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Commentary by Perkunas campaign leader, Reinhard Grabler

Pressures on Baltic Harbor Porpoises

With only 500 animals left, the Baltic harbor porpoises have been declared critically endangered. Being killed as bycatch in fishing nets is the major threat for the animals, yet fishing is still permitted, even in Marine Protected Areas. In Sea Shepherd’s Perkunas campaign, the crew of the M/V Emanuel Bronner documented and monitored deadly gillnets in protected areas of the Baltic Sea. But accidental death in fishing nets is not the only human-caused threat for these animals. Eutrophication, underwater noise, marine debris, overfishing, and bottom trawling are also damaging the Baltic Sea ecosystem, affecting both harbor porpoises and the local populations that depend on it.

 Giant liquid manure lagoons from a German pig farm around 3km away from the Baltic coast. Giant liquid manure lagoons from a German pig farm around 3km away from the Baltic coast.

Eutrophication
Surrounded by nine northern European countries, the Baltic Sea is a brackish inland sea, vulnerable to a process called eutrophication. Excessive input of nutrients, primarily caused by industrial agriculture runoff, leads to a growth of algae that causes reduced light conditions in the water, as well as oxygen depletion. As a result, 97% of the Baltic Sea is considered eutrophied, causing some of the largest low-oxygen areas on Earth, so-called “Dead Zones”, where no life is possible. This ultimately affects not only the Baltic harbor porpoises, but the fishing industry as well.

Underwater Noise
Underwater noise is a particularly dangerous threat for cetaceans. Harbor porpoises have excellent underwater hearing abilities and depend on sound for their orientation, communication and foraging. The deadly effects of underwater noise pollution on marine wildlife include mass strandings and disrupted feeding. Sources of continuous noise are offshore wind turbines, shipping, boating, bridges, and tunnels. The planned Fehmarnbelt Tunnel seems absurd: the underwater tunnel planned to connect Denmark and the German island of Fehmarn will go directly through the Fehmarnbelt Marine Protected Area, an important migration area for harbor porpoises. The beneficiaries of this project are unclear, but the losers are certain: the wildlife of the Baltic Sea that will suffer from the destroyed seabed, the continuous noise, and the vibrations. Additionally, sudden bursts of noise, such as military testing, are of particular danger for the animals. If there was the political will, this additional noise could be reduced or even prevented by tactics such as air bubble curtains, yet they are barely used. The best option would be to prevent noise altogether, such as the demolition of the retired Karlsruhe frigate in the Schönhagen military area off the German Baltic coast planned for this fall. A shockwave from such an underwater detonation can lead to loss of hearing, serious injuries or even the death of porpoises up to seven kilometers away. Moreover, there is no need to dump more ammunition to the Baltic Sea, while ammunition from World War II is still causing water pollution due to corroded containers that release mercury into the marine environment.

Marine Debris
Marine litter in different sizes and materials causes damage to the ecosystem. Some of it can be easily seen, some of it is hiding on the seafloor, slowly degrading, increasing its impact by entering the aquatic food chain. Larger pieces of marine debris deteriorate the quality of the habitat and can cause injury or death of many species when they get entangled or ingest the debris. Around 70% of the litter documented in the Baltic Sea comes from plastics used by humans. Plastic materials can last for decades on the sea floor, and can travel long distance on the water currents or in the bodies of migratory species. Abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear, so-called ghost nets, are worthy of special concern as they are not only made of plastic, but they continue catching non-targeted or even protected species for hundreds of years.

 The injuries around this harbor porpoise’s mouth may have been caused by a gillnet during the animal's fight for survival.

Overfishing and Bottom Trawling
Excessive fishing is a major problem in the Baltic Sea. More and more fish stocks are considered overfished, which means targeted species can’t naturally reproduce fast enough to replace the numbers caught. What seems like a profitable practice actually reduces fisheries profits and threatens the existence of other marine species that depend on fish for food. To avoid the collapse of fish stocks, quotas for catch are decided every year by the European Union. Unfortunately these quotas do not always take into account the advice of scientists, leading to numbers that are not sustainable. Also, history has shown that fishermen do not change their practices if there are not sufficient controls, leading to an unknown number of illegally caught fish. A decline of fish stocks ultimately means a decline in food sources for harbor porpoises. In addition to all this, the common practice of bottom trawling is destroying the sea floor, which is important for the spawning of many species.

