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

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Environment Minister ignores plea from the Southern Ocean

UPDATE: Environment Minister Greg Hunt replied to the letter sent by Captain Peter Hammarstedt of The Bob Barker, but unable to help in pressuring the Japanese to stop whaling.

Re-blogging this post on March 3.

The “Relentless Operation” of the Sea Shepherd Australia (SSA) is in distress following the relentless attacks of Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.

Captain Peter Hammarstedt of The Bob Barker alleged the Japanese fleet has assaulted its vessel for the third time this season and has sounded alarm to the Australian Government asking for rescue. However, the distress call has fallen on the deaf ears.  .

Sea Shepherd’s fleet observes this Minked Whale swimming around the vessel. (Photo: Tim Watters)

The Captain also asked the New Zealand Government to cooperate in the mission to protect the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

The Japanese are accused of throwing steel cables on Bob Barker’s bow, an attempt to disable the propeller and rudder of the ship. On Sunday, the whalers are also accused of throwing bamboo spear at the crew of the small boat rescue. The Bob Barker decided to launched two small boats to defend their ship and attempt to cut the steel cables during the assault. It sustained damage of the antennas of the small boat in the process, Capt. Hammarstedt claimed.

The helicopter’s GPS indicates the northern border of the Antarctic Treaty Zone (Photo: Eliza Muirhead)

Hammarstedt said his vessel is carrying nine Australian volunteers who have joined the cause in protecting the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Earlier on Sunday, the Sea Shepherd Fleet located the Japanese factory vessel for the fourth time “with a dead, protected Minke Whale onboard, and blood running from the side of the ship. Slabs of whale meat were also filmed on the deck, along with the severed head of a recently butchered whale. “

Hammarstedt wrote a letter to Environment Minister Greg Hunt  two weeks ago and bewailed how the minister ignored his plea. He said “the Australian government has failed in its duty to take any action against the poachers of the Japanese whaling fleet. “

Despite broken promises of the Government to protect the Southern Seas, the Sea Shepherd will remain relentless in its mission to guard the vast expanse of the sanctuary, “enforcing international conservation law when governments refuse to take action.”

Captain Peter Hammarstedt of The Bob Barker (Photo: Marianna Baldo)

Captain Paul Watson also announced earlier that Sea Shepherd cannot be stopped. He said Sea Shepherd is not only a group, but a movement of thousands of people pursuing their passion and courage to defend and protect the oceans.

Blog Link: The Green Journal at Asian Correspondent

A letter to the environment minister– from M/Y Bob Barker

The Sea Shepherd’s (SS) “Operation Relentless” met the relentless Japanese fleet in the Southern Ocean this whaling season– at least three times. As in the past seasons, there are dramas. Expect fleet chasing, water bomb exchanges, and ramming of vessels, for example, like an action-packed, adrenalin-pumping movie scenes. This season, however, the SS claims to have exercised restraint not to fight back during sea encounters. But it’s losing its patience when the Japanese whalers allegedly throw heavy metal objects at My Bob Barker crew and attacked the vessel. The harpoon ships also made repeated attempts to damage My Bob Barker’s rudder and propeller.

Captain Peter Hammarstedt, master of M/Y Bob Barker, said that early this week the Japanese harpoon ships Yushin Maru and Yushin Maru No. 3 trailed hundreds of metres of steel cable across his bow and the attacks nearly hit the vessel’s propeller prompting him to.launch his Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) to defend his ship. The Australian Customs Vessel (ACV) could have help, but to now avail. So here’s a full letter to Environment Minister Greg Hunt:

Sea Shepherd fleet clash with Japanese vessels. (Photo: Adelaide Now)

Sea Shepherd fleet clash with Japanese vessels. (Photo: Adelaide Now)

25th of February, 2014

The Hon. Greg Hunt

Minister for the Environment

Dear Minister,

Every year leading up to the Antarctic whaling season, the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands and the United States of America ask both parties in the struggle over the sanctity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to show restraint. It’s an easy way to skirt taking any actual responsibility for the clashes that occur in the Antarctic– why enforce the law against poachers when it’s so much more convenient to just ask them to play nice?

I admit that I had a glimmer of hope when you made a pre-election promise that an Australian Customs Vessel (ACV) would be sent to the Southern Ocean this season. It was a welcome move that gave me great comfort, especially after my vessel, the Bob Barker, was rammed repeatedly by the much larger Japanese factory whaling ship Nisshin Maru last year. But that promise was weathered down by the Abbott Government as the promise of a ship devolved into the promise of an aircraft, transformed into a plane that’s only flown once this entire season.

Well Minister, I believe that I’ve shown restraint this season in the good faith that we had the protection of the Australian Government. But after sustaining two consecutive and completely unprovoked attacks, some of the most ruthless assaults in the history of Sea Shepherd’s Antarctic Whale Defense Campaigns, I’m losing hope.

