A new report shows Chinese fishing vessels illegally entered Ecuador’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around the Galapagos Islands multiple times this summer.
Chinese ships turned off Automatic Identification System tracking (AIS) on numerous occasions before pings of RF activity were detected nearby in Ecuadorian waters, according to a report and mapping released by HawkEye 360.
Records indicate the boats turned off their AIS for 12 to 24 hours at a time, allowing them to cover large territory within the EEZ without being spotted.
While the practice is a common technique by foreign fishing vessels to enter sovereign areas, signal mapping technology by HawkEye 360 has provided clear evidence to conclude ongoing violations of international law.
“We have specific RF activity hits from within that economic exclusion area...It’s very powerful evidence that there is activity occurring,” HawkEye 360 CEO John Serafini told Fox News.
HawkEye 360 is able to geolocate a variety of maritime signals at once, painting a clearer picture of the Chinese activity that is affecting Ecuadorian conservation efforts.
They have collaborated with Airbus to compare the RF and Synthetic aperture radar information, with satellite images. This confirmed that dozens of vessels had “gone dark” to avoid being monitored.
Over the summer more than 250 Chinese ships were discovered by the Ecuadorian Navy and suspected of taking part in illegal fishing. Half of them had turned off traditional tracking methods at some point according to Ecuador’s Defense Ministry.
“It’s not unusual for these ships and for fishing vessels to kind of press the limits to try to cross over in the areas where they’re trying to follow fresh catches,” HawkEye 360 Product Marketing Director Adam Bennett said.
In an interview last month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the actions by Chinese vessels “deeply troubling.”
Pompeo added that the United States supports Ecuador and its efforts to preserve the UNESCO world heritage-protected Galapagos Islands.
Reports earlier this month indicated that Chinese boats were still operating near the Galapagos Islands in early September, despite promises by the Chinese government to temporarily ban fishing there.
“The consequences could be very vast for the environment, the Chinese vessels are fishing on areas where the migratory organisms are constantly using for their cycles,” Galapagos-based Biologist Leandro Vaca told Fox News.
Chinese fishing accounts for 15% of the world’s wild fish catch each year, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
Differences in maritime law, combined with vast areas to protect, make it difficult to regulate the fishing industry.
“Laws should change so we can protect our species from this predatory fleet,” said Galapagos resident and former professor Luis Vinueza.