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#Defend500: The Baltic Harbor Porpoises Need You to Take Action

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. 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.

 The crew on the MV Emanuel Bronner. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

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.

CONTACT: https://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/tools/feedback_en

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.

CONTACT:  http://ec.europa.eu/environment/contact/form_en.htm


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.

Campaign Background 

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.


Captain Peter Hammarstedt

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. Captain Peter Hammarstedt on the M/Y Bob Barker. Photo by Yagazie Emezi/Sea Shepherd.


‘Ocean Warrior’ Arrives in Mozambique to Expand the Fight Against Illegal Fishing in Partnership with East African Countries

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.”

Foreign Poaching Vessels Face Charges for Fishing in Gabonese Marine Reserve

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.



Sea Shepherd news articles from 2012 and earlier.

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