A group of 20 Chinese fisherman has been jailed for between one and three years for illegally fishing endangered species of shark in the protected waters off the Galapagos Islands.
“After the enormous indignation we felt, this will definitely compensate for the damage caused because a historic precedent has been set,” Galapagos National Park Director Walter Bustos told AFP.
Their ship, the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, was seized by Ecuadorean authorities earlier in August when they discovered the illegally-obtained cargo of 6,600 sharks, many of which were near-extinct or endangered species reports Reuters.
“China will not side with any form of illegal fishing,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said of the verdict at a news briefing as cited by Xinhua. She added China will also investigate the incident to punish all violations according to international and Chinese law.
The cargo totaled over 3,000 tonnes and included protected species such as the hammerhead and the bigeye thresher sharks, reports AFP.
The men were sentenced Sunday and were also hit with fines totalling $5.9 million. The senior ranking officers were sentenced to three years in prison while the remaining crew each received one year in prison, according to AFP.
The Galapagos islands are located roughly 1,000 km (620 miles) west of Ecuador’s Pacific coast and were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978.
The remains of the sharks will be thrown back into the sea, reports Reuters citing government sources.
Shark fin soup is a delicacy in China which has led to severe over-fishing of the species in Chinese territorial waters in the past few decades. In 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping initiated a crackdown on the practice and banned shark fin soup from being served at official functions.