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The Problem of Illegal Fishing in Argentina

Argentina is one of the southernmost countries in the world. It boasts a vast territory and is surrounded by extensive bodies of water. Along its coast lies the Argentine Sea, spanning a length of 4,725 kilometers, and the country holds sovereignty and jurisdiction over the 12 miles extending from its coastline into the sea. Furthermore, Argentina has a 200-mile exclusive economic zone, giving the nation authority to regulate fishing within this zone to prevent resource overexploitation and ensure preservation. The issue at hand is that, in recent years, numerous foreign vessels have engaged in illegal fishing within these boundaries, causing harm to Argentine resources and negatively impacting marine biodiversity. Inefficient control mechanisms may have contributed to this problem. Additionally, the existing regulations may need updates to encompass all potential scenarios. This article will delve into this issue, examining the responses of Argentine authorities and analyzing local and international regulations pertaining to this field. The objective is to assess whether these regulations are sufficient and effectively applied to address the problem at hand.

As one of the world's largest countries, Argentina boasts a wide array of natural resources, making it a highly sought-after nation in this regard. When the focus is shifted to the Argentine Sea, Argentina emerges as one of the top countries for the exploitation of marine and natural resources. The following paragraphs will delve into some of the key Argentine fishing regulations, analyzing how this regulatory framework may prove insufficient in addressing the current issue of overfishing by foreign nations. Starting with Law 24.922, enacted in 1997, it will explore and scrutinize certain articles that directly pertain to the problem at hand.

In this picture it can be seen a typical picture of overfishing and how this is impacting marina life
Figure 1: A shocking example of overfishing (Ruta Pesquera & Naval, 2022).

Law 24.922

The very first article of this legislation aims to promote the development of fishing activities in the Argentine Sea while concurrently recognizing the importance of preserving marine resources. This article assumes particular significance in the context of overfishing, as the sustainability of fishing activity is evidently not being upheld within the marine territory falling under the jurisdiction of the Argentine Sea. Numerous foreign countries are exploiting Argentina's abundant natural resources, and they make daily attempts to do so. The most common scenario involves ships engaging in nighttime fishing within Argentina's Exclusive Economic Zone. This issue will be further explored in the following article.

Another highly significant article within this law (Law 24.922, Article 3, 1997) that warrants mention is the explicit declaration that "up to twelve (12) nautical miles measured from the baselines [...] are the domain of the provinces with a maritime coastline and shall exercise this jurisdiction for the purposes of their exploration, exploitation, conservation, and administration".

Fishing vessels routinely disregard these limits, and practically measuring adherence to these boundaries is a considerable challenge. While the various regulations clearly delineate the rights and measures each country has established, applying these regulations becomes difficult.

A member of a non governmental organisation manifesting regards this problematic
Figure 2: A Greenpeace protestor raising a petition in favor of the protection of the Argentinean sea (BAE Negocios, 2021).

Law 24.922, Article 22, 1997 stipulates that the Argentine Control Authority shall establish and maintain a system to oversee fishing in the adjacent zones to the Argentine Exclusive Economic Zone, with the aim of safeguarding natural resources that, through their migration during certain seasons, also form part of the Argentine Exclusive Economic Zone. This article highlights that, in certain respects, the demarcation of the Zone may not be entirely precise, as certain controls can extend beyond the 200-mile radius of the designated area.

A clear example of this is the case of Chinese vessels engaged in overfishing within Argentinian boundaries. The challenge lies not only in the difficulty of precisely measuring the 200-mile limit but also in enforcing regulations, as foreign vessels violate these norms by overfishing valuable species like squid that migrate within Argentina's sovereignty limits. Article 22 of Law 24.922 addresses this issue explicitly, stating that all public authorities are responsible for "establishing and maintaining a system for regulating fishing in the area adjacent to the Argentine Exclusive Economic Zone, concerning migratory resources or resources belonging to the same stock or stocks of species associated with those of the Argentine Exclusive Economic Zone."

The key point here is that the established limit is indeed a guideline, more of an estimation, as it also encompasses all adjacent resources. Therefore, foreign fishing activities within the 201-mile Zone should not be permitted.

