A Chinese vessel was captured with 330 tons of endangered shark carcasses off the coast of Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands on Aug. 13.
After the crew tried to flee, the Ecuadorian navy swooped into action, capturing 20 members of a Chinese ship fishing illegally in protected waters.
Species of protected shark and other marine life were found sliced open and cut in half, frozen in the vessels refrigeration section. The vessel, the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 was hauled to shore with the illegal catch, as the BBC reported.
The ship was registered to China. Chinese consider shark fins a delicacy, used as both a food and in traditional medicine. The crew members face up to three years in prison for trafficking in protected species.
The Galapagos Islands area is a UNESCO world heritage area. “Not necessarily all of the catch came from the marine reserve, but the fact that it included young sharks, even baby sharks, indicates that they could have been caught inside the reserve,” said Ecuador’s Environment Minister Tarsicio Granizo, reported the BBC.
It was the biggest seizure ever in Ecuador, and authorities have yet to count all the fish illegally stored on the ship, as National Geographic reported. Authorities are still investigating where the sea life on board came from and where it was being taken.
Galapagos National Park, at 51,000 square miles, is the largest protected area in the world. Over 1,000 species of plant and animal life are unique to the area, according to IBT. The Galapagos Conservancy said that almost 20 percent of the marine life is unique to the area, which is rare considering marine life usually disperses from a single area for migration and other reasons. The region also holds the world’s largest abundance of sharks.
Of the waters surrounding the islands, some can be used for scientific research and tourism, but nothing else. Other areas allow artisanal fishing in addition to scientific research and tourism. Artisanal fishing is a type of sustainable fishing practice.
Ecuador took steps last year to protect its valuable marine life, but the country is in financial crisis and does not have the resources necessary to protect the islands. The intruding boat was found only by chance, as a tracking system on the offending vessel was left turned on.
In 2015 Ecuadorian officials seized 200,000 shark fins that were set for export to Asia. Authorities conducted raids on the port city of Manta. One of six people arrested during the raid was a Chinese national.
“We must end these criminal networks that are only interested in their own economic interests and are destroying the eco-system,” said Interior Minister José Serrano at the time of the raid, in a BBC article.
Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, a chain of 13 main islands, are famous for their abundant and unique animal and plant life. Shark fishing is not allowed in Ecuador, but officials believe there are many ships still lurking in the lightly protected waters waiting to steal the treasures that swim by.