In the 2018 Perkunas campaign Sea Shepherd Germany has patrolled several protected areas in the Baltic Sea between April and June. The crew of the MV Emanuel Bronner monitored fishing gear with an ROV, a remotely operated underwater vehicle, to expose the major threat for the critically endangered harbor porpoises: being caught and drowned accidentally in gillnets (also known as “bycatch”).
Although not discovered in the Sea Shepherd monitoring, in 2018 we confirmed at least two Baltic harbor porpoises have been killed as bycatch. Ten porpoises were found dead during a short period in June on the Polish coast alone, some showing attempts to cover up that they were killed in gillnets, such as a cut open body. With only 500 animals left, the Baltic harbor porpoise population doesn’t have much time left. For decades scientists have agreed that gillnets pose the major threat to the porpoises in the Baltic Sea due to the high risk of being killed as bycatch. Still, this fishing gear is permitted even in Marine Protected Areas.
The crew documented every gillnet they monitored. Photo by Sea Shepherd.
In 1992 the European Union established conservation laws, the so-called Habitats Directive, to create a network of protected areas in European waters (Natura 2000 network). Due to the nature of an EU Directive, the protection measures in these areas should have been implemented by the member state it concerns – which never happened. Several states had to pay fees for not following the directive and the EU blamed the member states for the insufficient conservation laws.
In June 2018 everything changed due to a judgment of the EU court (Case C-683/16). Several German nature and environmental protection associations tried to achieve a fishing ban in German Marine Protected Areas, but the demand was denied. Since a ban would also affect the fishermen of other EU states, it would, if anything, be a matter for the European Union. After years of trying to achieve a fishing ban at state level to implement EU conservation law, the EU now claims that the ban is not compliant with other EU laws.
Once again, the interest in profit is higher than the interest in environmental protection. But there are no winners in this situation: the gillnet fishing industry is in serious decline in the last decades. It simply is not bringing enough profit anymore, due to the human-caused decrease of biodiversity in the Baltic Sea. The question to ask now is what will go extinct sooner – the Baltic harbor porpoises or the gillnet fishing industry? If this game of shifting responsibilities to other institutions continues for the next 10 years, the losers will again be the porpoises.
In the Sea of Cortez, Mexico, a similar situation already happened. The Vaquita, a relative of the Baltic harbor porpoises, was declared critically endangered in 1996 with around 600 individuals left. Scientists agreed back then that the only solution is to totally eliminate gillnet fishing within the Vaquita habitat. Nothing but talking happened until 2015 when temporary gillnet fishing bans were implemented. In June 2017 a permanent ban of gillnets was issued, but by 2018 the population number dropped under 30 individuals, making it the most endangered marine mammal on the planet.
In only 22 years the Vaquita population declined by 95% since policymakers wasted time on talking and not acting. The Baltic harbor porpoises were declared critically endangered in 2008, 10 years ago. EU policymakers need to take their responsibilities now and ban gillnets and other destructive fishing methods from Natura 2000 areas, designated for the protection of two populations of harbor porpoises in the Baltic Sea: the vulnerable Belt Sea population located in the western part, and the critically endangered Baltic population located in the eastern part. There can be no exemptions and no temporary solutions. “Porpoise Alert” devices, or PALs, that should warn porpoises from gillnets just lead to the exclusion of the porpoises from their habitat. This cannot be a permanent solution and therefore no time nor money should be wasted on that approach. We should not make the same mistakes as the Mexican government by waiting too long before implementing the only effective solution which is the total ban of gillnets.
Take Action: Contact Policymakers
Signing petitions will not lead anywhere, it will just waste more time that these animals don’t have – for them every minute passing without action is a step closer to extinction. The citizens of the EU member states elected their policymakers; it is time for them now to act on our behalf. As a conclusion of the Perkunas campaign 2018, we need you to take action. Write EU policymakers to demand the ban of gillnets and other destructive fishing gear from the Natura 2000 areas, designated for the protection of the harbor porpoises in the Baltic Sea. Let them feel that we are many, let them feel that we care. Show them we actually want to preserve the heritage of the EU, the only native cetaceans of the Baltic Sea, as they once wrote in their conservation laws.
EU Commission department for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Among the objectives of the department are the protection of the maritime environment while maintaining Europe's competitiveness and the implementation of the new common fisheries policy including the technical measures of how, where and when fishermen may fish.
