China, US trade barbs over Chinese fishing effort near Galápagos

Published on
August 7, 2020

Tensions mounted between China and the United States over China’s expansionistic fishing policy after a Chinese government spokesman lashed out at American “smears” and interference in his country’s relations with Ecuador.

During his regular press briefing, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said America has no right to lecture China because it hasn’t ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Chinese vessels amassing outside a 188-mile wide exclusive economic zone around the Galápagos are part of a fleet which has expanded massively in recent years as China closes its own badly overfished seas. Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno has stressed his intention to protect sea life in the Galápagos Marine Reserve from the massing Chinese trawlers, making public pleas through Twitter.

After being asked about Ecuador’s stated goal to protect its waters from illegal fishing, Wang said Chinese and Ecuadorian fisheries officials had “excellent talks” by video on Thursday, 6 August.

China’s investment in Latin America – it’s a top source of state-arranged loans to Ecuador, backed by the country’s oil, which it ships to Chinese ports – makes it a top trading partner and lender for many countries in the region. 

Wang said China will ban fishing by its vessels in the waters near the Galápagos from September to November, and will also have management officials from China’s Department of Agriculture – which oversees fishing and licenses China’s distant-water fleet – “carefully monitor” the Chinese vessels in the region.

Wang’s statement was unusual in that the issue of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing by the Chinese fleet is rarely mentioned in official Chinese reporting or government statement, which tend to emphasize the commercial opportunities in distant-water trawling. 

Wang added the U.S. interference was aimed at harming the “friendly ties” between China and Ecuador, comments that obliquely referenced a 2 August statement by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying China’s fleet “routinely violates the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of coastal states, fishes without permission, and overfishes licensing agreements.”

In his remarks, Wang said China will be a “responsible big fishing country.”

Photo courtesy of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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