Report: "Hidden" Fishing Vessels May be Invading Argentina's Waters

argentine navy
Chinese fishing vessels in the Argentine EEZ (file image courtesy Argentine Navy)

Published Jun 3, 2021 10:26 PM by The Maritime Executive

A new report released by the environmental NGO Oceana finds that hundreds of foreign fishing vessels, primarily Chinese, have been exploiting the waters off Argentina and often disappearing from AIS tracking. These distant-water fishing vessels mainly target shortfin squid, which are vital in supporting other commercial and recreational fisheries such as tuna and swordfish.

The report analyzed fishing activity along the edge of Argentina’s South Atlantic EEZ from January 2018 to April 2021. Automatic Identification System (AIS) data from Global Fishing Watch - an independent non-profit founded by Oceana in partnership with Google and Skytruth - was used as the basis for tracking.

Of the fishing activity visible from the Global Fishing Watch database, Oceana documented over 800 foreign vessels logging over 900,000 total hours of alleged fishing. 69 percent of this fishing activity was conducted by more than 400 Chinese vessels. Korean, Spanish and Taiwanese vessels accounted for 26 percent of the fishing activity, with nearly 200 vessels logging 251,000 hours. In comparison, Argentina’s fishing vessels conducted 9,269 hours of visible fishing in the study area with about 145 vessels - less than 1 percent of the total.

“Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing threatens the health of the oceans. The vessels that disappear along the edge of the national waters of Argentina could be pillaging its waters illegally,” said Beth Lowell, Oceana’s deputy Vice president of U.S campaigns.

Approximately 6,000 gap events - instances where AIS transmissions were not broadcast for more than 24 hours – were documented in the study. Cumulatively, these vessels were invisible for more than 600,000 hours, potentially hiding their locations to mask illegal activity.

Of the vessels with AIS gaps, 31 percent of them visited the Port of Montevideo, Uruguay at the end of their trip. The port is a major transshipment hub for fishing vessels in the South Atlantic region.

“Our oceans need protection, not reckless fishing from China and other distant water fleets. Fishing at this scale, under the radar, and without regard for laws and sustainability can have detrimental impacts on entire ecosystems, as well as the people and economies that depend on them,” said Dr. Marla Valentine, Oceana’s illegal fishing and transparency campaign manager.

Argentina has a vibrant commercial fishing industry, with an estimated economic output of $2.7 billion that constitutes 3.4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The major fisheries exploited by the industry include shortfin squid, hake, red shrimp and grenadier, which account for 75 percent of the country’s total catch.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.