A GROUP of Chinese fishermen have been jailed and fined a whopping $7.5 million just weeks after shocking photos emerged of their ship's hull filled with endangered sharks.
Twenty Chinese fisherman were sentenced to between three and four years jail time in Ecuador after authorities found 272 tonnes of frozen marine animals apparently from the Galapagos Marine Reserve, including protected sharks. The reserve lies about 960 kilometres west of the coast of Ecuador and the UNESCO World Heritage Site is said to have the highest abundance of sharks known in the world.
Among the illegal cargo discovered on the Chinese ship were Hammerheads and threatened Silky Sharks, as well as a number of young and baby sharks.
Judge Alexandra Arroyo announced this week that the captain of the Fu Yuab Yu Leng 999 will serve four years in jail. Meanwhile three assistants will each serve three years in jail while another 16 crew members received one-year sentences.
On August 13 marine ecologist Pelayo Salinas was on his way back from a 12-day research mission on a Galapagos National Park patrol ship when the captain spotted a nearby vessel on the ship's radar, National Geographic reported.
Because access to the reserve is restricted the crew radioed the vessel but received no response. They tried once more, but again got silence.
So Mr Salinas and an Ecuadorean Navy officer who was on board jumped in a 13-foot inflatable boat and gave pursuit.
Fishing in the reserve is illegal and they suspected the ship of carrying illegal Chinese fisherman who were in the waters to supply the country's demand for black market items like shark fin soup.
However the inflatable dingy proved insufficient to catch the boat and soon a navy helicopter and coast guard boat were dispatched, along with Galapagos National Park rangers. Once they were on board the Chinese vessel, what they saw astounded them.
"There were thousands, if not tens of thousands, of sharks," Mr Salinas recalled. "This is going to be historic. The biggest seizure of sharks in the history of the Galapagos, for sure."
DARK TRADE OF SHARK FIN SOUP
Demand in Asia for foods like shark fin soup is fuelling the murky world of maritime poaching and illegal fishing.
Shark fin soup is made up of tasteless strips of cartilage or noodles from the fins and is thought by some to provide benefits such as increased virility and longer life.
Despite increased efforts from international authorities to dispel the myth and clamp down on the trade of shark fins which has dampened sales in recent years, demand for such items still threatens a number of species world wide, conservationists say.
In fact, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has previously asserted that about a third of open ocean sharks are threatened with extinction.
In 2015 a Queensland recreational fisherman was fined $7750 after being caught with more than 3200 shark fins suspected of being destined for the black market, raising questions over Australia's involvement in the trade.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.