ, as well as at customs unloading posts and strengthen actions to make their operation transparent and discern if they engage in illegal, unregulated or unreported fishing activities using point technology such the use of surveillance drones.
- Review the current fossil fuel subsidy framework and reduce the benefits derived from it for harmful fishing activities that jeopardize our food security and human well-being in the future.
- Evaluate the possibility of extending the GMR to the point that the EEZ can maintain better long-term conservation results for migratory species.
- Promote with the signatory countries of the Declaration of San José the homologation of the mechanisms of sustainable management and protection of marine resources at risk, through the creation of MigraVías between Coiba-Malpelo and Cocos-Galapagos.
- Ban the hammerhead shark trade in the region, and promote its listing under Appendix I of CITES.
- Enforce the application of laws for the conservation of wildlife and domestic biological diversity to species declared under Threat of Extinction by the IUCN and included under the Appendices of CITES and CMS.
- Support negotiations for the creation of a binding treaty under the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS) for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) and promote the creation of protected areas in international areas.