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Sea Shepherd Germany Reveals “Silent Killers” in the Baltic Sea

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.

 Abandoned or lost surface nets are dangerous for ship traffic. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

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.

 Parts of an abandoned net that were removed by the crew. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

 

 

 

Iceland's Commercial Whaling of Endangered Fin Whales

Sea Shepherd UK crew in Iceland have documented the slaughter of seven endangered fin whales by the commercial whaling company, Hvalur hf.

Sea Shepherd UK crew have been operating in Iceland since mid-June watching the activities of the notorious whaling company ‘Hvalur hf’ owned by the wealthy fishing magnate and second-generation whaler Kristján Loftsson. The whaling company owns a large whaling station on the North side of Hvalfjörður and two old Norwegian built whaling ships, Hvalur 8 (built in 1948) and Hvalur 9 (built in 1952) which exclusively hunt endangered Fin whales, the second largest animal on the planet after the Blue whale.

The 2018 quota given to Hvalur hf by the Icelandic government is for a staggering 161 Fin whales, plus an additional 30 Fin whales carried over from the unused quota from 2017 which can be killed during a 100-day season from the 10th June.

The last time Loftsson’s company hunted Fin whales was in 2015 when his two ships killed 155 whales. However, Loftsson and his company had subsequent issues both when exporting the meat and then within in Japan (the primary market for Icelandic Fin whale meat and products) with Japanese food standards test results showing excessive contaminants which prevented the sale of the whale products from the 2015 hunts. This effectively closed the door on further Icelandic Fin whale imports and his two ships have sat moored in Old Reykjavik harbour from September 2015 until the 19th June this year when Hvalur 8 left Reykjavik, quickly took on equipment at the whaling station in Hvalfjörður (and was photographed by our crew) before venturing to sea on the first hunt of 2018.

Hvalur 8 has so far returned with seven endangered Fin whales from five voyages, each taking around 36 hours to whaling grounds within Iceland’s economic exclusion zone around 150 nautical miles from the whaling station. Since June 19th Sea Shepherd crew have maintained a watch of the approach from the into Hvalfjörður and have therefore been in place to document (with video, photos and when possible livestreaming to social media) every return of Hvalur 8 and the butchering of the whales at Hvalur hf’s whaling station.

 

Follow our crew’s campaign updates, photos and livestreams on our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/seashepherduk

If you can, please help Sea Shepherd UK keep our crew in Iceland by making a donation at: justgiving.com/seashepherduk or paypal.me/seashepherduk

Read Captain Paul Watson’s commentary An Iceland without Whaling is on the Horizon.

Please email or write polite letters voicing your support for Iceland's whale watching industry and the establishment of a national whale sanctuary in Iceland's territorial waters:

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland
The Prime Minister's Office
Stjornarradshusid vid Laekjartorg
101 Reykjavik , Iceland
E-mail: postur@for.is

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson
Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources
Skuggasund 1
101, Reykjavik, Iceland
E-mail: postur@environment.is

Ferðamálastofa
Icelandic Tourism Board 
Geirsgata 9
101 Reykjavík, Iceland
E-mail: upplysingar@ferdamalastofa.is

Successful Results Achieved in Second IUU Fishing Operation with Liberian Government

After a total of twelve months of patrols and twelve arrests, Sea Shepherd Global’s second joint operation with the Liberian Ministry of National Defense to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Republic of Liberia, West Africa, has resulted in a dramatic drop in incidents of illegal fishing and the return of fish populations in formerly over-exploited coastal waters.

Before Operation Sola Stella commenced in early 2017, the artisanal fishing community of Harper, a Liberian town on the border with Cote d’Ivoire, reported almost daily incursions by foreign industrial trawlers fishing illegally. After the arrest of five IUU fishing vessels, including a Nigerian-flagged, Dutch-owned shrimp trawler certified to export ‘sustainably-caught’ shrimp to the United States, the incursions ceased. Artisanal fishermen in Harper and Robertsport, on the border between Liberia and Sierra Leone, are reporting that fish are returning to areas that have historically been decimated.

Continuing the success of the first campaign conducted February through May 2017, Operation Sola Stella II returned for eight additional months of at-sea patrols from September 2017 until May 25th 2018, with alternating Sea Shepherd vessels M/Y Bob Barker and M/Y Sam Simon, resulting in the longest patrol period to date.

During these patrols, seven more arrests were made by the Liberian Coast Guard with assistance from Sea Shepherd, including two internationally black-listed IUU fishing vessels– the F/V Labiko 2 and the F/V Hai Lung.

When the F/V Labiko 2 was boarded and inspected in Liberian waters on November 15th, 2017, it was discovered that the vessel, under its former name F/V Maine, was listed on three different Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) IUU blacklists for international fisheries offenses. At the time of boarding, the notorious poacher was deploying prohibited gillnets to feed a secret shark liver oil production facility housed on board the vessel. Documents seized on board prove that the vessel was killing more than 66,000 deep sea sharks on every fishing expedition, resulting in more than 500,000 dead sharks per year. The F/V Labiko 2 was subsequently arrested and its detention has saved the lives of more than 250,000 sharks.

