Hundreds of foreign fishing vessels, mainly Chinese, are “pillaging” the waters off Argentina and disappearing from public tracking systems, according to a report by the marine NGO Oceana. These vessels mainly fish for shortfin squid (which are important to Argentina’s economy) as well as numerous species such as tuna and swordfish.
Oceana, a nonprofit ocean conservation organization, reviewed the activity of fishing vessels along the border of Argentina’s national waters from January 1, 2018, to April 25, 2021, using a system called Automatic Identification System (AIS).
During this period, Oceana documented over 800 foreign vessels that spent more than 900,000 total hours of apparent fishing within 20 nautical miles of the invisible border between Argentina’s national waters and the high seas. Almost 70% of this fishing activity was conducted by around 400 Chinese vessels, the recent report showed.
“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,” Oceana’s deputy vice president of U.S. campaigns, Beth Lowell, said in a statement. “IUU fishing is wreaking havoc on our oceans and coastal communities.”
As part of this analysis, Oceana documented more than 6,000 such gap events, instances where AIS transmissions are not broadcast for more than 24 hours. This could indicate periods where vessels potentially disable their public tracking devices, hiding their location and potentially masking illegal behavior.
Chinese vessels were responsible for 66% of these incidents. For example, in April 2020, approximately 100 squid jiggers, mostly Chinese-flagged, were allegedly caught fishing illegally in Argentina’s waters. Interactions between the Argentine Coast Guard and suspected illegal fishing vessels have escalated to violence over the last few years.
“Our oceans need protection, not reckless fishing from China and other distant water fleets,” Marla Valentine, Oceana’s illegal fishing and transparency campaign manager, said in a statement. “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.”
Argentina’s extensive coastline boasts a tremendous abundance and diversity of marine life, including more than 330 types of finfish, nearly 120 deep-sea species, and a variety of invertebrates. The country’s commercial fishing industry produces $2.7 billion in economic impact and constitutes 3.4% of its gross domestic product.
This significant industry is driven by four species — shortfin squid (Illex illecebrosus), hake (Gadiformes), red shrimp (Pleoticus muelleri) and grenadier (Macrouridae) — which account for 75% of the country’s total catch. Shortfin squid is especially valuable, as it is the second-largest global squid fishery and half of the world’s catch comes from Argentina’s waters.
For Oceana, addressing this situation requires countries enforcing a mandatory use of the AIS devices on all fishing vessels. These systems are essential for transparency and accountability. At the same time, countries should have a public and current list of all foreign and domestic vessels authorized to fish in their national waters and implement further control at their ports.