Twenty crew members of the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, a vessel sailing under the Chinese flag, were arrested in a historic illegal shark-fishing bust in the Galápagos National Park in August. Dr Pelayo Salinas-de León, a marine ecologist working with the Charles Darwin Foundation, described the event as highly unusual and a stroke of luck for law enforcement. ‘Normally boats of this type are known as ghost ships because they turn off their positioning systems,’ he observed in an interview with BBC World News. This particular boat, in a most perplexing lapse of subterfuge tactics, kept its Automatic Identification System (AIS) on, allowing Galápagos National Park authorities and the Ecuadorian navy to locate the vessel on their surveillance systems. The boat is what is termed a ‘reefer’, a mother ship of sorts that collects the catches brought to it by other, smaller vessels.
‘Sharks are one of the most threatened groups of vertebrates,’ continued Salinas in his interview. For this reason, the seizure of thousands of sharks, among them scalloped hammerheads and silky sharks, which are classified as Endangered and Near Threatened respectively on the IUCN Red List, is all the more troubling. Speaking to National Geographic, Salinas noted that this is undoubtedly the largest confiscation of sharks in the history of the Galápagos.
While the authorities launch a full- scale investigation into the ship’s detailed movement patterns (catching, trading and transporting sharks in the Galápagos National Park is illegal, and a permit is required to cross the boundary into protected waters), the incident is a stark reminder of the challenge to adequate enforcement of marine protected areas, particularly in remote ocean regions. Salinas pointed out that a major component of this challenge is a lack of resources: funding patrol boats is an expensive business. The incident, however, presents a unique opportunity to open a discussion about improving monitoring and enforcement. ‘For the first time, we will have an insight into what these vessels are catching and on what scale,’ he concluded.
There is a very lucky population of manta rays that lives at D’Arros Island in the Seychelles. These mantas not only live in a relatively pristine habitat, but are also safe from fishing. This gives researchers a unique opportunity to learn about how these intriguing animals live when they are free from human influence.