China accused of “hidden” ships involved in illegal “plundering” of Argentine waters

A marine conservation NGO released a report on June 2 denouncing the frequent disappearance of hundreds of fishing vessels, mostly Chinese, from public radar, suggesting that these cover-ups may be a cover for their illegal “plunder” of marine resources.

AFP’s June 2 wire from Washington said the U.S. nongovernmental marine conservation group Oceana analyzed GPS signals transmitted by about 800 boats operating near Argentine waters over a 3 1/2-year period (January 2018 to April 2021).

The organization’s Global Fishing Watch website, launched in conjunction with Google and SkyTruth, allows it to visualize the trips of fishing vessels on a map and determine their fishing activity by studying their trajectories and speed algorithms.

During this 3.5-year period, Oceana found 900,000 hours of “visible fishing” in international waters marking the border of Argentina’s exclusive economic zone and just 20 nautical miles offshore, with some 400 Chinese vessels accounting for 70 percent of the 900,000 hours; Korean, Spanish and Taiwanese vessels together accounted for 26 percent; and Argentine vessels accounted for just 1 percent of the fishing time.

Most importantly, the source said, the activities of these vessels were “hidden” for more than 600,000 hours. Oceana, a marine conservation organization, estimates that on more than 6,000 occasions, the automatic identification system (AIS) on board was turned off, no information was transmitted, it was off for more than 24 hours, and it even disappeared from the map for a few days.

The NGO’s spokeswoman, Beth Rowell, denounced in a statement that “these vessels, which “disappear” along Argentine national waters, may be illegally plundering the resources of Argentine waters.” The marine conservation group Oceana reported that in April 2020, boats were caught red-handed in Argentine waters with their signal identification systems turned off. The organization also found that more than 66 percent of the suspicious vessels were Chinese boats fishing for squid.

The report explains that squid migrate offshore to breed and since they only live for one year, “overfishing (……) can have a serious impact on the population of the species the following year. And “many other species, such as tuna and swordfish, feed on squid.

AFP said that about half of the world’s squid are caught from Argentine waters, where the fish industry is economically important.

The report also points the finger at Spanish vessels, nearly 90 percent of which “apparently turned off their public tracking devices at least once. The NGO called for better control of these foreign fleets, including mandatory use of automatic vessel identification systems at all times.