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260 Chinese boats fish near Galapagos; Ecuador on alert

July 30, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2017 handout file photo provided by Galapagos National Park, a park ranger takes part in the inspection of a Chinese flagship where 300 tons of marine species, several of them in danger of extinction, were found, in Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, as the ship and its crew are detained. In July 2020, a congregation of about 260 mostly Chinese fishing vessels near the Galápagos archipelago is stirring diplomatic tension and raising concerns about the threat to sharks, manta rays, and other vulnerable species in waters around the UNESCO world heritage site.  (Galapagos National Park via AP, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2017 handout file photo provided by Galapagos National Park, a park ranger takes part in the inspection of a Chinese flagship where 300 tons of marine species, several of them in danger of extinction, were found, in Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, as the ship and its crew are detained. In July 2020, a congregation of about 260 mostly Chinese fishing vessels near the Galápagos archipelago is stirring diplomatic tension and raising concerns about the threat to sharks, manta rays, and other vulnerable species in waters around the UNESCO world heritage site. (Galapagos National Park via AP, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2017 handout file photo provided by Galapagos National Park, a park ranger takes part in the inspection of a Chinese flagship where 300 tons of marine species, several of them in danger of extinction, were found, in Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, as the ship and its crew are detained. In July 2020, a congregation of about 260 mostly Chinese fishing vessels near the Galápagos archipelago is stirring diplomatic tension and raising concerns about the threat to sharks, manta rays, and other vulnerable species in waters around the UNESCO world heritage site. (Galapagos National Park via AP, File)

QUITO, Ec ador (AP) 1 ; Some call it a floating city, a flotilla of 6 mostly Chinese fishing vessels near the Galapagos archipelago that is stirring diplomatic tension and raising worries abo t the threat to sharks, manta rays and other v lnerable species in waters aro nd the UNESCO world heritage site.

Yet the vast fleet is in international waters, o tside a maritime border aro nd the Galapagos and also o tside coastal waters off Ec ador, which controls the archipelago. That means the fleet, one of the biggest seen in years off So th America’s Pacific coast, is likely to fish with minimal monitoring ntil its holds are f ll.

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The Chinese fleet is ;very close” to the edge of the excl sive economic zone aro nd the Galapagos, which extends na tical miles (37 kilometers) from the archipelago, said its governor, Norman Wray. He said that, beca se of overfishing in recent years, ;what we’re seeing is that each time fewer species ret rn to the Galapagos.”

L is Villan eva, an officer with the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project, said Th rsday that it was possible, tho gh nproven, that long fishing lines from the Chinese vessels co ld be drifting into the excl sive economic zone. The fleet is a h ge logistical ndertaking, with storage and s pply vessels that allow it to stay at sea for long periods.

The fleet has drawn the attention of the United States, whose relationship with China is fra ght on many fronts. The U.S. National Sec rity Co ncil tweeted that the U.S. stands with Ec ador ;against any aggression directed toward their economic and environmental sovereignty. 1;

China maintains that it is a ;responsible fishing nation 1; with a ;zero tolerance 1; policy toward illegal fishing. The Chinese Embassy in Q ito said in a J ly 3 statement that China respects Ec ador’s meas res to protect the environment and preserve marine reso rces.

China had ascertained and confirmed with Ec ador’s navy that all the Chinese fishing vessels are operating legally ;and don’t represent any threat for anyone,” the embassy said.

Despite the Chinese statement, Ec ador has expressed concern thro gh diplomatic channels and its navy is on alert for any inc rsion into Ec adorian waters. In 17, crew members of a Chinese boat were jailed after Ec ador seized the vessel in the marine reserve of the Galapagos and discovered large n mbers of sharks on board.

Ec ador 17;s foreign minister, L is Gallegos, said the fishing fleet incl des Liberian- and Panamanian-flagged boats, and that Ec ador seeks deeper coordination with Colombia, Panama, Per and Chile on protecting the eastern tropical Pacific.

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China’s ;distant-water” fishing fleet is the biggest in the world and comprises a total of abo t 17, vessels, with abo t 1, of those registered in other co ntries, according to a J ne report by ODI, a London-based research gro p.

The fleet’s ;vessel ownership is highly fragmented among many small companies” and it is nclear whether the Chinese government has a clear pict re of its complex control str ct re, the report said. It said other co ntries are involved in the world’s overfishing crisis b t that China is the most significant factor.

The U.N. ood and Agric lt re Organization said in J ne that abo t one-third of fish stocks are being fished at ;biologically ns stainable levels.”

L is S 5;rez, vice president and exec tive director of Conservation International in Ec ador, said there are s spicions, so far nconfirmed, that the Chinese fleet is being aided by So th American associates beca se it is so far from home. or example, they co ld be selling it f el, he said.

Villan eva said fishing press re aro nd the Galapagos will only increase as climate change warms oceans and creates a more ab ndant catch aro nd the archipelago in comparison to other regions.

;More and more fleets will be interested in that area,” he said.

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Torchia reported from Mexico City.