A Call for Action
Disturbances of the marine ecosystem are not only a threat for wildlife, they are also a threat for humans. Not only do millions of people rely on the Baltic Sea as a food source, but a healthy ecosystem is the basis for life in this region. It’s not one person or activity that has serious impact on the environment, but the multiplication of these activities several million times. There are issues that can only be addressed in small steps, and there are issues that can be tackled right now. The two top priorities for the protection of the harbor porpoises in the Baltic Sea are to stop the risk of being killed as bycatch and to reduce noise pollution. Both can be done easily, if there is the political will. Sea Shepherd therefore demands a ban of gillnets and other destructive fishing gear in protected areas and calls for the stop of the Fehmarnbelt Tunnel project and the demolition of the retired Karlsruhe frigate.

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson

On Thursday 21st June Iceland killed their first endangered Fin whale since 2015 and Sea Shepherd crew were in place to document the whaling ship 'Hvalur 8' dragging it back to be butchered just before midnight and through the early hours of Friday 22nd June.

First fin whale at whaling stationFirst fin whale at whaling station

Way back in 1986, Sea Shepherd sank half the Icelandic whaling fleet and shut down their illegal whaling operations for 17 years.

So why don’t we do it again?

Iceland is illegally killing endangered Fin whales and they are the only nation on the planet doing so.

The two ships we sank never went whaling again and now sit on the beach rusting away. But the other two ships remain, and it would be a simple matter to scuttle them. Or it would be simple to mount a high seas blockade of their two ships with our boats.

We could do it and we would dearly love to do so. But we can’t.

Not because it’s not tactically possible.

No, the problem is that it does not work strategically.

If we wanted to generate a ton of publicity and solicit donations for an Icelandic Whale Wars, I am confident we could raise the support.

Unfortunately, there is one very important consideration that prevents us from doing so.

It’s because that is exactly what Kristjàn Loftsson, the owner of this horrific industry wants us to do.

Since our action in 1986, opposition to whaling in Iceland has increased from a mere 2% to 34% and 31% that hold no opinion. Only 34% support whaling down from 98%, 32 years ago.

This 34% who support whaling tend to be older poorly educated Icelandic men. As they die off the pro-killing numbers are shrinking.

As recently as 2013, an Icelandic poll stated that 60% of Icelanders support whaling. From 60% down to 34% in just five years shows incredible progress and corresponds to a diminishing older population.

A Sea Shepherd action at this point would be cause for Icelandic support for whaling to increase due to the nationalistic fervor such an action would initiate.

Back in 1986 with practically a 100% pro-whaling population (98%) in Iceland the whales had nothing to lose and everything to gain with a straight out physical attack on the ships and the whaling station.

Illegal commercial whaling was shut down for 17 years and thousands of whale lives were saved.

Not a single person was injured but two whaling ships were permanently removed from action and the whaling station was heavily damaged.

This summer Iceland has a Fin whale quota of 161 Fin whales plus the Icelandic government will allow the killing of 30 more carried over from the unused 2017 quota. They also have a quota of 209 Minke whales but have only managed to kill 63 over the last two years. Our sinking of half their fleet in 1986 has slowed down their operations considerably.

There simply is not enough profit in whaling anymore to justify the replacement of the two Loftsson’s ships we destroyed in 1986.

These kills today are illegal and violate the International moratorium on commercial whaling established by the International Whaling Commission.

Butchering the first fin whale 22 June 2018 at 1amButchering the first fin whale 22 June 2018 at 1am

Iceland is actually a more notorious whaling nation than Japan and Norway because only Iceland targets endangered Fin whales. Sea Shepherd and the International Court of Justice put an end to Fin whaling by Japan.

The United States, Australia, Europe and other members of the IWC could invoke sanctions in accordance with international law but have all refused to do so.

The slaughter continues because of demand by 19% of Icelanders and 12% of tourists and the number of tourists each year nearly outnumber the number of Icelanders, so tourism is a driving force keeping this atrocity going.

