Unseen Menace, Part 1: Fears over massive Chinese fishing fleet near Galapagos

We worked with our Observers on the ground to investigate a massive Chinese fishing fleet operating in the waters off the Galapagos Islands. The fleet, made up of more than 300 vessels, was first spotted in summer 2020. The large-scale operation, which has been shrouded in mystery, has since stirred controversy for its destructive fishing practices. 

Screenshot from our report
Screenshot from our report © France 24

The massive Chinese fishing vessel was first spotted in summer 2020 in the waters off of the Galapagos Islands. This volcano archipelago, which is a province of Ecuador, is located about 1,000 kilometres from the mainland. The islands, home to an incredible and unique ecosystem, is classified as a Unesco World Heritage site.

The Chinese vessels are operating about 350 kilometres from the islands, right along the maritime border that marks the end to the Galapagos Marine Reserve. And while Galapagos residents can’t see the ships from their shores, they were tipped off to the presence of the fleet when hundreds of plastic bottles started washing up on their beaches. The labels on these bottles, which were written in Chinese, were still intact, and many locals quickly put two and two together. 

Our Observers, Ivonne Torres and Donato Rendon, have spoken out about the devastating environmental impact of this fleet. They are also afraid that it will deplete the fish population, which represents the livelihoods of the many small-scale fishermen based on the archipelago. 

We investigated this rampant overfishing in our latest episode Observers Direct. Below, you can watch the first part of our investigation: 

Screenshot from our report
Screenshot from our report © France 24


We used the website Global Fishing Watch, which has an interactive map where you can follow the movements of fishing vessels. According to Global Fishing Watch CEO Tony Long, there have been 350 vessels carrying out a large-scale fishing operation in the area since this summer. Their primary target is squid.  

We also confirmed that the haul of this fleet is routinely transported to an industrial complex specialized in processing squid at a Chinese port. 

You can watch our full investigation, below: