Argentina caught a Chinese ship trying to steal 180 tonnes of its squid

Is China supplying its demand for squid by stealing from Argentina?
Is China supplying its demand for squid by stealing from Argentina?
Image: Reuters/Andy Gao
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An unlicensed Chinese jigger hoarding some 180 tonnes (200 tons) of fresh squid was caught fishing off of Argentina’s coast late on Tuesday (June 17). The country’s coast guard has since boarded and seized the ship, which is being escorted to the Patagonia port on Argentina’s southeastern coast. But the incident was hardly the first.

Argentina is having a hard time keeping foreign fishermen from illegally plundering its waters for cephalopods. Squid are an essential part of the South Atlantic food chain—they provide food for whales, predator fish, penguins, and other carnivores—and help sustain the country’s growing fishing industry. But squid are also coveted as a luxury in China. Bad news considering that China is one of the planet’s most flagrant overfishers.

Image for article titled Argentina caught a Chinese ship trying to steal 180 tonnes of its squid

Which is why Chinese boats make the trek across thousands of miles of ocean to fish in Argentine waters. The problem has gotten so big that satellite images taken of the earth at night by NASA last year (and shown above) show darkness in seas worldwide save for a cluster of lights off Argentina’s southeastern coast. Late last year, the Argentinian coast guard commandeered two Chinese vessels for illegally poaching 10 tons of squid from off its South Atlantic coast, and some 300,000 tons of illegally fished squid are believed to be pulled out of its waters each year.

Much of the sought-after-squid roam across the maritime boundary between Argentina and the Falkland Islands, but a lack of cooperation between the two has made it all the more difficult to deal with illegal fleets both outside of and within their maritime boundaries. Hundreds of boats lurk near Argentina’s economic exclusion zone, but, unlike the Falkland Islands, Argentina doesn’t have British warships and submarines to keep unlicensed fishers honest. Instead, it has to rely on its depleted coast guard, which consists of a mere eight ships meant to oversee more than a million square miles of ocean.

The results have been ugly.

In the wake of yesterday’s seizure, the head of the Argentine coast guard, Jorge Alberto Castello, told South Atlantic news agency MercoPress that they ” have contacted the Chinese consulate” to figure out what comes next. China will likely patch things up by issuing a fine commensurate with the volume of confiscated squid, but that’s unlikely to keep away the scores of boats still out stealing Argentina’s seafood.