Americans and Europeans eat whale meat in Iceland primarily because it is forbidden where they live. If tourists stop demanding whale eating thrill meals, the number of whale kills would decline. Twelve percent of 300,000 tourists each year represent 36,000 whale eating individuals indulging in this disgusting cuisine porn.

Kristjàn Loftsson is the sole reason this barbaric industry continues. This one man has been responsible for the killing of over 35,000 whales. The good news is that he will be dead in a few years and hopefully commercial whaling will die with him.

Unless the Icelanders find reason to become enthusiastic about whaling and the only reason they would do so is if an outside group physically and dramatically intervened as we did before in 1986.

With commercial whaling dying and with whale watching in Iceland being a growing industry the writing is on the wall and although I would desire nothing more than to send the remaining two whalers to the bottom, such an action would not be productive for our clients.

Yes, there are many people who want us to intervene and have told me they want to donate to any intervention campaign. However, I have to put the long-term interests of our clients first, and our clients are the whales.

We have not abandoned them. Our crews are in Iceland and they are watching and documenting. The illegal actions of Iceland do not go unnoticed and we continue to try to convince member nations of the IWC to invoke economic sanctions. Unfortunately, we live in a world that lacks economic and political motivation to enforce international conservation law.

Personally, I can attest that it is very difficult for us to not intervene. I passionately want to destroy these killing ships and so do my fellow Sea Shepherds. But we must operate within the boundaries of the bigger picture.

In 1986 our courageous crew did the right thing with positive results. Since 1986, the social environment has changed. In 1986 whale killer Kristjàn Loftsson was 43...now he is 75. In 1986, this Icelandic Ahab had 98% support of the Icelandic people. Now that support is down to 34%.

Our ally now is simply time. When Loftsson dies, so does Icelandic whaling. Loftsson has sons but it is highly unlikely they will invest in new ships and equipment.

Icelandic whaling is dying and hopefully it won’t be long.

Iceland is an extraordinarily beautiful country with progressive peoples and exemplary social programs. They have only one blatantly disturbing black mark on their entire nation and that is the criminal whaling operations that Kristjàn Loftsson smears across the face of their national identity.

Sea Shepherd is calling on the Starbuck’s Corporation to sever ties with Hong Kong shark fin trade

“The shark fin industry is not limited to just the shark fin traders, but spans from the fisherman who killed the shark all the way to the restaurants that serve shark’s fin soup. By licensing Starbuck’s brand to Maxim’s Caterers Limited who openly sell shark’s fin on their menus, Starbucks has partnered with the shark fin trade itself,” says Gary Stokes, Asia Director for Sea Shepherd Global.

Starbucks was licensed to the Maxim’s Caterers Limited of Hong Kong in 2000. Maxim’s is one of the largest catering companies in the region, operating over 980 outlets in Hong Kong, Macau, China, Vietnam and Cambodia. Their outlets range from western concepts, Japanese sushi bars, bakeries, fast food takeaways, canteens and a wide variety of Chinese restaurant concepts. More than 50 of Maxim’s Chinese restaurants serve Shark’s Fin Soup openly on their menus.

“Surely the partner companies that operate Starbuck’s under license must echo the Mission Statement of Starbucks?” asks Stokes.

Environmental Mission Statement
Starbucks is committed to a role of environmental leadership in all facets of our business. We fulfil this mission by a commitment to:

  • Understanding of environmental issues and sharing information with our partners.
  • Developing innovative and flexible solutions to bring about change.
  • Striving to buy, sell and use environmentally friendly products.
  • Recognizing that financial responsibility is essential to our environmental future.
  • Instilling environmental responsibility as a corporate value.
  • Measuring and monitoring our progress for each project.
  • Encouraging all partners to share in our mission.

                                                                                               Source - Starbucks Corporate Website

 Maxim's Shark Fin Menu at Symphony By Jade Maxim's Shark Fin Menu at Symphony By Jade

“None of the above points in the mission statement are in line with or justify selling shark fin soup. With between 100-200 million sharks being killed annually, no business can claim that they are environmentally friendly or responsible when they sell sharks fin soup. This is no longer a cultural matter, but an ecological one! Sea Shepherd is calling on the Starbuck’s Corporation to do more than just encourage its partners at Maxim’s Caterers Limited to share in its Mission Statement. Partnering with the shark fin trade should never be an option for any self-respecting company. It is not in line with any of Starbuck’s core beliefs and we’re sure it’s not in line with their clientele’s wishes worldwide.”

