In August 2017, the Ecuadorian navy intercepted a Chinese-flagged carrier vessel, the FU YUAN YU LENG 999, in the Galápagos Marine Reserve. The freezers in its hold contained 7,639 sharks and 537 bags of shark fins.
The vessel was not authorized to enter the waters of the Galápagos, where the possession of sharks or their body parts is illegal. DNA samples identified 12 species of shark on board the FU YUAN YU LENG 999. Nine of these were deemed threatened species according to the IUCN Red List, while eight of them were listed under CITES, the international convention that controls international trade in endangered species.
Although the FU YUAN YU LENG 999 was already acting in violation of the law just by entering the Galápagos Marine Reserve with sharks on board, our fisheries analysts gave evidence that it had broken the law in other ways.
We used our vessel tracking data and machine learning to show that, a week earlier, the FU YUAN YU LENG 999 met up with four Chinese tuna longliners in the eastern Pacific, about 1,700 miles from the Galápagos. During each 12-hour encounter, the boats remained close together, slowly moving along at about 30 meters apart. This suggests that the longliners were transferring their catch to the carrier vessel—a process known as transshipment.
The Inter-American-Tropical-Tuna-Commission allows shark fishing in the area where this occurred, but transshipment is tightly regulated—and the FU YUAN YU LENG 999, which had no other prior rendezvous during her voyage, was not on the list of authorized carrier vessels, meaning its cargo was illegal.
With evidence of multiple legal violations, the Ecuador government passed strong sentences. The owner of the FU YUAN YU LENG 999 was fined $5.9 million, while the captain was given a four-year prison sentence.