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On the Colombian island of Malpelo, illegal fishing is growing by leaps and bounds. However, the efforts of the authorities to protect this sanctuary of fauna and flora seem to be short.
Since 2017, the authorities of Colombia have reported the increase of fishing vessels of Ecuadorian, Chinese and Panamanian origin in the Pacific coasts.
And the situation seems to be getting worse. At the end of April, the government of neighboring Ecuador reported that it had registered 245 ships at the maritime border with Malpelo in 2019.
For its part, in its most recent operation on April 16, the Colombian Navy detained 21 Ecuadorian citizens and six Colombians in six boats about 26 kilometers from Malpelo.
Illegal fishermen use boats that allow them to transport their products quickly, and evade the controls of the authorities.
China’s high demand has fueled the increase in illegal fishing in areas around Malpelo. Species such as hammerhead, tuna, albacore and grouper are among the most affected .
InSight Crime Analysis
Illegal fishing is not a new threat in the Colombian Pacific. However, the increasingly common stalking of foreign vessels in Malpelo shows the inability of governments to deterla.
The presence of Ecuadorian vessels in Malpelo, shows that criminal groups in that country are looking for other places to carry out their illegal activities, trying to circumvent the legal consequences they would have in Ecuador to fish in areas such as the Galapagos National Park.
In April, the President of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, deployed ships and planes near the Galapagos National Park, established a presence of guards and increased satellite monitoring of the area. The ambassador of China in Ecuador was called to a meeting.
On paper, the Colombian authorities have also taken steps to protect Malpelo. The government of former President Juan Manuel Santos tripled the size of the natural reserve to 2.7 million hectares in 2017.
However, the efforts to stop illegal fishing, coordinated between the national army, the management of the natural park and civil society, have not had a great impact.
The lack of resources to combat illegal fishing has exposed another area of vulnerability: the bilateral agreements between Colombia and Ecuador.
The hammerhead shark and other species that live in Malpelo are commercialized in markets such as Asia , where their consumption represents economic status and they donate healing properties. Several of the Ecuadorian exports, which have camouflaged closed or banned fish, are consumed in China.
There, the hammerhead shark is one of the most requested and a bowl of soup from its fins can cost up to US $ 200. It is estimated that by 2017, that illegal market moved more than US $ 23,000 million worldwide, according to Rural Week.
The situation becomes more complex when the illegal fishing industry intersects with that of cocaine trafficking. As reported by Rural Week, marine limits are the perfect area to deliver or exchange cocaine with ships on the high seas, using fish cargo to cover up the drug.
This seems to generate a quicker response from the authorities than illegal fishing. “There is only presence (of the authorities) when the ships or boats carry cocaine,” said Manuel Bedoya, president of the Association of Artisanal Fishermen of the Pacific.
Source: ES Insight Crime