“Starbucks needs to demand that Maxim’s Caterers Limited drop shark fin from their menu’s across their group or cancel their license to operate Starbucks in Asia. Tarnishing the brand of Starbucks should not be an option, and Starbucks customers deserve to be informed if the mission statement has changed,” concludes Stokes.

SIGN THE PETITION HERE

Shark Fin Menu Hoi Yat Heen, Whampoa.Shark Fin Menu Hoi Yat Heen, Whampoa.

"Premium" Shark Fin Menu at Maxim's Palace

Maxim's Shark Fin Menu, Chiuchow GardenMaxim's Shark Fin Menu, Chiuchow Garden

 

Commentary by Perkunas Campaign Leader Reinhard Grabler

Governments Allow Exemptions for Killing of Protected Species in the Baltic Sea

In early June five gray seals were found dead in the Gulf of Gdansk, Poland. All of them had suffered several massive injuries, without a doubt caused by intentional human impact.

 Gray seal pups in the marine station of the Polish town Hel. Photo by Sea Shepherd. Gray seal pups in the marine station of the Polish town Hel. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

While the crew of the M/V Emanuel Bronner was patrolling these areas as part of the Perkunas Campaign to document and monitor gillnets which are threatening the critically endangered Baltic harbor porpoises, we learned about another protected species in danger: the gray seals. They fall under the scope of the EU Habitats Directive, just like the harbor porpoises, and often end up as bycatch entangled in the deadly gillnets or suffer injuries from other fishing gear. Additionally, recent cases show intentional illegal killings of gray seals in Poland and Germany.

The little town Hel in Poland is a popular tourist destination. It is not only the beauty of the cozy old town that attracts thousands of tourists to spend their vacation there; Hel also hosts a marine station where visitors can observe one of the natural inhabitants of the Baltic Sea: seals. The station was founded with the aim of recovering the population of seal species in their former natural habitat, the Gulf of Gdansk. Unfortunately, despite all their efforts, there has always been the resistance of local fishermen slowing the growth of the seal population.

 The seal in the front left has marks of a net around his neck. Photo by Sea Shepherd. The seal in the front left has marks of a net around his neck. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

Fishermen blame the seals for the decline of their catch and therefore the loss of their profits, as well as for destroying their fishing gear. They claim that the seals have become lazy over the years and instead of hunting in open waters, they learned how to feast on fish caught in set-nets, such as gillnets, without getting entangled. In fact, there are numerous reports of fish found in nets that have without a doubt been “damaged” by seals. But the reason is simple: the nets are set in areas with a high density of fish. It is the natural instinct of the seal to hunt where there are fish, leading to a competition between fishermen and the natural predators in these areas. The reactions on the sides of the fishermen vary. Some say they would never hurt an animal despite their anger; others are expressing their wish for the permission of legal seal hunts, following the example of Sweden and Denmark. The governments of these countries made exemptions to valid conservation laws which protect the seals from being intentionally killed. Due to the pressure of the fishing industry, they were permitted to shoot 40 gray seals on the Danish island Bornholm in 2016. Since 2001 Sweden allows the killing of 400 seals each year, and local fishermen now call for a ridiculously high annual quota of 15,000 seals.

Unfortunately, some fishermen go as far as to kill the otherwise protected seals, although no special exemptions exist. The recent cases in Poland show that the war between the fishermen and seals has had its first victims. For Poland’s largest seal colony, which counts only 300 animals, every loss has serious impact. Further west, on the German island Rügen, 23 gray seals were found dead in late 2017. None of them showed signs of external injuries. Experts determined drowning as the most possible cause of death. It is very uncommon that gray seals drown without intervention from humans. Whether the colony, which only counts around 100 individuals, can recover from the loss of a quarter of its size is uncertain.

