Overfishing threatens marine reserve in Argentina

By Veronica Dalto

Buenos Aires, Apr 1 (efe-epa).- Uncontrolled fishing by commercial fleets just outside Argentine territorial waters is harming the ecosystem even as some operators violate human rights through the use of virtual slave labor, Greenpeace says.

The problem is most acute off the coast of Patagonia on the edge of the Agujero Azul (Blue Hole) National Marine Reserve.

China accounts for 70 percent of the boats fishing in those waters, with another 20 percent coming from South Korea and Taiwan, while 10 percent of the boats are Spanish, according to Greenpeace.

International fishing fleets usually arrive in the waters near Argentina in November and remain through the end of March, though some foreign boats remain until June.

On March 8, Greenpeace catalogued at least 470 fishing boats in international waters next to the Agujero Azul reserve. The trawlers were accompanied by four fuel tankers and eight refrigerated vessels – known as reefer ships – to store the catch.

“It is out of control,” Luisina Vueso, coordinator of Greenpeace’s campaign to protect the Argentine Sea, tells Efe.

“It happens in international waters. There is no kind of comprehensive regulation or protection tool that allows us to put a stop to it,” she says. “There is simply a great legal vacuum that enables these fleets to come here from the other side of the world to fish.”

Beyond the scale of the fishing, the use of long-liner boats and squid boats has left the ocean floor a “desert,” Vueso says.

The lack of regulation also permits operators to employ what amounts to slave labor on their boats.

Not content with exploiting international waters, some skippers venture into Argentina’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to fish illegally.

“It’s the biggest headache,” the Argentine coast guard’s head of Maritime Traffic, Nestor Kiferling, tells Efe. “Sometimes they turn off the automatic-positioning systems to evade the tracking and monitoring we do.”

An unauthorized boat detected inside the EEZ that ignores the order to withdraw risks seizure.

Since 1986, Argentina has seized 80 fishing boats, nearly half of them from Asia.

“Regarding the control measures effected by Argentina, with the technology and the patrol schedules, the activity is highly controlled and we mitigate the possibility that those boats can violate the EEZ jurisdictional boundary,” Kiferling insists.

The international fishing fleets could not operate at the present scale without significant subsidies from their respective governments.

While Greenpeace looks to the United Nations initiative for a Global Oceans Treaty, the Argentine coast guard hopes to see the implementation of the 2012 Cape Town Treaty, which sets international standards for the safe operation of fishing vessels.

The accord would require boats to keep their automatic positioning systems turned on at all times.

To take effect, the Cape Town pact must be ratified by 22 states with a combined 3,600 eligible fishing vessels.

“Taiwan and China don’t want to approve it,” Kiferling says. EFE vd/dr

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