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Sea Shepherd helps Gabonese authorities bust fishing vessel for hiding endangered species’ deaths

Monday, Sep 18, 2017

In 1990 the “Dolphin Safe” label was created after public outcry over the number of dolphins killed in tuna fishing nets. Over 25 years later, non-target and often endangered species are still being killed as “by-catch” in tuna nets around the world.  In Gabon, where yellow fin tuna is fished in the same waters teeming with dolphins, turtles, rays and sharks, by-catch is a common occurrence that is not only rarely avoided, but also often unreported by the industrial tuna fishing vessels.

Endangered hammerhead shark captured in a tuna net. Photo by Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd

This summer, Gabonese fisheries enforcement officers uncovered systematic non-declaration of by-catch on board the El Salvador-flagged fishing vessel (F/V) Montecelo during a routine boarding and inspection assisted by the Gabonese Navy and Sea Shepherd. Failure to declare by-catch is a violation of Gabonese law, since monitoring by-catch is a critical component in measuring the total environmental impact of a fishery.

Gabonese fisheries enforcement officers observed one sea turtle, one large hammerhead shark, one blue shark and seven silky sharks hauled on board the purse seiner together with the target catch of tuna. All of the sharks appeared dead when discarded overboard, including the endangered Hammerhead and silky sharks.

On the 9th of August, the Sea Shepherd vessel M/Y Bob Barker remained with the F/V Montecelo and documented six sharks discarded as by-catch.

The F/V Montecelo and Sea Shepherd's Bob Barker in Gabonese waters. Photo bt Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.

When the F/V Montecelo was boarded a second time two days later, records showed that two endangered hammerhead sharks from that day, as well as the six sharks from the day previous, were not documented as required. As a result, infringement proceedings have begun against the F/V Montecelo, with three possible repercussions: a fine, a suspension of their current fishing license, and/or the non-renewal of their fishing license for next year.

On questioning, the captain of the F/V Montecelo claimed that by-catch was not reported because he had been “too busy”, “didn’t know that it was required” and separate to that, that he was “not able to identify the species”.

Sea Shepherd’s discovery on board the F/V Montecelo is part of a large-scale problem uncovered by Operation Albacore of non-declaration and under-declaration -- by as much as a factor of 3 or 4 -- of by-catch by tuna fishing vessels in Gabonese waters.

The Bob Barker has been conducting patrols in the region since May as a part of the ongoing Operation Albacore, a campaign to tackle illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, under the direction of the Government of Gabon. Through monitoring and documentation, Sea Shepherd is assisting Gabonese authorities in their efforts to mitigate incidental mortality and serious injury caused as a result of by-catch.

Tuna fishing net being hauled up to the F/V Montecelo deck. Photo Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.
The F/V Montecelo pulling up its fishing nets. Photo Tara Lamboune/Sea Shepherd.
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