Sea Shepherd seizes African gillnet with 200 dead toothfish
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Sea Shepherd seizes African gillnet with 200 dead toothfish

After an aggressive 5-day chase in the Southern Ocean, the Sea Shepherd finally retrieved what it calls illegal gillnet abandoned by the African illegal toothfish vessel, Thunder. Along with the 25-km-long net are 200 dead toothfish and other marine species.

The ship, Sam Simon, chased Thunder for five days and confiscated gillnet reportedly abandoned by the poaching vessel. Sea Shepherd claims that Thunder is illegally fishing inside the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) area of management located in the Southern Ocean.

The 30-member crew from 15 nations retrieved the gillnet with over 200 targeted Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish found dead with it. Scientists on board the ship confirmed that a number of the dead toothfish were females of a reproductive age, and were carrying eggs.

Non-target species are also hauled including rays, jellyfish, crabs and a “staggering number” of grenadiers- all dead. A majority of the crabs caught in the net , however, were still alive and were released back into the water.

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Over 200 dead toothfish are caught in the Thunder’s gillnet. (Photo: Jeff Wirth)

Captain of the Sam Simon, Sid Chakravarty, said with 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.

He added, “…The Sam Simon crew has given the world a chance to observe first-hand the destruction caused by this fishing method. Never has any conservation movement seen the recovery, confiscation and documentation of such length of gear. The onus is now on the relevant international authorities to use this evidence to prosecute the Thunder.”

Before the New Year, the Sam Simon will continue to scout the region around Banzare Bank on the lookout for more gillnet sets laid out by the Thunder.

Captain Chakravarty has reported the salvage operation to the relevant authorities, including Interpol, CCAMLR, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and Australian Federal Police. The confiscated equipment will be kept as evidence of the Thunder’s illegal activity, and handed-over to the relevant port authorities to aid in the prosecution of the vessel.

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Captain Sid Chakravarty identifies the 91st toothfish hauled from the gillnet. (Photo: Jeff Wirth)

She Shepherd said  the Nigerian-flagged Thunder was issued with an Interpol Purple Notice following a joint effort by Norwegian, New Zealand and Australian authorities, and is currently included on CCAMLR’s black-list of IUU fishing operators.

The use of gillnets has been outlawed by CCAMLR since 2004, and the Commission has specifically expressed concerns regarding the impact of this fishing method on the marine ecosystems of Antarctica.

The Bob Barker ship has been in pursuit of the Thunder since the vessel first fled on December 17. Operation Icefish is Sea Shepherd’s 11th Southern Ocean Defence Campaign, and the first to target IUU toothfish fishing operators in the waters of Antarctica.

The campaign has been unstoppable despite criticism from academic figures in Tasmania earlier this month. Read related article here.