Business & Economy

Argentine denounces “depredation” by foreign fishing fleets

By Javier Castro Bugarin

Argentine Sea, Argentina, Mar 21 (EFE).- It’s 8:00 pm and the darkness of the ocean is startling, right up to the line 200 miles from the coast that marks the limit of Argentina’s exclusive economic zone, where the lights from hundreds of fishing boats give the appearance of a city in the middle of nowhere.

Glimpsed from the windows of Argentine filmmaker and philanthropist Enrique Piñeyro’s Boeing 787, the sight reveals what he describes as the “depredation” of the Argentine Sea by international fishing fleets, mostly from Asia.

The 66-year-old physician and pilot has spent more than four decades watching the fleets trawling the waters off Patagonia for squid, hake, and lobster.

“This flight should be flown every day, because the integrity of our borders is something that must be patrolled and monitored,” Piñeyro says. “Containing this is becoming a very difficult task and the truth is that they are not assigning resources or trained personnel to do it. The little there is does not suffice.”

Hoping to raise awareness, he invites a large contingent of reporters and diplomats, including officials from the embassies of the United States and the European Union to join him on the nearly five-hour aerial survey.

For the first two hours, passengers see boats in small groups of three or four, but once we reach the 200-mile limit, an aquatic metropolis extends to the horizon.

During the flight, the plane in contacted by ARA Storni, a navy patrol boat on patrol in the Argentine Sea and Piñeyro takes the opportunity to alert the skipper to the presence of unlicensed fishing vessels inside the exclusive economic zone.

“They responded that no, that they were all licensed fishing boats,” Piñeyro said at the end of the flight. “We have an internet connection on the plane, with which we can see in real time all the monitoring applications of vessels that have the AIS (automatic identification system) turned on. There were many vessels without AIS turned on.”

Argentina’s 200-mile limit “is the world’s largest zone of turned-off AIS,” he said.

On a previous flight, he added, only 174 of 517 vessels spotted from the plane had their AIS transceivers turned on.

Between 1986 and 2020, Argentina seized 80 fishing boats for operating illegally inside its territorial waters, most of them from South Korea, China, and Taiwan, according to figures from the coast guard.

Piñeyro says that the absence of an authority to enforce maritime treaties has transformed international waters into a “rug under which everything goes, because there is slave labor and child labor” on unlicensed fishing boats.

“That also has to end, because in aviation international airways without control don’t exist, we always have to say what we’re going to do and where we are,” the former airline pilot adds. “That same philosophy can be applied to the international seas and waters.”

Besides the environmental damage done by unregulated fishing, Piñeyro points to the destruction of the livelihoods of fisher people in developing countries.

“This depredation of employment sources, be it by Asian or European countries, continues to inflict a tremendous problem on Africa that generates this maritime migration for which no one takes responsibility,” he says.

Piñeyro, dubbed the “Michael Moore of Argentina” for making documentaries that exposed problems with air travel, has used his Boeing to transport Covid-19 vaccine, to ferry refugees from war-torn Ukraine, and to monitor the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean. EFE jacb/dr

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