Frozen Shark Possession Nets Crew Jail Time, Stiff Fine

A judge in Ecuador has jailed 20 Chinese crew members and imposed a $5.9 million fine after their ship, the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, was found with 300 tons of frozen sharks and other marine products deemed to have been harvested illegally from the Galapagos reserve, one of the most heavily protected nature preserves in the world.

The Ecuadorian Navy seized the vessel earlier this month near one of the easternmost Galapagos Islands in the eastern Pacific Ocean, approximately 600 miles west of mainland Ecuador, after finding more than 6,623 sharks – including mako, silky and hammerhead species – during an inspection. Judge Alexandra Arroyo sentenced its captain to four years in jail for the environmental crime of possession and transport of protected species, while three assistants and members of the crew were given lesser sentences ranging from one to three years.

illegal shark 300It is believed that sharks were delivered to the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, which is not a fishing boat, by two Taiwanese vessels, the Hai Fang 301 and Hai Fang 302, between August 5 and 7, while more than a thousand kilometers northwest of the Galapagos. The receiving ship is said registered to a China-based company, Fuzhou Honglong Ocean Fishing.

According to an AP report written by Katarina Zimmer Sarah Blaskey, “The Chinese ship was a carrier vessel, whose job was to collect and deliver to port the illegal catch of other fishing boats. Its capture, likely one of the biggest seizures of illegal sharks in recent years, opens a rare window into the murky world of maritime poaching. And it has triggered an international hunt to piece together the puzzle. Where was it heading? Who was making money off of the smuggling? And, most of all, who were the fishermen and where did they catch the sharks?”

Each of the convicted parties will have to pay separate fines ranging from eight to ten basic salaries. The ruling also included the confiscation of the vessel. It will be auctioned off, with the proceeds benefiting the Galapagos National Park.

Tarsicio Granizo, Ecuador’s Minister of Environment, commented: "This sentence is in line with the policy of zero tolerance for disrespect of our sovereignty and our most elementary principles as a nation, since Ecuador recognizes nature as the subject of rights. This ruling marks a precedent in environmental legal matters, at the country level and in the region. "

"Ecuador has acted in compliance with environmental legislation and presents a global warning of what is happening on a daily basis in our oceans, which requires an immediate response from the United Nations on indiscriminate fishing," added Walter Bustos, director of Galápagos National Park.