Pirate fishing: the looting of 400 foreign ships that hide in front of Chubut- RED/ACCIÓN

Pirate fishing: the looting of 400 foreign ships that hide in front of Chubut

 Una iniciativa de Dircoms + RED/ACCION
Pirate fishing: the looting of 400 foreign ships that hide in front of Chubut

Intervención: Pablo Domrose

Link to the Spanish version

The last persecution was one year ago: a coastguard from Argentina´s Navy Police chased a Chinese boat that illegally fished at San Jorge Gulf. The boat managed to escape, but had to pay a 7.5 million ticket.

What happened last year with those two boats was an exception. Because most of the 400 foreigner boats that fish without any type of control they do it little a bit further than mile 200, at approximately 321 kilometers from Comodoro Rivadavia, where Argentina can´t do anything because it´s no longer Argentinean sea. In this article you will find out how this ships operates, from which countries are they, with what species they sweep, how it affects national production, where they unload the fishing and how many marines died during a cruel practice that concerns the UN.

On January 16, the conservationist, Milko Schvartzman, numbered at least 400 fishing boats from parallel 42 and 46, in front of Chubut´s coast, but beyond 200 mile, where international waters are. He didn´t have to fly over the zone. He just entered to a platform where most of the ships are located in satellite´s time.

“They are pirate boats because nobody controls what they fish or how they do it. They hide behind mile 200, where the international legislation doesn’t regulate the exploitation of fishing resources”, says Milko, who leads Healthyoceans (Oceanosanos) project, with the headquarters in Montevideo and financed by Leonardo Di Caprio´s foundation.

You don´t have to simply believe him. It is better to look at that satellite capture and see how the ships gather in front of Chubut, but behind the red line that determines the end of Argentinean Sea, where the coast Guard Police has the faculty of watching that nobody fishes without permission.

Each yellow circle represents a fishing boat. Source: Healthyoceans.

Each yellow circle stands for a fishing vessel. Source: Oceanosanos

Sweeping away the squid

Most of the ships are Chinese, around 40%. The rest are from South Korea, Taiwan and Spain.

“During a year, they fish between 200.000 and 1.000.000 tons. If possible, they capture squid, but also hake, black hake and pollock”, numbers Eduardo Pucci, CEO of the Organización para la Protección de los Recursos Naturales del Atlántico Sudoccidental (OPRAS)Organization for the Protection of the Natural Resources of the Southwest Atlantic., a local NGO that has the support of the national fishing industry.

For Healthyoceans this “pirate” fishing makes at least U$S 800 million per year. For OPRAS, that amount does not go down from U$S 3.000 million, U$S 1.000 million more of what represents the whole Argentinean fishing exportation.

Devastating a natural rich area

Satellite´s images are too eloquent. Every boat in the exact same place. And that has an explanation. That zone, that in part it’s known as Blue Hole, is very particular and rich in resources.

“The particular thing is that the continental platform extends a little bit further than mile 200. Just a few miles deeper start the slope. In that place, between the platform and the slope, a great squid migration it’s produced. And the ships exploit the benefit that this occurs just outside de exclusive economic Argentinean zone”, explains marine biologist Claudio Capagna, CEO of Patagonian Forum for the conservation of the Sea, integrated by 16 NGO, among them the Fundación Vida Silvestre, Aves Argentinas and FARN.

The ambiental damage and the marine biodiversity can´t be measured because there are no records of what is being fished. “What we can say is that the damage exists, absolutely. It is a damage on the abundance of species and over diversity”, affirms Campagna.

Milko, form Healthyoceans, adds that the squid is in the center of the food chain: “If you attack the specie from which depends a great part of the other fishes, you are attacking the whole ecosystem”.

To Javier García Espil, National Manager of Environmental Management of Water and Aquatic, any activity not regulated has an impact. “Inside the Argentinean Sea we work in responsible fishing practices, to avoid for example the incidental fishing (accidental). We also study the biomass and how the fishing population fluctuates to avoid exhausting the fish stock. That´s why quotas are established”, specifies Espil.

All that is what doesn’t occur from mile 201. Many boats are fishing with trawling nets and accidentally kill albatross or capture some fishes that later dismiss because they have no commercial value.

“Everything that occurs in the international waters impacts on the Argentinean Sea because the species are migratory, they go from one place to the other, as whales, killer whales, elephant seals, sharks, rays and squids”, highlights García Espil.

That is the reason why Pucci, from OPRAS, speaks of an economic loss of U$S 500 million for the fleet of 600 Argentinean fishermen.

State subsidies for boats that add up to 53 deaths

For the activity to be rentable, the ships of foreigner fishing vessels resort to multiples practices that internationally the FAO and UN condemned.

Many of the boats that fish in overseas, far from their origin ports, achieve to be profitable thanks to the subsidies that they receive from their states. Investigators from the National Geographic Society, California University from Santa Barbara, Global Fishing Watch and the Sea Around Us project who studied together the oversea fishing, arrived to this conclusion.

“To this we have to add the slave work. Each boat has between 35 and 40 members of the crew. The five of highest rank are form the country flag, but the rest use to be Filipinos, Indonesians or from African countries. And they work on conditions on board that use to be terrible. We´ve seen in the port of Montevideo the members of the crew in a Chinese vessel that had shackles marks on their ankles”, denounces Milko.

Indonesian crewmen in a Korean boat. Credit: Oceanosanos

Even more, the Uruguay Army, after a request for a report made by the Organización para la Conservación de CetáceosOrganization for the Conservation of Cetaceans, had to detailed the incidents registered in the port of Montevideo linked to the crew of the foreigner ships that dock there.

The National Navy Police answer from that country includes a chilling fact: form 2013 until March 2018, the foreigner fisher vessels unloaded 53 dead people. Almost one per month.