EU Commission department on Energy, Climate change and Environment
Among the objectives of the department is the legal impetus for the EU to protect and clean up its coasts, seas and oceans as part of an integrated strategy that will enable sustainable use and the coordination of the largest network of protected areas in the world, known as Natura 2000.
Sea Shepherd Italy’s Operation Siracusa launched its 2018 campaign with the announcement of the arrest of poachers in the Plemmirio Marine Park.
At the first light of dawn on July 23rd, the Sea Shepherd volunteers patrolling the Plemmirio Protected Area spotted two scuba divers who were illegally capturing sea urchins inside the reserve’s Area B. The Port Authority intervened promptly and, in addition to the prescribed sanction, seized the poachers equipment. The Coast Guard intervened to locate the hidden sea urchins with the help of the Sea Shepherd volunteers,releasing all 1000 of them back inside the Marine Protected Area.
Later the same day Sea Shepherd immediately alerted authorities after spotting a boat fishing illegally with nets just inside the border of another protected area in the reserve’s Area C. The Coast Guard came to stop the boat’s illegal activities and escort it to port.
Sea Shepherd Italy’s Operation Siracusa has 42 volunteers committed to the conservation and protection of sea urchins and dusky groupers in the Plemmirio Marine Park. These volunteers work together with local law enforcement agencies such as the Financial Police (Guardia di Finanza), the Coast Guard, the Carabinieri, the State Police (Polizia di Stato), the Environmental Police (Polizia Ambientale), the Polizia Provinciale, and the Park Authority (Ente Parco).
By promptly documenting and reporting all illegal activities in the reserve to the police, Sea Shepherd has put a huge dent in the poaching activites again this year.
The Plemmirio Marine Park is classified as “Area Specialmente Protetta di Interesse Mediterraneo (ASPIM) (Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Interest), this denomination is conferred to areas of high importance for the conservation of the biodiversity in the Mediterranean, which means areas that need to be protected.
Operation Siracusa, now in its fifth year, fosters the respect of life by protecting, defending, and conserving this wonderful ecosystem and all the species that inhabit it. This sends a clear message to the poachers that operate in the proctected areas of Plemmirio.
The Plemmirio Marine Protected Area is divided into three areas with different level of protection for the marine ecosystem, from A to C. Area A is the most protected: boats are not allowed transiting or mooring there, fishing is completely forbidden, and scuba diving is not allowed. Underwater fishing, scuba diving, and freediving are forbidden in all three areas.
After six months of successful at-sea patrols in the waters of Tanzania, the Sea Shepherd ship M/Y Ocean Warrior arrived in Maputo, Mozambique to support a meeting between FISH-i Africa Task Force countries developing plans to bolster the fight against illegal fishing in the Western Indian Ocean Region.
Sea Shepherd's at-sea patrols in Tanzania derailed illegal fishing operations, resulting in arrests and the retreat of poachers from Tanzanian waters, successes that may now be replicated in other parts of East Africa.
The partnership, called Operation Jodari, resulted in the arrest of two long-liners for illegally shark finning, 27 dhows for smuggling and the fining of 19 vessels that retreated from Tanzanian waters to avoid boardings and inspections.
Operation Jodari was initiated by Executive Secretary Juma Mhada and the National Multi-Agency Task Team (NMATT), a unit formed in Tanzania to target individuals and networks that control environmental crime in the region and the illegal trade in wildlife. The NMATT is led by the Tanzania Police Force and includes the Tanzania Forest Services, the Wildlife Division, Fisheries Division and the Tanzania Intelligence and Security Service. Law enforcement agents with the Deep Sea Fishing Authority, Tanzanian Navy and the Tanzanian Drug Enforcement Agency joined the NMATT on board the M/Y Ocean Warrior.
At the meeting Executive Secretary Mhada told attendees, “Partnering with Sea Shepherd has enabled Tanzanian law enforcement agencies to work together on board a ship that expands policing capabilities to cover the entirety of Tanzania’s waters. Regional cooperation is key to ridding our waters of illegal fishing. I am confident that collaboration between the East African countries and civil society is the key to winning the fight against illegal fishing. I invite our neighbors to join us in this innovative partnership to save our oceans”.
The visit of the M/Y Ocean Warrior in Maputo was welcomed by Mozambique’s Minister of the Sea, Inland Waters and Fisheries, Agostinho Mondale, who noted that they are currently preparing to host the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Regional Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Coordination Centre.