The F/V Hai Lung, an infamous toothfish poacher better known by its previous name F/V Yele, was arrested on March 13th, 2018, after the captain presented the Liberian Coast Guard with forged documentation claiming the vessel to be flagged to the Republic of Indonesia. The Indonesian Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries had no record of the vessel in their databases thus the forged Certificate of Nationality made the F/V Hai Lung a vessel ‘without nationality’, subject to seizure anywhere, including on the High Seas. It was later discovered that the F/V Hai Lung had escaped detention in Nigeria and was a fugitive vessel.

Another five vessels were arrested for a long list of violations including fishing without a license, wildlife smuggling and tax and customs evasion.

About Operation Sola Stella and Sea Shepherd’s Campaigns to Stop IUU Fishing

Launched in February 2017, Operation Sola Stella is the second campaign in a joint operation between Sea Shepherd and the Liberian government to combat IUU fishing. Sea Shepherd provides the use of a civilian offshore patrol vessel operating in Liberian waters under the direction of the Liberian Ministry of National Defense. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to IUU fishing, which accounts for up to 40% of the fish caught in West African waters.

Operation Sola Stella is a continuation of Sea Shepherd Global’s commitment to work actively with national governments and their Law Enforcement Agencies in the fight against IUU fishing. In 2016 and 2017 Sea Shepherd worked in partnership with the government of Gabon for Operation Albacore, resulting in over 80 fishing vessel inspections at sea and the subsequent arrest of six vessels. In 2018 Sea Shepherd began Operation Jodari with patrols against IUU fishing in the waters of Tanzania in partnership with the Tanzanian Deep Sea Fishing Authority, Tanzanian Navy, Tanzanian Drug Enforcement Agency, the Multi-Agency Task Team (MATT) and Fish-i Africa.

M/V Emanuel Bronner Assists Seal Rescue in Gulf of Gdansk

Hel, Poland -- On the evening of April 26th, the crew of the M/V Emanuel Bronner got an emergency call from the local seal rescue station to assist in the rescue of a gray seal pup. The animal was abandoned by its mother for several hours, locals called the station for help. When a gray seal pup is left alone for such a long time, it can die within a week due to the lack of the mother’s milk. It contains lots of fat, which the pups need to obtain their fatty layer which protects them from the cold Baltic waters.

The pup was found on the south side of the Gulf of Gdansk, which is a drive of around 2 hours by car in each direction. With the M/V Emanuel Bronner the crew could go there in only 1 hour, passing Poland’s largest seal colony on the way. The 300 individuals of the colony are mostly spotted on sandbanks in the southern part of the gulf. The rescue went quick and without complications. The locals who reported to the seal rescue station already awaited the arrival of the crew, with the pup in a basket ready for the transport. It is important to operate quick and professional to avoid high stress levels for the animal. The basket will not be opened until the animal is brought to the station safely. In the station the keepers checked the pup, it was healthy and weighted 15 kg. Every seal that reaches a weight of 30 kg and is able to hunt by itself will be released into the wild. To know more about the behavior of the gray seal population, each individual that was in the station is tagged with GPS locators which they lose after one year, and a chip so they can be identified if they are found dead. The station gave the pup whose rescue the M/V Emanuel Bronner assisted the name “Shepherd”. Beginning of June, “Shepherd” was released into the wild in a very healthy condition. He will now live with Poland's largest seal colony.

 The crew is heading out to rescue the gray seal pup during the night. Photo by Sea Shepherd. The crew is heading out to rescue the gray seal pup during the night. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

But not everyone welcomes the return of the mighty predators to southern Baltic. Fishermen claim that gray seals are to blame for the declining catch in the fisheries. Despite the animals being under special protection, there have been reports of fishermen beating the animals with clubs or drowning them. On top of that, the animals get fatally bycaught in gillnets and suffer serious injuries from other fishing gears. Numerous seals are brought to the rescue station, with fishing hooks in their mouth or even worse: in their digestive system. Not only once it happened, that the animals die from their severe injuries. In May a pup died in the station due to an open wound on its head, most likely caused from being beaten by a human. Only two days later another pup was brought in with the same type of injury.

 The seal pup is transported safely in a basket on the M/V Emanuel Bronner. Photo by Sea Shepherd. The seal pup is transported safely in a basket on the M/V Emanuel Bronner. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

Sea Shepherd appreciates the effort of the rescue station to recover the seal population in Polish waters, and is calling for more controls and protection measures from side of the government. Animals under the status of special protection may not be killed or disturbed in any way. The gray seals are claiming back their habitat, and they are only at a fraction of the historical population size. Humans brought them close to extinction once already, we have to learn from history and effectively prevent this from happening again.