A demonstration of the overfishing and how this affects the marine biodiversity
Figure 3: A graphic picture of the overfishing (Pescare, 2021).
In the case of foreign vessels, the Enforcement Authority may also order the detention of the vessel in an Argentine port until the payment of the fine imposed or the posting of a bond or other satisfactory guarantee, as the case may be, has been made after the respective summary proceedings have been conducted.

Law 24.922, Article 54, 1997 outlines one of the measures that Argentine authorities can take in response to non-compliance by foreign vessels. However, this measure, while available to local authorities, may not be entirely effective, particularly when foreign vessels are operating at a considerable distance from the country's coast, making it challenging and impractical to apply.

The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries

It was published by the United Nations Organization in 1995, with the aim of establishing guidelines for responsible conduct in the field of fisheries. While it is a voluntary document and not legally binding for countries, it incorporates many international regulations and is, therefore, considered somewhat obligatory in practice.

An example of a ship with great capacty for fishing
Figure 4: A large fishing vessel (IP, 2020).

The first article of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries clarifies that the Code itself is a voluntary document. However, it is important to note that certain parts of the Code are grounded in relevant rules of international law, including those outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of December 10, 1982. Moreover, the Code incorporates provisions that may already have binding force through other mandatory legal instruments among the Parties, such as the Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas, 1993. According to FAO Conference resolution 15/93, paragraph 3, this agreement forms an integral part of the Code. In essence, while the Code is voluntary in nature, it draws from international regulations that are binding for the parties. Therefore, despite not being mandatory in itself, the Code holds significance for signatory countries and should be taken into consideration as a valuable tool to address breaches and challenges in the Argentine zone. In addition to local regulations, this international rule serves as a complementary framework to address these issues.

Law 23.968

To sum up the discussion related to legislation governing the law of the sea in Argentina, it is essential to mention Law 23.968, enacted in 1991, specifically Article 5. This article provides a clear delineation of Argentina's territorial dominion over its waters. The primary purpose of this norm is to establish a regulatory framework that serves as a reference for understanding the territorial boundaries for the exploration of marine resources. Argentina's sovereignty extends over the initial 12 nautical miles of the sea from its coastlines. Furthermore, the Exclusive Economic Zone extends up to a length of 200 miles. However, as specified in Law 23.968, this dominion extends beyond the 200-mile limit for species that migrate and are part of the Argentine Exclusive Economic Zone. This extension of dominion is the focal point of the issue at hand. Argentina faces challenges in enforcing its maritime rights, which are comprehensively detailed in the normative framework discussed. Addressing these challenges is crucial for the effective protection and management of the country's marine resources.

 An animated cartoon where is shown how the fishers are using dynamite to fish
Figure 5: A depiction of illegal fishing (Mongabay 2020).

The current issue in Argentina revolves around the extensive fishing activities conducted by foreign vessels within the boundaries of its Exclusive Economic Zone, and in some cases, even breaching those limits. Research indicates that a significant portion of these vessels, roughly 70%, originates from China, and they travel thousands of kilometers to reach Argentine waters in pursuit of squid, a highly abundant species in these regions (Barletti, 2022). Night fishing, a common technique, employs powerful searchlights to attract and catch squid. If these fishing practices remain uncontrolled, they can severely impact various species passing through these areas. An exacerbating factor is that overfishing is occurring within the boundaries of Argentina's Exclusive Zone. As observed in the preceding regulations, Argentina maintains authority over species temporarily migrating into the area. At present, one of the foremost threats depleting the resources within the Zone, posing a significant challenge to Argentinian authorities. Furthermore, the surge in Chinese fishing in these regions is partly due to the depletion of their domestic resources, a problem they have been grappling with for many years. This, in turn, has driven them to seek resources in distant waters, including those under Argentina's jurisdiction.

Argentinian authorities have taken action to address this issue, and in the past few decades, they have successfully apprehended numerous vessels that were in violation of legal limits. However, a complex challenge they face is that many vessels temporarily disable their radar systems, making them harder to locate. This unfavorable context poses multifaceted challenges for the country. Beyond issues related to sovereignty and the environmental impact on species, Argentina also faces economic losses due to this growing foreign threat. The country is losing millions of dollars as a result of these actions, making the situation even more pressing and detrimental to its interests (Infobae, 2022).