In Maputo, Captain Adam Meyerson and the crew of the M/Y Ocean Warrior welcomed FISh-i Africa members and the Honorable Agostinho Mondale on board for a tour of the vessel after which the Minister stated, “as we all know, the Indian Ocean is a place of abundant and diversified fishery resources whose commercial value has made the region one of the main targets of illegal fishing in the world. We welcome the support of Sea Shepherd in the region to help rid our waters of these criminal elements.”
FISH-i Africa has supported Operation Jodari since the beginning, and has been a key actor in fostering regional cooperation on illegal fishing between East African countries. An initiative of Botswana-based Stop Illegal Fishing, FISH-i Africa brought Tanzania’s neighbors together in Maputo to discuss expanding the footprint of at-sea patrols.
Thanking Mozambique for hosting the M/Y Ocean Warrior, Peter Hammarstedt, who was joined in Maputo by Sea Shepherd Global CEO Alex Cornelissen, said, “The effect of a half-year of patrols, under the vision and leadership of a Tanzanian government driven to combat fisheries crime is clear: poachers have fled Tanzanian waters. The poachers have cleared out, illustrating the importance of forming additional partnerships in East Africa. With new countries joining Tanzania, Sea Shepherd and FISH-i Africa, we can rid the Western Indian Ocean Region of illegal fishing. East African countries are at the vanguard, showing the world how it can be done.”
Sea Shepherd Captain Peter Hammarstedt has been named as one of the 20 candidates for the 2018 Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award. The UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability awards $100,000 annually to a scientist, entrepreneur, engineer, activist or artist under the age of 40 working on innovative solutions addressing environmental concerns. Two follow-up finalists will receive $5,000 each. If awarded, Captain Hammarstedt will donate it towards Sea Shepherd’s direct-action campaigns focusing on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in Africa.
“While there are organizations that offer policy and technological solutions to combat illegal fishing, Sea Shepherd is the only organization to pioneer the unique approach of providing African coastal states with civilian offshore patrol vessels that are being used by partner countries to bring poachers to justice,” says Captain Hammarstedt.
Born in Sweden, Captain Hammarstedt joined Sea Shepherd as soon as he was old enough to submit an application. In his fifteen years with Sea Shepherd, he has sailed the seven seas from the Labrador Coast to Antarctica, using direct intervention to save as many lives as possible from illegal whaling, sealing and destructive fishing practices. Today he is the Director of Campaigns for Sea Shepherd Global, heading Sea Shepherd's IUU Taskforce for Africa. Read his full bio here.
Candidates come from around the world from a broad range of fields including engineering, climate research, the arts and business, and are nominated by leaders who have already made significant contributions in the environmental arena. A UCLA faculty committee will present three finalists to a panel of judges including author and news commentator Van Jones, philanthropists Wendy Schmidt and Nicolas Berggruen, and Kathryn Sullivan, former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the first American woman to walk in space. The winner will be announced November 14 in a ceremony at UCLA’s Hershey Hall. Funds for the award are made possible as part of a $20 million gift to UCLA from the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation.
Learn more about the Pritzker award and the other 19 candidates here: https://www.ioes.ucla.edu/pritzker-genius/
Captain Peter Hammarstedt on the M/Y Bob Barker. Photo by Yagazie Emezi/Sea Shepherd.
Operation Albacore Legal Update - Last week, Gabonese law enforcement agents, working alongside Sea Shepherd crew on board the M/Y Bob Barker, arrested two foreign industrial trawlers, F/V Jinli 961 and F/V Jinli 962, for fishing without a license in Gabonese waters. The two trawlers were escorted by the M/Y Bob Barker to the port of Libreville, where they now face charges of illegal fishing.
In 2017, Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba created the largest network of marine protected areas in Africa. The marine protected areas include nine new national marine parks and eleven aquatic reserves. At least one of the detained trawlers was discovered fishing in Cap Esteria Aquatic Reserve - both had shark fins on board.
The Cap Esteria Aquatic Reserve is a designated no-fishing area. The arrest of the two trawlers, assisted by the patrols of the M/Y Bob Barker, is having the desired effect of deterring other fishing pirates as no new incursions have been detected.