When the whalers throw heavy metal objects at my crew, I instruct them to not throw anything back – not even in self-defense. When the harpoon vessels attacked my vessel for the first time this season, I sought the sanctuary of Macquarie Island in my bid to lose them, rather than launching small boat action after small boat action in an effort to lose the criminals stalking me. And yet now, I can’t so much as come within sight of the factory whaling ship before the harpoon ships make repeated attempts to damage my rudder and propeller.

On the 23rd of February 2014, when the Japanese harpoon ships Yushin Maru and Yushin Maru No. 3 trailed hundreds of metres of steel cable across my bow, I informed them by radio that their actions were illegal. I told them that I have nine Australian citizens on board and even flew the Australian flag from my foremast to extenuate the point. I stated clearly that the Australian Government had been informed. And yet the attacks were not deterred. Each narrow miss of my propeller reminded me that that ACV could have prevented the attack.

I was left with no other choice but to launch my Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) to defend my ship. The following day you again made a statement calling on all sides to respect international maritime law stating that the facts of what happened are still unclear.

Well, that elusive ACV could have documented every harrowing minute of the blood-chilling ordeal and had they done that, then I’m sure that it would have been equally clear to them that there is a big difference between two poaching vessels towing 250 metres of steel cable with the intent to deliberately damage the rudder and propeller of a conservation ship; and a conservation ship deploying small boats in an effort to defend itself from a sustained attack. The aim of the whale poachers is to subvert the law whereas ours is to uphold the law. I did not launch my RHIBs until after alerting the Government of Australia and New Zealand Search and Rescue that I was under attack.

Minister, I have no doubt that you’re a passionate advocate for the whales and I commend you for your strong statements in defense of them. I even recognize that if the choice had been yours and yours alone, then an ACV may even have been sent. But that aside, in the absence of any kind of law enforcement down here, and as promises are broken, my ship is getting battered and my crew are getting pummeled. On behalf of my Australian crew I have to wonder, how much abuse are we expected to take before it is made clear to Tokyo that the Australian Government will not tolerate unprovoked attacks against its citizens?

I realize that the attack on my vessel occurred outside of the Australian Antarctic Territory, but the safety of Australian citizens, even outside of Australian waters is the responsibility of the Australian Government.

I implore you to make it exceedingly clear to the Government of Japan that unprovoked attacks on Australian citizens, and the vessels that carry them, will not be tolerated by the Australian Government any longer.

The Sea Shepherd fleet has found the factory whaling ship three times this whaling season. We will find them again. And when we do the weather will be rougher and the nights longer. If the Australian Government does not prevent a third attack, then I will have no choice but to resign myself to the reality that the Australian Government has surrendered the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to Japanese whale poachers.

I cannot in good conscience not intervene if I see a crime taking place before my eyes, in this case the killing of threatened, endangered and protected whales.

Where there is an absence of law enforcement, I will have no choice but to fill that law enforcement void.

Yours Hopefully,

Captain Peter Hammarstedt

Master, M/Y Bob Barker

Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary

Antarctica

Can Australia stop Japanese whaling?

An International law expert from the National University of Australia said Australia cannot stop the Japanese from whaling in the Southern Ocean and its relentless monitoring activities have no legal ground.

Donald Rothwell told the ABC  that Australia’s surveillance may compromise the country’s claim to sovereignty over the Antarctic.

Nisshin Maru rams The Bob Barker in a series of clashes in the Southern Ocean. (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

Nisshin Maru rams The Bob Barker in a series of clashes in the Southern Ocean. (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

Speaking to Lucy Carter, Rothwell asked:

 Well the key issue that really needs to be asked is what is Australia’s capacity from a legal perspective to undertake any form of surveillance or monitoring and ultimately law enforcement against Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean?

From the international law perspective, it’s really not in doubt that Australia has no capacity under international law to seek to go and enforce the provisions of the whaling convention against the Japanese whalers.

Japan, for one, does not recognize Australia’s sovereignty beyond its Exclusive Economic Zone and will not bow to any pressure from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to impose a prolonged and “unnecessary” whaling moratorium.

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, along with other previous Japanese governments, made this point clear long time ago. The Ministry pointed out that Japan “strongly supports the protection of endangered species” but it also needs to defend its research activities which prove that “whales are not endangered.” Japan maintains its position as responsible and that that it uses a comprehensive approach to whaling and sustainable use of marine resources.

The Ministry argued that from the 1980’s, whale species were abundant again following IWC’s measures to protect marine species in the 1960s and 1970s. During those times, several whale species were over-harvested and effective measures to protect the endangered species were urgently called for. Japan said IWC “did an outstanding job on this subject in the mid-1970′s to protect blue whales and other endangered species, and Japan highly appreciates its effort.”

