Epic hunt for toothfish poachers ends in the Atlantic

It has been an action-packed season in the Southern Ocean chasing big illegal fishing boats. Six bandit ships wanted by the Interpol are on the run, three of which have been either intercepted, detained, or sunk into the depths of the sea. Sea Shepherd Operation Icefish ended Monday with the sinking of The Thunder. Viking is now in the hands of Malaysian authorities and Kunlun await’s Thailand’s verdict. Re-posting my earlier stories:

‘The Thunder’ sinks in Sao Tome

The Thunder's last few moments before it's gone forever. (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

Sea Shepherd’s Operation Icefish ended early this week with the bizarre sinking of Interpol-wanted vessel, The Thunder, inside the Exclusive Economic Zone of Sao Tome.

After 110 days of action, chasing the elusive vessel, Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson said the campaign has accomplished its mission. The longest hot pursuit of a poaching vessel in maritime history, Operation Icefish has been “the most successful intervention against high-seas poaching in the history of anti-poaching operations,” the captain said.

Thunder, the most notorious of the so-called “Bandit 6, was sunk deliberately by its crew as they clapped and cheered, media reports said. It was left with clear signs that the vessel was intentionally scuttled. The hatches were not closed to maintain buoyancy, but instead, the doors and hatches were tied open, along with the fishhold. The vessel then went down 4,000 meters below.

Watson is convinced the vessel was scuttled as a deliberate act of desperation. It was allegedly owned by unscrupulous and wealthy fishing companies based in Galicia, Spain.

According to Watson, the illegal toothfish industry linked to Spanish companies has suffered a severe financial blow, and faces the face criminal courts in Malaysia, Thailand, and Sao Tome for its illegal activities, including illegal fishing, illegal registration, and false declarations. Deliberately scuttling a ship in the territorial waters of Sao Tome is also a crime. READ MORE…

Australian gov’t seizes toothfish poacher Kunlun

The Australian government has finally decided to do something about illegal fishing vessels. And when Australian Customs officials recently took out their patrol ship they met Kunlun, a notorious and elusive poaching vessel cruising on its way with a massive haul of Patagonian toothfish.

Kunlun was intercepted west of Cocos Island (Keeling) on Thursday. The Sea Shepherd suspects the vessel was en route from the Antarctic to Southeast Asia to offload its illegal catch. READ MORE…

Malaysia detains notorious ‘Viking’ poaching vessel

Another major blow has been dealt to illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean with the detention of the Nigerian-flagged poaching vessel, Viking, in Malaysia – bringing a total of three notorious illegal fishing vessels and their crew in for interrogation this fishing season. Nigerian-flagged the Thunder was de-registered last week making it officially stateless. Kunlun, meanwhile, is in Thailand’s detention.

Held for violations of Malaysian maritime law, Malaysian authorities have indicated that the Viking will also be investigated for alleged illegal, unregulated, unreported (IUU) fishing violations. READ MORE….

The Thunder is scuttled and sunk into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Sao Tome.

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Australia urges cooperation on illegal fishing

Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton urged the international community to forge cooperation to combat Illegal, Undocumented, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing following the arrest of poaching vessel, Kunlun, in Thailand.

Dutton said Australia works with international partners through the Regional Plan of Action with Southeast Asian countries to address illegal fishing.

Australia alerted Southeast Asian nations about the expected arrival of Kunlun into their ports at any time. The vessel was found anchored off Tapaonoi island, near Phuket, and is now being detained, according to a local report by Phuketwan. Phuket Marine Police authorities dispatched teams to gather information so that investigation will commenced shortly.

Kunlun, taken on 7 January 2015 in Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Area. (Photo: Interpol)

Dutton praised the arrest and detention, and said, “This is an excellent example of interagency and international cooperation achieving tangible results.”

US, EU address Illegal Fishing

In the US, the Presidential Task Force on IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud released its action plan that sets out the aggressive steps to curb IUU fishing. The plan is based on the recommendations of the Task Forced made in December 2014 that federal agencies will take both domestically and internationally .

The plan identifies actions that will strengthen enforcement, create and expand partnerships with state and local governments, industry, and non-governmental organizations, and create a risk-based traceability program to track seafood from harvest to entry into U.S. commerce.

WWF considers the action plan as a “crucial win” for the European Union and the global community to confront illegal fishing. The conservation group also said the plan will further boost the EU’s strong action to fight against illegal fishing, which is estimated to cost between EUR 8 billion and EUR 19 billion annually.

Eszter Hidas, EU Policy Officer for WWF’s Illegal Fishing programme, said the world’s two biggest fish importers seem now determined to close their doors to any illegal fish product.

IUU fishing represents 11 million to 26 million tonnes of catch, which accounts for 13-31 per cent of global catch, according to WFF.

Michele Kuruc, vice president of ocean policy at WWF-US, also said that the action plan marks “a decisive shift” in US policy. The plan is a way to put black market enterprises on notice that the country is closing its doors to their illegally caught seafood, she added.

IUU

Australia calls for high level cooperation

Australian Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture Senator Richard Colbeck has been calling for a high level of regional and international cooperation and reiterated the need of mapping out an action plan.  He said IUU fishing is a global issue and it is “great to see this level of international cooperation to protect our marine resources and eliminate illegal fishing.”