"Operation Albacore 3 is an on-going successful partnership between Sea Shepherd, the Gabonese Fisheries Agencies (ANPA), Gabon's National Agency of National Parks (ANPN) and the Gabonese Navy (Marine Nationale) that makes the protection of Africa's largest network of marine protected areas possible. With newly-established marine protected areas comes a pressing need for enforcement. My crew and I are proud to have assisted Gabon in chasing the poachers out of critically-important marine habitats", said Captain Peter Hammarstedt on board the M/Y Bob Barker.
Illegal fishing in the waters of Tanzania has been significantly thwarted thanks to six months of at-sea patrols by a coalition of Tanzanian law enforcement agencies, Fish-i Africa and Sea Shepherd crew, working on board the Sea Shepherd vessel, M/Y Ocean Warrior. The first campaign for this unique partnership between civilian organizations and government, called Operation Jodari, has resulted in the arrest of two long-liners for illegally shark finning, 27 dhows for smuggling and the fining of 19 vessels that retreated from Tanzanian waters to avoid boardings and inspections. Patrols will resume after the M/Y Ocean Warrior takes a scheduled break for necessary maintenance and repairs.
“The effect of a half-year of patrols under the vision and leadership of a Tanzanian government dedicated to combating fisheries crimes is clear: poachers have fled Tanzanian waters. The poachers have cleared out, illustrating the importance of forming new partnerships in the Western Indian Ocean Region, while continuing to work side-by-side with Tanzanian authorities that are leading the way in the fight against illegal fishing - not just regionally, but globally. Tanzania has shown the world how to get the job done”, said Sea Shepherd Global’s Director of Campaigns Peter Hammarstedt.
Two Long-liners Arrested for Illegally Finning Sharks
Patrolling areas of the Tanzanian exclusive economic zone (EEZ) previously out of reach of fisheries law enforcement led to the early arrest of two foreign-flagged fishing vessels for illegal shark-finning. On board one of those vessels, the F/V Buah Naga 1, Tanzanian law enforcement agents discovered an unlicensed firearm used by the captain to threaten his fishing crew. The captain, the owner and the ship agent of the F/V Buah Naga 1 remain in custody facing criminal charges.
Nineteen Fishing Vessels Fined for Absconding from Justice
After the arrest of the two fishing vessels and the levying of fines totaling 19 billion Tanzanian Shillings (6,865,160 EUR) against 19 other fishing vessels that absconded from Tanzania to avoid mandatory post-fishing inspections, there has been little-to-no observed fishing activity in Tanzanian waters.
The Tanzanian Multi-Agency Task Team -- led by the Tanzania Police Force and including the Tanzania Forest Services, the Wildlife Division, Fisheries Division and the Tanzania Intelligence and Security Service -- believes that the 19 legally-licensed vessels fled Tanzanian because they were similarly carrying out illegal shark-finning despite being licensed for the tuna fishery.
Twenty-seven Dhows Arrested for Smuggling
Since the beginning of Operation Jodari, the M/Y Ocean Warrior has also monitored known smuggling routes between the island of Zanzibar and the mainland of Tanzania.
Twenty-seven dhows -- are traditional cargo boats commonly found trading in the Indian Ocean -- were arrested on numerous charges from smuggling illegal cargos of mangrove timber to be sold on the black market to trafficking of persons.
Tanzanian law strictly protects mangrove forests, which are critical habit for many species of shellfish and fin fish that spawn and nurse there, and thereby crucial to supporting the livelihoods of local communities, especially artisanal fishermen.
Despite the Tanzanian government’s best efforts to enforce wide protections of mangrove swamps, some areas have been exploited to such an extent that natural regeneration is impossible without law enforcement intervention. Busting timber smuggling operations at-sea is an important part of that human intervention. During Operation Jodari it provided the intelligence used by law enforcement for several raids of shore-based operations of the highly lucrative smuggling trade in mangrove timber.
Operation Jodari’s campaign mission is to control all vessel operations in the waters of Tanzania, boarding those suspected of IUU fishing, as well as training Tanzanian officers in monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) of fishing activity in Tanzanian waters, such as fishing vessel inspections and boarding procedures.
On board Sea Shepherd’s ship, the M/Y Ocean Warrior, law enforcement agents with the Deep Sea Fishing Authority, Tanzanian Navy, Tanzanian Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Multi-Agency Task Team (MATT) are working alongside Captain Adam Meyerson and Sea Shepherd crew to patrol Tanzania's sovereign waters. The law enforcement agents have the authority to board, inspect and arrest vessels in violation of Tanzanian law. The MATT is led by the Tanzania Police Force and includes the Tanzania Forest Services, the Wildlife Division, Fisheries Division and the Tanzania Intelligence and Security Service. It was formed to target individuals and networks that control environmental crime in the region and the illegal trade in wildlife.