Montevideo, April 20, 2018

President of the
Organization for the Conservation of Cetaceans
Rodrigo GARCÍA PÍNGARO                                
NOTE NUMBER 062/20/IV/18.-
Your Office.-

Dear Sirs,

I am hereby writing to you, with reference to your Note from last March 19, as regards the information connected with incidents that took place with foreign fishing boats at the port of Montevideo since 2013. After having consulted the Coast Guard of the port of Montevideo we can register as follows:
-Number of fires: 4
-Number of thefts and/or important fights: 5
-Number of ill people: 11
-Number of dead people: 53

Rear Admiral

National Maritime Coast Guard

Triangular transaction through Montevideo

One of the main measures that Argentina decided to discourage the furtive fishing overseas was to forbid the entrance to local ports. “Our country doesn’t allow the incoming to national ports of foreign vessels that operate in open sea”, remarked in writing and after RED/ACCIÓN's question form the Undersecretary of Fishing of the Nation, in charge of Juan Bosch.

In the same note, the Undersecretary remarks that “illegal fishing, not declared and not ruled…can even produce the total collapse of a fishing ground or deeply harm the efforts to restore the exhausted populations”.

Brasil and Chile took the same decision tan Argentina and closed their ports. But it wasn’t enough because Uruguay, by Montevideo, receives part of the catch that the ships are making in front of Chubut

In official communication broadcasting in the Uruguay presidency site, the National Direction of Aquatic Resources announces a series of efforts to control fishing vessels that enter to Montevideo but recognizes that during 2015 there were more than 1.500 downloads and highlights that “more than the half of the boats were transferred in the open sea”.

Foreign ships close to the port of Montevideo. Credit: Oceanosanos

“What happens is that reefers or freezer boats board the fishing boats overseas and charge the capture of up to 15 boats”, explains Milko and continues: “Before they enter Montevideo with the charge, Uruguay demands the captain to inform what he is bringing, where he captured it and from which boats comes the catch. Finally, that freezer boat gets to the port, makes the unload, put's it un a container which travels in a cargo-ship to Asia, Europe or wherever. But nobody observes if it is true or not what the captain said he brought. Besides, the reefer mixes the cargo of 15 boats”.

Milko assures that the boats chose Montevideo because they are few controls and because of the cost, as “in that port they don’t pay VAT and also the catch doesn’t pay the taxes for importation and exportation because it's a duty-free zone. During an interview published in November by Revista Puerto, the president of the National Administration of Ports from Uruguay, Alberto Días Acosta, assured that in Montevideo's port is performed “a physical control” of the boats, although he recognized some weaknesses: “I don't know if the method is shuffle or by complaint”.

Possible solutions and the problems of Malvinas

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982, is an international agreement that Argentina supports, and is the rule/law that tries to organize the sea activity.

Among other issues, this agreement establishes boundaries to the marine areas; exclusive economic zones of each country (EEZ)An exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is a sea zone prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea over which a state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind.; continental shelf jurisdiction and overseas. It also legislates over navigational rights. But it is not very clear about the exploitation of natural resources in international waters.

Nevertheless, that convention says that the states must cooperate in the adoption of measures for the conservation of the living resources in oversea. And that´s a point from were Argentina could take advantage to work in a solution”, considered Rucci, form OPRAS.  

For Claudio Campagna, the fact that in the area where the foreigner ships fish without control are trans-zonal species is an element to “exert sovereignty”.

For Milko, from Healthyoceans, are many the legal tools that Argentina has: “In the Sustainable Development Goals from United Nations (SDG 2030), there is one dedicated to marine life”. That goal calls to “form now to 2020, to regulate efficiently fishing exploitation and put an end to excessive fishing, illegal fishing, undeclared and unregulated and to destructive fishing practices”.

Milko points out that also possible to resort to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to report the allowances to this type of fishing and to the International Labour Organization for the conditions in which the crew is working.

“What other states do is work with the countries of the region to restring the access of that predatory fleet with some king of agreement that achieves the recognition of NU, like The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) , that achieved to put in order the fishery in that zone”A fishery is defined by fishing activity (harvesting) for a particular species or group of species, the gear used and the geographical area in which it occurs., exemplifies Milko.

Many of the parties interests in this issue agree in the need of arriving to a regional agreement, but there is a pulsing risk that until now no government was willing to take: “If we wanted to arrive to an agreement with the coastal countries of the South Atlantic, we could be indirectly recognizing the Falkland Islands as a coastal state”, warns Pucci. Argentinian´s Chancellery preferred not to make any type of statement about this issue. While the Undersecretary of Fishing limited to say: “Argentina will continue working together at international level, while at a regional level the country is part of the network of exchange of information and experiences between countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to prevent, discourage and eliminate the illegal fishing, undeclared and unregistered”.

The efforts of Prefecture and the invisible line

Carlos Villareal has worked in Prefecture for the last 32 years. Since some years he is Chief of the Maritime Traffic Service and one of the main responsible to watch over the 200 mile in the Argentinean Sea.

“Now, watching the monitor equipment hath we have, I can tell you that there about 200 boats in the parallel 46, by Comodoro Rivadavia, between mile 201 and 210”, points out by telephone.

Credit: Argentine Coast Guard

Sometimes, they get in every now and then. “We detect them because we have the guard coast in the zone, because since 2014 we have a Beechcraft King Air 350 used for this job and because we have a satellite control system”.

From 1983 until now, 75 ships were captured by Prefecture fishing illegally in the Argentinean Sea. A lot. Or not much, if you take into account that some miles further, outside de Argentinean exclusive economic zone, up to 400 boats fish whatever they want and how they want it without any control.