The Kunlun was intercepted by the Royal New Zealand Navy in the Southern Ocean in January, but eluded arrest. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) was patrolling the seas in February and caught the vessel in the Indian Ocean while on its way north. Australian Customs boarded Kunlun to verify the flag State of the vessel.

Kunlun has a long history of IUU fishing in the Southern Ocean and is the subject of an INTERPOL Purple Notice seeking information on the individuals and networks that own, operate, and profit from the actions of the vessel.

The Kunlun attempted to avoid detection by entering the Thai port under the name Taishan and claiming to be flagged to Indonesia.

“The Australian Government will continue to provide support as necessary. It will continue to take effective action, together with our international counterparts, in order to send a strong message that IUU fishing will not be tolerated,” Senator Colbeck said.

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Pirates catch illegal gillnet and 200 toothfish

They are misunderstood as pirates, but they are not. The Sea Shepherd and its crew of volunteers are activists guarding the oceans from illegal poachers. And since the Japanese whalers cannot be spotted in the Southern Ocean this season, the crew has been all out to go against illegal hunters of Patagonian and AntarcticToothfish.

Sea Shepherd crew works on the deadly gillnet (Photo: Jeff Wirth)

Sea Shepherd crew works on the deadly gillnet (Photo: Jeff Wirth)

The Bob Barker ship has been in pursuit of the African vessel, Thunder, since the vessel first fled on December 17. And for five days, the Sam Simon ship chased the poaching vessel. Thunder fled leaving behind a 25-km-long gillnet with a haul of over 200 toothfish and other sea creatures. Majority of which are dead and the surviving crabs have been thrown back into the waters.

Sid Chakravarty, captain of the Sam Simon, said the retrieval of the illegally laid gillnet set, combined with the pursuit of the Thunder, Operation Icefish has achieved what it had set out to do in less than a month since it kicked-off. The operation has been unstoppable despite criticism on the legality of the ‘pirates”operation in the international waters. Read full story HERE as well as Bob Brown’s press statement on Sea Shepherd’s toothfish operation.

 

 

Mission to hunt toothfish poachers in Antarctic

Marine conservation group, the Sea Shepherd, is gearing up for another Southern Ocean expedition in time of Antarctic summer.

The group suspects the Japanese will not return to kill whales this hunting season, but if they do, they will drive them back to Japan. The International Court of Justice declared in March this year Japanese whaling in the area is illegal.

Sea Shepherd is launching the next mission called Operation Icefish to catch poachers of Patagonian and Antarctic Toothfish.

Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) is the most valuable fishery in Antarctic or subantarctic waters. (Photo: AFMA)

Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) is the most valuable fishery in Antarctic or subantarctic waters. (Photo: AFMA)

The group said toothfish poaching is another threat in the area that has had a devastating effect on icefish population. They warn illegal fishers they will seize nets and will work with authorities to confiscate illegal boats.

The Sea Shepherd ship, Sam Simon, arrived in Auckland’s harbour yesterday after a voyage from Melbourne. The ship, carrying 25 crew from around the globe, arrived in New Zealand to source supplies and to prepare for the upcoming operation.

Operation Icefish will be the first campaign of its kind, using innovative direct action tactics to fill a law enforcement void exploited by illegal toothfish operators.

The Bob Barker and the Sam Simon will leave Hobart and Wellington, respectively, to patrol the Antarctic.

Peter Hammarstedt, Captain of M/Y Bob Barker and Director of Ship Operations said in a statement illegal fishing operations will be documented, reported, and confronted. He added, “they will be physically obstructed from deploying their illegal gillnets and unlawful fishing gear will be confiscated and destroyed.”

Michael Lawry, Sea Shepherd New Zealand welcomed the Sea Shepherd ship. He said Sea Shepherd launched a pioneering work to patrol the seas in 2002 with one ship that left Auckland  to confront illegal whalers. On its 12 years of operation, thousands of whales were saved. Come down and welcome the ship and brave crew into our port,” he said

Patagonian Toothfish

Toothfish is served as a gourmet dish in upscale restaurants. (Photo: Gourmet Traveller)

Upscale restaurants serve toothfish gourmet (Photo: Gourmet Traveller)

An Australian Government report said there is a large-scale illegal toothfish fishing around Southern Ocean which was first  noticed in 1997. Surveillance and monitoring were then put in place. According to the report, there was a spike in catch up to three to four times higher than the allowable and legal catch of species in all areas. According to the Coalition of  Legal Toothfish Operators Inc,  illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing for toothfish “has been reduced by about 95% since peak levels in the 1990s.” At present, IUU fishing for this specie is restricted to the high seas and mostly, they are caught by gillnet.

Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) is the most valuable fishery in Antarctic or subantarctic waters. Prices could fetch up to $US10 per kilo for headed, gutted and tailed fish in major markets in Japan and the United States. Toothfish can grow to a large size (over 2 m long and 100 kg in weight). Its white flesh is considered to be of top quality with few bones. Tootfish is served as a gourmet dish in upscale restaurants around the world.

Blog Link: The Green Journal AU @ Asian Correspondent