It is estimated that between 11 and 26 million tons of fish are caught globally through IUU fishing every year. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to IUU fishing and approximately USD $1 billion is lost to IUU fishing in the Western Indian Ocean region annually.
Operation Jodari is supported by Fish-i Africa, a partnership of eight East African countries including Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles and Somalia, that fosters information-sharing and regional cooperation to combat large-scale illegal fishing in the Western Indian Ocean.
Sea Shepherd volunteers monitoring the Hvalur hf whaling station in Hvalfjordur Iceland have documented the slaughter of an endangered Blue whale on the night of July 7th, the 22nd endangered whale killed and butchered for export to Japan by Kristján Loftsson’s commercial whaling company since June 20th, 2018.
Although the first 21 whales killed were endangered Fin whales – which the Icelandic government has permitted Loftsson’s company to slaughter despite an international moratorium on whaling and the endangered status of the fin whale – they do not have a permit to kill endangered Blue whales.
No other nation – not even Japan nor Norway -- slaughters Fin whales, and there has not been a Blue whale harpooned by anyone for the last fourty years until this one harpooned by Hvalur 8.
Loftsson’s whaling station crew posed for photos next to and even on top of the whale in a sign they knew very well this was a rare Blue whale. Then Loftsson ordered his crew to butcher the whale just like it was another Fin whale – the meat, skin, blubber and bone all now mixed in with the Fin whales previously caught, which will make it difficult or impossible to locate during potential inspections by the authorities.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has outlawed all commercial whaling activities. Blue whales and Fin whales are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Photographs and video taken by the Sea Shepherd UK team on the ground near the whaling station make it possible to examine the species identifying indicators of skin colour/pattern, baleen colour, dorsal fin shape, and tail stock. According to several scientific experts specializing in whale identification contacted by Sea Shepherd, the whale is without question a Blue whale.
Sea Shepherd Founder Captain Paul Watson is appealing to Icelandic authorities to stop these crimes against conservation by Kristján Loftsson. “This man must be stopped from ruthlessly violating international conservation law and bringing such disrepute to the nation of Iceland. There can be no legal justification for this crime.”
Captain Paul Watson has spent over a half a century defending whales. After viewing the photos and video taken by his team in Iceland, he said, “I have viewed plenty of Blue whales on the surface, dived with them beneath the surface in West Australia, off the coast of California, in the Southern Ocean and in the waters off Newfoundland. I know a Blue whale when I see one and this whale slaughtered by Kristján Loftsson is a Blue whale.”
Sea Shepherd UK’s Chief Operating officer Robert Read stated, “The crime committed against this iconic whale must be fully investigated by independent inspectors with DNA samples taken from all the whale meat and parts in storage at Loftsson’s whaling station and warehouses since the whale has been butchered and removed from view potentially to hide the evidence as Loftsson has no authority (even within Iceland) to kill a Blue whale. In addition, environmental DNA samples should be taken from whaling station equipment, surfaces and containers to look for Blue whale DNA in case the butchered parts have been removed to hide this latest atrocity.”
Sea Shepherd has had crew on the ground since the slaughter of Fin whales began on June 20th. Their aim is that every whale will be documented for the entire Fin whaling season.
A year after Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba declared the creation of nine new national marine parks and 11 new aquatic reserves at the United Nations Ocean Conference in New York, Sea Shepherd has returned to Gabon to assist the government in combatting illegal fishing in what is now Africa’s largest network of marine protected areas.
Operation Albacore III is Sea Shepherd’s third campaign in partnership with the Gabonese government to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Central West Africa. Throughout the 2018 tuna fishing season, Gabonese marines (Marine Nationale), inspectors with the Fisheries Enforcement Agency (ANPA) and rangers with the National Agency of National Parks (ANPN) will be stationed on-board Sea Shepherd’s ship, the M/Y Bob Barker, working alongside Sea Shepherd crew to patrol Gabon's sovereign waters. These patrols will provide a vehicle for law enforcement to defend, conserve and protect critical tuna habitat in Central West Africa.