 An aircraft flying above the Argentine Sea where can be seen the overfishing during the night
Figure 6: Nocturnal Overfishing in the Argentine Sea (El Cronista, 2022).

The central question here is whether the currently available legislation is sufficient to effectively address this issue. While the Argentinian authorities have taken action and intercepted numerous vessels engaged in illegal fishing activities beyond legal limits and quotas, the sheer number of vessels involved and the limited capacity of the Argentine authorities present significant challenges.

For instance, in 2016, the Argentine fisheries authorities successfully detained the fishing vessel "Hua Li 8" for illegal fishing off their coasts, leading to its detention in Indonesia. This example demonstrates a positive response from Argentine authorities, but it is clear that such isolated victories may not be enough to combat the widespread issue, given the scale of the problem.

The laws discussed above establish various penalties for these situations. Several articles of Law 24.922, enacted in 1997, as examined earlier, impose financial fines for vessels involved in illegal fishing. Another measure outlined is the seizure of the catch from illegal fishing when it occurs in prohibited sectors. The economic damage caused by such illegal practices can amount to millions of dollars, posing a substantial burden on the affected country. The effectiveness of these penalties and measures in deterring illegal fishing remains a subject of ongoing evaluation and debate.


This article has examined both local and international legislation concerning fishing activities. It has delved into pivotal articles addressing many of the challenges that Argentina faces with its fishing industry. These regulations encompass a range of issues, from defining the country's fishing boundaries and exclusive economic rights to the measures that can be taken in the event of non-compliance.

However, it is apparent that the existing legislation and tools have not proven sufficient. This leaves Argentina vulnerable to stronger nations that exploit its resources. Addressing this situation will require updating the regulations and, crucially, seeking greater international cooperation. By doing so, Argentina can work toward reversing the current challenges and fully assert its rights and sovereignty over its valuable marine resources. Argentina is not the only country suffering from this controversial context. Still, it is one of the largest and consequentially one of the most difficult territories to control, since it is difficult to manage. Perhaps a smaller country would have more tools and alternatives to keep its natural resources under control but this is very difficult in the Argentinian case. This is one of the great challenges that the local authorities will need to handle, also considering that in today's world, natural resources will be one of the most wanted values for all economies.

Bibliographical References

Barletti, A. (2022). Cómo combate la Argentina la pesca ilegal. El Cronista.

(1995) Código de Conducta para la pesca Responsable. Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Alimentación y la Agricultura.

Convención de las Naciones Unidas sobre el Derecho del Mar. (1994).

(2022) Depredación en el Mar Argentino: la pesca ilegal genera pérdidas de hasta USD 2.600 millones anuales. Infobae.,de%20la%20industria%20vitivin%C3%ADcola%20argentina.

Oanta, G. (2012). Illegal Fishing as Criminal Act of Sea.

Rébora, M. (2023). Desde el aire: así se ve la "ciudad flotante" por la pesca ilegal en el Mar Argentino. Clarin.

Regimen Federal de Pesca. (1997). Ministerio de Justicia y Derechos Humanos Presidencia de la Nación.

Wirajuda, H. (2020). Approaches to combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Young, M. (2021). A Quiet Revolution: The Exclusivity of Exclusive Economic Zones.

Visual Sources

Cover Image: (2023) Los países deben unirse para poner fin a la pesca ilegal, Pew

Figure 1: (2022) La lucha contra la pesca ilegal gana espacio en las agendas internacionales, Ruta Pesquera y Naval

Figure 2: (2021) Advierten por cientos de pesqueros ilegales en el Mar Argentino, BAE Negocios

Figure 3: (2021) Nuevo régimen de pagos por infracciones a la Ley Federal de Pesca, Pescare

Figure 4: (2020) Argentina actualiza la Ley de Pesca endureciendo las sanciones por pesca ilegal, Industrias Pesqueras

Figure 5: (2020) Pesca ilegal: la gran amenaza a los santuarios marinos de Latinoamérica, Mongabay

Figure 6: (2022) Cómo combate la Argentina la pesca ilegal, El Cronista


Author Photo

Baldomero Villamil

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