The fisheries complexities of the South Atlantic / by Francisco Blaha

While for the last 25 years I have been working mostly in the Pacific, my fisheries story started in the South Atlantic, in the rich (and cold!) waters of the southern part of Argentina and what today is the Falklands/Malvinas area.

 Global Fishing Watch IAS based fishing vessels "density" for the last calendar year. See the "accumulation" along the EEZ border.

 Global Fishing Watch IAS based fishing vessels "density" for the last calendar year. See the "accumulation" along the EEZ border.

These are rich fishing grounds arising from the mixing of 2 different water masses, the North to South flowing warm Brazilian current and the South to North Cold Malvinas/Falkland current. These currents meet over an extensive and shallow plateau (it never gets deeper than 180 m from the Argentinean coast to the eastern edges of the Malvinas-Falkland EEZ, and from there the into the continental talud

Hake, Hoki, Shrimp and Squid are important fisheries in these water, plus toothfish but further south (and deeper). Each of these fisheries has already a complex reality, and deserves its own time... for example: Shrimp alone went from from 30000 to 160000 tons during 2016. (A. Balcarcel, per comm)

Since the early 80's Argentina started providing access to the fishery for permitting paying fleets (mostly Spanish, Russian, Bulgarians, Japanese, Taiwanese, Koreans, Chinese). While the Europeans went for hake, Japanese went for hoki and blue whiting for surimi and as well as squid with the rest of the Asian DWFN).

In 1982 the military government of Argentina entered into war with England for the Malvinas/Falkland that is in what Argentina considers its continental platform (less than 200m depth) and things got more complicated (the fact that I got into fishing because this war is another story!)

In any case, after the war, we had two fisheries regimes over the same stocks (never a good idea!). Initially, there was work done jointly, in 1988 to 1990 I collaborated as a scientist for the Argentinean Fisheries Institute with my colleagues Geoff Tingley (now working in the Pacific with SFP) and Tony Beeching (now working with WCPFC) that at the time were contracted by the Falkland Fisheries Authority. (Obviously working there wasn't pleasant as we all independently finished operating in the Pacific)

In any case wasn't to last, nationalistic politics got involved, and joint work was unilaterally suspended by Argentina since in their view this type of work is a tacit recognition that the Malvinas /Falkland are an independent entity. Something successive Argentinian governments deny, furthermore that are the basis in which any attempt to strengthen an RFMO structure there has never gained traction.

Having been a direct witness and participant of the war and having then lived over half of my life the union jack as part my chosen home flag, I promised myself not the get involved in the politics of those decisions. For me, war is never justified, and not getting on with managing a fishery based on politics around a stupid war is even less comprehensible… but then that is the situation.

Entering Ushuaia in 1990 (i think) on the FV "Oca Balda" with my mate Patricio

Entering Ushuaia in 1990 (i think) on the FV "Oca Balda" with my mate Patricio

And while the fisheries in both EEZ is allegedly regulated and managed (even if the stocks move freely in between EEZs but both parts don't talk) the key problem is what happens outside the EEZ. Particularly with the squid fishery.

Ridiculous amounts of vessels (estimated 600+) fish right on the borders of the EEZ and are well known to get over the line. Most are Chinese, but closely followed by Taiwan and Korea, and then Spain either directly of Falkland flagged, as there is no RFMO strength… is free for all. The image at the begging of the blog entry tell you the story of vessels presence over the last year.

And if anyone what to act ethically, it looses against those who don't (Tragedy of Commons).

Argentina does not have the capacity to controls the hotspots with is coastguard (prefectura) vessels, yet In May last year, in the space of just ten days, two Chinese fishing boats were shot at by Argentine coastguards. One of them went down (Lu Yan Yuan Yu 010) the one that escaped, the Hua Li 8, was recently captured in Indonesian waters under an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol.

While the sinking could be seen as a bit of bravado by the new Argentinean government, incursions into the EEZ are constantly happening. Chinese fishing vessels are engaged in both unregulated and illegal fishing activities for squid in Argentina. For the past five years, 5 Chinese squid jiggers were detained off Argentina while one Chinese squid jigger escaped into Uruguay after illegal fishing during the hot pursuit by Argentina coast guard and was never arrested.

From the logistic perspective, these vessels survive based on transhipments regular visits to the ports of Montevideo and the Falklands/ Malvinas, yet even the shitiest squid jiggers need some routine maintenance, therefore the make the long (yet subsidised) trip back to their home ports every 3 to 5 years.

It now looks like they would not have to this anymore. A big Chinese conglomerate (ShanDong BaoMa) is in negotiations with the government of Uruguay to build a port complex in the country that would include, landing sites, cool stores, processing, shipyards the whole lot, so the vessels can do all there and maximise benefits… and if this is not bad enough. They are (allegedly) working towards having the whole are declared a "free port", hence outside the controls of the Uruguayan Fisheries Authorities.

Now, I have worked with the Uruguayan authority in many occasions, and I consider many of my colleagues there, good friends. I know they are not happy with this. Uruguay is a small country of limited resources, and the vessel operations bring real money, yet the fisheries authorities there have managed to exert a reasonable level of control over the last few years, making arrests and detaining vessels with compliance issues.

Furthermore, they were one of the fist countries to sign the FAO PSMA. Hence they are obliged by their legislation to control the use of their port by foreign vessels. Having them excluded from doing their work, based on the "free port" declaration could be terrible and a dangerous precedent. On the other side, you can see why the trade and diplomatic operators that are trying to foster good relationships with China see a good business opportunity out of a fishery whose collapse may not affect them directly.

I don't know what is going to happen, yet from experience, I know that when fish, geopolitics, money (and China) mix, results are never good and the fish always loose. I hope my friends in Uruguay get a fair chance to do their job and the port (if constructed) is under their control.