 At the beginning of June, “Shepherd” was released into the wild in a very healthy condition. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

 

 

 A typical semi-driftnet as it can be found in the Puck Bay in Poland. Photo by Sea Shepherd. A typical semi-driftnet as it can be found in the Puck Bay in Poland. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

In the Perkunas campaign, Sea Shepherd Germany patrolled the Puck Bay in Poland for several weeks with the M/V Emanuel Bronner to monitor gillnets used for fishing. The number of critically endangered Baltic harbor porpoise caught as bycatch (the catch of non-targeted species) has been particularly high in this area. Studies also show that most of the unintended catches resulted from fishing gear unofficially called “semi-driftnets”.

The harbor porpoise is listed as a “species of community interest” whose conservation requires the designation of special conservation areas according to the EU Habitats Directive. Puck Bay is one of these areas, as it is an important habitat for the Baltic population. Despite that, numerous examples of fishing gears have be found inside the bay. In a week of patrols, the crew of the M/V Emanuel Bronner documented a minimum of 60 permanently set nets. Most them are considered semi-driftnets. While gillnets are usually anchored on both ends, the semi-driftnets are floating freely on one side. They are therefore a variation of driftnets, which have been banned in the Baltic Sea by the EU since 2008 because after being classified as particularly dangerous for non-targeted species.

Due to a lack of a proper definition, any net that is anchored can be declared a gillnet. The fishermen in Puck Bay, who were using mainly driftnets as fishing gear before the ban, are using this loophole to continue fishing with their nets by putting an anchor on one end. For harbor porpoises it is dangerous when the nets change direction with the current. Also, the nets are floating on the surface – an area where the porpoises must go to breathe. Additionally, the risk for entanglement is high since the net isn’t pulled taught. Semi-driftnets are death traps for harbor porpoises, seals and sea birds – but so are gillnets. In fact, gillnets are responsible for the majority of bycaught porpoises in the Baltic Sea. Since they are both non-selective, they are the same threat for the animals.

 The crew is monitoring nets in an important habitat for harbor porpoises. Photo by Sea Shepherd. The crew is monitoring nets in an important habitat for harbor porpoises. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

The harbor porpoise is listed as a “species of community interest” whose conservation requires the designation of special conservation areas according to the EU Habitats Directive. Puck Bay is one of these areas, as it is an important habitat for the Baltic population. Despite that, numerous examples of fishing gears have be found inside the bay. In a week of patrols, the crew of the M/V Emanuel Bronner documented a minimum of 60 permanently set nets. Most them are considered semi-driftnets. While gillnets are usually anchored on both ends, the semi-driftnets are floating freely on one side. They are therefore a variation of driftnets, which have been banned in the Baltic Sea by the EU since 2008 because after being classified as particularly dangerous for non-targeted species.

Due to a lack of a proper definition, any net that is anchored can be declared a gillnet. The fishermen in Puck Bay, who were using mainly driftnets as fishing gear before the ban, are using this loophole to continue fishing with their nets by putting an anchor on one end. For harbor porpoises it is dangerous when the nets change direction with the current. Also, the nets are floating on the surface – an area where the porpoises must go to breathe. Additionally, the risk for entanglement is high since the net isn’t pulled taught. Semi-driftnets are death traps for harbor porpoises, seals and sea birds – but so are gillnets. In fact, gillnets are responsible for the majority of bycaught porpoises in the Baltic Sea. Since they are both non-selective, they are the same threat for the animals.

While ban of driftnets in 2008 was a right decision, gillnets should have been banned at the same time. Considering that the Polish fishermen in Puck Bay continue using the same nets with a little modification, it becomes clear that the ban did not lead to an actual change. The unintentional negative side-effect was that fishermen have stopped reporting bycatch of harbor porpoises out of fear that it would result in a ban of gillnets. There are now cases of fishermen covering up bycatch evidence by putting stones in the bodies of the dead porpoises so that they’ll sink to the seabed. When carcasses wash-up on shore, they are usually too decomposed to determine the actual cause of death. Sometimes, only the flukes (or nose) of the porpoises are found, which were cut off when removing the entangled animal from a net. Some scientists claim that more than half of the washed-up porpoises died as a result of bycatch.

In fact, the number of bycaught porpoises has not changed since the driftnet ban, but the number of reported cases has gone down. In March the Hel Marine Station reported that a healthy young male harbor porpoise was bycaught in a gillnet on the Polish coast in Rowy. Another porpoise washed up in May of the same year between Sopot and Gdynia in the Gulf of Gdansk, in a decomposed state. Both porpoises were from the critically endangered Baltic population. With only 500 animals left, there is no time for weak and ineffective regulations that can be circumvented through loopholes: any type of set-nets, such as gillnets, must be banned in areas important for the survival of the harbor porpoise, such as Puck Bay.

 

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Sea Shepherd news articles from 2012 and earlier.

For articles from 2013 and newer, visit our Sea Shepherd News page.

 
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