This year, Japan’s Minister for Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, Yoshimasa Hayashi,  informed the IWC that the Japanese fleet would be operating anywhere between waters south of Africa, and south-east of New Zealand.  He added that he had issued “special permits” to send the fleet to take up to 935 Antarctic minkes,  50 fin whales, and 50 humpbacks.

Yushin Maru and the Kyo Maru No.1 transfer whales to the Nisshin Maru factory ship, Southern Ocean/ Dec 21, 2005

Yushin Maru and the Kyo Maru No.1 transfer whales to the Nisshin Maru factory ship, Southern Ocean/ Dec 21, 2005

Norway, Iceland aid Japanese whale imports

In defiance to the IWC, Norway and Iceland are helping Japan to import tonnes of whale meat this year.

Washington DC-based Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) announced a statement it has obtained new documents showing Norway is playing a key role in Iceland’s massive exports of whale to Japan.

Iceland is shipping the bulk of whale meat and blubber to Japan’s Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd via Norway. Kyodo is implicated in the controversial whaling within Australia’s Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha announced in December last year that it would begin imports of Norwegian whale meat in 2014. The company said the imports will be sold “in order to help subsidize future Japanese scientific whaling efforts.”

Norway’s Environment Agency granted Reine-based Lofothval two permits to send whale products to Japan. One shipment of 5,000 kg is identified as whale meat only from Lofothval, while a second shipment is identified as a re-export of 5,000 kg of Icelandic minke whale meat and blubber, AWI claims.

Another Norwegian company, Myklebust Trading AS,  also sought government’s permission to ship up to 34,381 kg of minke whale products to the Toshi International Company in Japan. This would be the second shipment from Myklebust to Toshi since 2013, AWI said. Statistics shows that 14.1 metric tons of whale meat were imported from Iceland into Norway in February 2013.

AWI said anti-whaling countries are enraged with the latest Japanese whale imports that will soon spark protests before the International Court of Justice which is expected to issue a ruling this year on a case filed by Australia calling for Japan to stop whaling.

Taiji vows to uphold whaling tradition

The iconic whales at the entrance of Taiji (Photo: Japan Focus.org)

The iconic whales at the entrance of Taiji (Photo: Japan Focus.org)

Taiji, a small town in southeastern Japan, notorious for its tradition of marine mammal slaughter, has forged community alliance to support the long-held tradition of whaling. This township stubbornly insists that “whales have no national borders, they live in deep seas, and  migrate freely across and through the waters of national jurisdiction, hence different people have different views about the whales.”

The general perception of whale in Taiji is that whale is part of the marine food resources, and whaling is no different from hunting and farming.

Japan, like Norway, Denmark, Russia, and Iceland treats whale meat as food, and where the consumption of marine food resources exceed the consumption of land animal meat.

It is believed that Japan and Iceland have the longest life expectancy — possibly attributed to people living a lifestyle of a balanced diet coming from the sea.

In its Declaration on Traditional Whaling (2006), summit attendees denounced the “double standard” given by conservationists to criticize whaling as a cruel act.

Among the many points of the Declaration,

It is a double standard by giving a name to a particular whale” (read – dolphin!) and treating the issue on the individual animal basis while promoting culling of over-populated wildlife (kangaroo, deer, and camel) by treating the cull issue on a species basis for the sake of preservation of species and not focusing on its aspect of cruelty.

Australia’s relentless surveillance

Sea Shepherd Australia’s (SSA) Operation Relentless is out in the Southern Ocean to disturb the Japanese whalers. SSA reported last week it located the three Japanese vessels and took footage of one ship carrying three slaughtered minke whales.

The Steve Irwin exchanges water bombs with a Japanese vessel.

The Steve Irwin exchanges water canons fires with a Japanese vessel.

The Japanese Yushin Maru No.3 also pursued The Bob Barker, but it stopped the chase when The Bob Barker crossed Australia’s EEZ, 200 miles of Macquarie Island. The harpoon ship stopped one mile outside the zone, the SSA Captain Peter Hammarstedt reported.

The Steve Irwin and The Sam Simon have been patrolling the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in pursuit of the Nisshin Maru. SSA said the Japanese vessels have been running for more than a week with little likelihood of being able to stop to poach whales.

SSA Chairman Bob Brown, for the first time, was in high spirits and satisfied with the support of the Federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt. Brown said Hunt has been contacting the Japanese authorities over the impending invasion of the Australian Whale Sanctuary, which includes the EEZ, by the harpoon ship.

“Once again Sea Shepherd has seen the Japanese whaling fleet’s tactics thwarted. But we are mindful that the fleet is publicly committed to killing another 931 Minke Whales as well as 50 Fin Whales and 50 Humpbacks,”

Blog Link: The Green Journal at Asian Correspondent