News of the campaign has been officially released after the arrest of two trawlers, the F/V Jin Li 961 and F/V Jin Li 962, fishing illegally in the northern waters of Gabon. The trawlers were detected by the radar of the M/Y Bob Barker as they crossed the border from neighboring Equatorial Guinea to fish in marine reserves protected under Gabonese law. Armed Gabonese navy sailors boarded and secured the two trawlers without injury or incident as enforcement officers from the ANPA and ANPN inspected the vessels, where they discovered a finned tiger shark in the hold of one vessel and evidence of fishing in the Cap Esterias Aquatic Reserve. Both vessels are now detained in the Port of Libreville.
Another vessel, the F/V Hua Yi 5, was arrested earlier near the Congolese border in the Grand Sud du Gabon Aquatic Reserve for fishing in Gabonese waters without a license.
Operation Albacore III aims to defend Gabon’s newly-established marine protected areas, to detect and deter IUU fishing activity while also monitoring legal compliance by licensed fishing operators, and to expand existing monitoring, control and surveillance measures.
The crew on board the M/Y Bob Barker for Operation Albacore 3. Photo by Tony Fenn James/Sea Shepherd.
The Fight Against IUU Fishing
It’s estimated that between 11 and 26 million tons of fish are caught globally through IUU fishing every year. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to IUU fishing: up to 40% of the fish caught in West and Central West African waters are caught by criminal operators.
Captain of the M/Y Bob Barker, Sea Shepherd’s Peter Hammarstedt, said, “With new conservation laws and measures comes a need for increased law enforcement, which is why Sea Shepherd is committed to continuing our proud partnership with the government of Gabon to help defend and protect Africa’s largest marine protected area. Gabon is a regional leader in conservation management and it’s a privilege to partner with Gabonese law enforcers on the frontlines of the battle to defend African marine wildlife.”
In 2016 Sea Shepherd partnered with the government of Gabon for the first Operation Albacore, and since then the collaboration has resulted in over 80 fishing vessel inspections at sea and the subsequent arrest of nine illegal fishing vessels.
The fleet of 15 industrial fishing vessels arrested for targeting sharks by Timor Leste authorities with assistance from Sea Shepherd in September 2017 have been released without charge.
Sea Shepherd campaign leader Gary Stokes with Timor Leste National Police in 2017.
On September 9th 2017, Sea Shepherd’s M/V Ocean Warrior supported the Timor Leste National Police (Policia National Timor Leste - PNTL) in a dawn raid of the Fu Yuan Yu fleet of fifteen fishing vessels owned by the Chinese Hong Long Company, operating within the Southeast Asian waters of Timor Leste. The fleet, which had already been banned from Indonesia for illegal fishing, obtained a 12-month permit to fish inside Timor Leste’s sovereign waters for a modest fee of just US$312,450 from the former Minister of Fisheries, Estanislau da Silva.
The PNTL took action after Sea Shepherd shared evidence of the fleet indiscriminately fishing for sharks in the island nation´s southern waters. “It was very encouraging to see a law enforcement team that wanted to go the extra mile to seek justice for their country,” said Gary Stokes, who was leading the Sea Shepherd campaign in Timor Leste.
The PNTL officers were delivered in groups of four to several of the fishing vessels. Once onboard and secure, the PNTL brought Sea Shepherd crew on board to document the inspections, assist with checking the freezer holds and log books, as well as to provide translation services for the Chinese officers onboard.
The vessels’ freezer holds were full of sharks -- Sea Shepherd estimates that there were between 10,000-15,000 sharks per vessel -- and very few other fish. Deck crew confirmed there had been a potentially illegal transshipment (offloading of cargo from one vessel to another) only two months earlier, meaning that on average they could have been catching approximately 93,750 sharks per month across the fleet. Notably, at-sea transshipment is forbidden under Timorese law.
The laws of Timor Leste also very clearly prohibit catching any sharks listed by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Specifically, even though East Timor is not a signatory to CITES, its law protecting endangered species covers all CITES-listed wildlife. Additionally, the licenses issued to the Fu Yuan Yu vessels (here and here), signed by Estanislau da Silva, expressly referenced this law and included an appendix specifying (with full color photographs here and here) the prohibited shark species. During the PNTL’s inspections, the Chinese officers claimed that there were no prohibited sharks onboard and that they had not broken any laws.
