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Trip to mile 201, epicenter of lawless squid fishing in the South Atlantic


The activity of hundreds of foreign vessels at the limit of the Argentine sea puts the naval authorities on alert

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Two hours after leaving the coast of Buenos Aires, the plane begins to descend in the middle of the sea.

It is a black night in the South Atlantic, but a city begins to light up in the windows: one light here, another further on, and as some clouds pass, hundreds expand.

“Could it be that we went back to the coast?” asks a woman who stretches out in the last rows.

"It must be Comodoro Rivadavia," her partner tells her, but the nearest city is about 370 kilometers away.

They are ships.

Hundreds of fishing boats that stand guard in the middle of this nothingness that is the limit of the Argentine sea and international waters.

This area of ​​the ocean off Patagonia, where the warm current from Brazil and the cold current from the Malvinas Islands collide, is fertile for squid, which feeds a diverse ecosystem and attracts boats from several countries that take advantage of the lack of international regulations.

Mile 200, as this jurisdictional limit between Argentine territorial waters and the sea that expands to Africa or Antarctica is called, has become the epicenter of fishing boats in the last 20 years.

While Argentine vessels leave for the area in January, to respect the cycles of the ecosystem, hundreds of ships of other flags migrate from the Indian Ocean and the Pacific starting in November.

The ships mostly have the flags of China, Taiwan, South Korea and Spain.

Standing on the jurisdictional limit of the Argentine sea allows them to be close enough to attract the squid with their lights, but outside the area where they would have to pay a fee to Buenos Aires.

View of the fishing boats in the limits of the exclusive economic zone of Argentina from the airplane cabin.Valentina Fusco

The swarm of fishing boats in the South Atlantic has become one of the obsessions of the Argentine philanthropist Enrique Piñeyro.

Last Sunday, this 66-year-old millionaire, who in addition to being a pilot is a film director, gastronomic entrepreneur and doctor, summoned journalists and diplomats to fly over the area in his plane.

“International waters are today a kind of carpet where almost everything is swept: from slave labor to whatever comes to mind,” he denounced from the Boeing 787 he owns, in which in recent years he has also distributed aid in India during the pandemic. and evacuated hundreds of Ukrainian war refugees from Poland.

Piñeyro is convinced that lawless fishing flourishes in this strip of the Atlantic.

After five hours of round-trip flight to the limit of Argentine territorial waters, his thesis seems irrefutable: the plane goes down to the limit to approach the swarm and flies over it for half an hour.

The border between the Argentine exclusive economic zone and international waters is impossible to detect from the sky.

For Piñeyro, the vessels that violate the limit turn off their geolocation, the Automatic Identification System (AIS), so as not to be detected.

“It is the area with the highest AIS shutdown in the world,” he says.

Once on the ground, he reveals a piece of information: on a previous flight, in April 2021, he managed to locate 500 vessels, and only 170 had AIS on.

permanent control

The 2021 season marked a high point for fishing in this area.

Piñeyro's previous flight coincided with the last time Argentina detected illegal entry into its exclusive economic zone.

In January 2022, the Navy, the Air Force and the Army formed the Joint Maritime Command (CCM), which since then has permanently monitored the area with satellites and with a physical presence on the spot.

The CCM agreed with the Argentine Naval Prefecture, which depends on the Ministry of Security, to alternate surveillance every 15 days.

Rear Admiral Norberto Pablo Varela, in charge of the joint CCM, denies that the boats that flood the screens of the operations room are fishing illegally.

“That imaginary line,” he says as he shows the red line at mile 200, “marks the end of our mission as representatives of the Argentine State.

If they are two meters outside, they are not committing a crime, ”he explains.

At the control center, a dozen officers monitor fishing activity in the area by checking reports on the ground, satellite images and AIS geolocators.

The swarm of lights seen from the plane is an agglomeration of red triangles on the screen.

The system shows that the few that are on this side of mile 200 have an Argentine flag or have paid for water use rights.

Rear Admiral Varela affirms that the crossing of data makes it possible to locate the fishing vessels that turn off their automatic identification systems.

“More than 90% have it on, but just because they turn it off doesn't mean we don't know where they are,” he says.

Rear Admiral Varela illustrates the situation on a map, from the headquarters of the Joint Maritime Command, in Buenos Aires.Valentina Fusco

Fishing vessels are not required to turn on their location so as not to alert the competition about their strategy at sea.

"Before, they probably risked turning it off and crossing the line, because the chances of detecting them were lower," says Varela.

"Now it's easier to find them and they risk big fines."

Milko Schvartzman, a marine conservation specialist who has investigated illegal fishing in the area for the past 20 years, says that this effort by the Argentine naval authorities should be recognized, although it is of little use if it is not accompanied by diplomatic support.

“The Armed Forces do what they can with the resources they have, but that is not enough,” says this expert, who worked for 18 years with Greenpeace and now works with the NGO Círculo de Políticas Ambientales.

"Argentina's diplomatic muscle has atrophied on this issue, and it has never protested due to the countless cases detected since the first vessel was stopped in 2001."

The geolocations of the fishing vessels show them just outside the exclusive economic zone.Valentina Fusco

Argentina has concentrated its claims on the so-called Malvinas fishing ground, an area it claims as its own and where the United Kingdom distributes fishing permits.

"For us, this case is the only one of illegal fishing that occurs in the South Atlantic," says Rear Admiral Varela.

For Schvartzman, the foreign fleet benefits from what he calls three types of subsidies: economic support from the countries from which they arrive, the lack of labor regulations on board, and the lack of need to respond to any regulation in international waters. .

“This is not illegal fishing, it is unregulated, unregulated and unreported fishing,” he says.

“But the environmental and economic impact is the same, whether they are at mile 199 or 201. Animals are unaware of those limits, and squid, hake, dolphin, sharks or sea lions that are caught without regulation suffer that environmental catastrophe regardless of whether we call it illegal or unregulated”.

Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-03-27

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