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 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.