Seals fall under special protection by European law, where any exemptions are unacceptable. In the beginning of the 20th century, around 100,000 gray seals populated the Baltic Sea. Legal hunts and other human activities brought them to the brink of extinction once already. The EU law was drafted to prevent this from happening again, and the population slowly gained a size of around 40,000. The fishing industry is in fact not profitable anymore, but the seals are not the ones to blame. Eutrophication and excessive fishing has caused the dramatic decline of fish stocks, and with the return of the seals it now also has to be shared.

We are calling for more controls and protection measures, as well as for in-depth investigations on the deaths of seals and to bring their offenders to justice. Animals under the status of special protection may not be killed or disturbed in any way. The gray seals are just claiming back their habitat, and they are only at a fraction of their historical population size.

 

 

Commentary by Captain Adam Meyerson of Sea Shepherd’s M/Y Ocean Warrior.

Organized Crime on the High Seas

Like any business, crime is a diversified enterprise: a little hijacking, a little loan sharking, a little prostitution. The people in charge – the ones who are making all the money – are never at the scene of the crime, preferring instead to hide behind legitimate businesses while putting distance between themselves and the criminal activity. Organized crime on the high seas is no different.

From the largest purse seiner to the smallest dhow, the owner of the vessel is rarely on board. They prefer to hide their identity through shell companies or at least not run the risk of actually being caught on the boat during illegal activities. It has been shown that the same vessels and owners who participate in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing also smuggle drugs, traffic in humans, and pollute the seas.

To take down a criminal enterprise, you need to be able to confront whatever illegal activity you can find whenever you can find it. Remember that Al Capone was not arrested for murder; he finally ended up in jail for tax evasion.  This idea is what is behind Tanzania’s Multi-Agency Task Team or MATT. The MATT is made up of law enforcement personnel from drug enforcement, immigration, customs and fisheries. This law enforcement team along with five Special Forces Marines has been working on Operation Jodari with Sea Shepherd in Tanzania to prove the concept of one patrol vessel doing the work of separate border, drugs, maritime safety and fisheries patrol vessels. The campaign has been very successful with over 20 arrests, millions of dollars in fines and the seizure of several vessels, and the complete shut down of illegal industrial-scale fishing in Tanzania’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The ability to arrest vessels for any crime has given Operation Jodari complete operational flexibility. It is not immediately obvious what an overloaded ferry with no safety equipment on board carrying children far offshore has to do with environmental crimes. Having MATT on board means that we can remove the passengers from a very unsafe position, arrest the captain and seize the ferryboat without having to make a link to a fisheries crime. What you come to realize when you are able to do this is the vessel that is a ferry boat this week is filled with mangrove timber next week, illegal fish the week after that, ivory next month and so on. These boats move whatever makes them money. It does not matter if they endanger children or destroy forests or bring heroin into the country, it only matters if they can profit from it. Seizing the vessels and their illegal cargo hits the hidden owners where it hurts; in their bank accounts.

By bringing law enforcement to the seas off Tanzania, we have eliminated much of the IUU fishing, mangrove and seafood smuggling, and perhaps saved a few lives by removing passengers from overloaded and unsafe ferry boats. Just our presence in the EEZ has caused an entire fleet of foreign industrial fishing vessels to cease operations in order to avoid inspection and possible arrest. Each and every boat that we arrest is one less boat in the smuggling fleet, and each captain and owner brought to justice is one less player in this money-before-everything game.

This is new territory for Sea Shepherd, and the crew and I learn new things every day. It is new for the Special Forces marines and new for the law enforcement as well to work with a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in this way. It’s been a special treat to watch all of us – with such varied backgrounds – come together as a team to fight crime in the Tanzanian waters. We could not do what we do without the support of our donors, our supporters all around the world, and our partners: Fish-i Africa and the United Republic of Tanzania. Rest assured that all of us on Operation Jodari are working hard - the MATT, the Special Forces and the Sea Shepherd crew - to stop crime and to take down the criminal apparatus that allows IUU fishing to continue.

 

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Sea Shepherd Commentary & Editorial articles from 2012 and earlier.

For articles from 2013 and newer, visit our Sea Shepherd Commentary & Editorials page.

 
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