Despite claims in the Timor Post by Timorese Director General of Fisheries Acacio Guterres that "Hong Long Company does not catch protected shark fish,” the PNTL did in fact find CITES-listed hammerhead sharks onboard the vessels. After many hours working in -27° temperatures in the ship holds, the determined officers of the PNTL found the endangered hammerhead shark bodies hidden in the center of a massive pile of frozen sharks, their iconic head foils cut off to evade identification. Photographs of this evidence accompanied the PNTL’s full brief to the Prosecutor in Baucau. Any claims that these protected sharks were not caught in Timor Leste would be contrary to the fleets’ GPS tracking, which showed that the Fu Yuan Yu vessels never left Timorese waters.
The fleet of 15 vessels was detained in the bay off the capital of Dili, where it remained rafted together in three groups of five vessels, awaiting judicial action for nine months. However, in late May 2018, the fleet was allowed to return to China for maintenance after paying a relatively small bail of US$100,000. Although the vessels were ultimately released, it is significant to note that, because the fleet was prohibited from fishing during its long detention, approximately 843,750 sharks were saved.
Once the fleet departed Timor Leste waters, the Prosecutor's Office declared the fleet “not guilty” of violating any laws. Estanislau da Silva, who will be replaced by the newly-elected government in the coming months, stated that if the fleet wished to return to fish in East Timor waters, it would only have to renew its license.
“Sea Shepherd recommends that the new government of Timor Leste conduct a full internal audit and investigation into the personal finances and actions of the former Minister of Fisheries Estanislau da Silva and the Director General of Fisheries Acacio Guterres leading up to the court ruling,” says Stokes. “Sea Shepherd would also like to personally acknowledge the work of Kommandant Jorge Monteiro, Angelo Quelo and his team of PNTL who showed that they wanted nothing but justice and law and order. Minister da Silva tainted this by overpowering their professional work. A sad day for justice and law enforcement, but a sadder day for the people of Timor Leste who deserve better.”
While patrolling the protected zones in the Baltic Sea, the crew of the M/V Emanuel Bronner not only found actively-used nets, but several abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG). It is estimated that every year more than 10,000 fishing nets are lost in the Baltic Sea. Almost a tenth of the world's marine waste consists of these “ghost nets”.
In Sea Shepherd Germany's PERKUNAS campaign, the crew is monitoring gillnets, which are a major threat for harbor porpoises and other marine wildlife. The goal of the campaign is to achieve a ban of these fishing methods in areas that are essential for the survival of the harbor porpoise. During the patrols, the crew revealed another problem of these fishing gears: set-nets stay out at sea for at least 12 hours per day unmonitored by the fishermen, and so they can get lost due to weather conditions, boat collisions or other events. Due to strong underwater currents, these nets may travel several miles from where they’ve been anchored. Mostly they get stuck in wrecks or corals, and often they end up in an area where they continue catching fish that are not targeted, or might even be protected under conservation law. They are also a potential danger for ship traffic, since they can get stuck in ship propellers causing severe accidents.
Today, nylon is the main material for gillnets, which can take around 500 years to break down. These “silent killers” of the oceans can continue catching sea life uncontrolled for centuries. And when the nets decompose, the plastic particles are set free and end up in the marine food chain, poisoning fish and other marine wildlife. Earlier this year, during Operation Øresund, Sea Shepherd Sweden found 5 dead porpoises entangled in ghost nets. The porpoises are attracted by fish that get caught in these nets, and they get stuck themselves when they try to feed on them.
There are several approaches to removing ghost nets from the Baltic Sea, an area of high importance to the marine ecosystem. During the PERKUNAS campaign the crew of the M/V Emanuel Bronner removed parts of fishing gear that were found floating without any registration number, and had obviously been lost or discarded for a longer period. The removal is important but will not be enough to protect wildlife effectively. Like the gillnets, ghost nets are catching non-targeted species. They can’t make a distinction between the animals that get entangled. While numerous ghost nets stay there for several hundred years, the active fishing gear are out there every day, throughout the year, and outnumber the lost fishing gear by far. Every recovered ghost net was once active fishing gear. To get rid of the problem of ghost nets, it is not enough to recover them. The source also has to be eliminated: the active gillnets.
Sea Shepherd Germany demands a ban of gillnets and other destructive fishing gear from protected zones for harbor porpoises because they are the major threat to the animals. The efforts of removing ghost nets should be increased as well, but it is not enough if every day new potential death-traps are set in the Baltic Sea.