Commentary

Giant Factory Ships: Operation Ocean Killers

Thursday, 17 Feb, 2022

Operation Ocean Killers aims to shine a spotlight on the giant factory ships that plunder the ocean, taking the majority of the quotas and public subsidies. An environmental, economic and societal scandal. Commentary by Lamya Essemlali, President Sea Shepherd France.

The super trawler Frank Bonefass pulling up its net. Photo by Thomas Jeunehomme/Sea Shepherd.

Last December, our RHIB, the Clementine, visited the fishing grounds of the giant factory ships that regularly operate in the English Channel to bring back images of these steel monsters with disproportionate capacities. Capable of catching up to 200 tons of fish a day (countless individuals), these vessels, some of which carry the MSC “sustainable fishing” label, are the symbol of excess and overfishing. In the space of just four days, our teams were able to film eight giant trawlers (Afrika, Maartje Theadora, Zeeland, Scombrus, Dirk Dirk, Alida, Frank Bonefaas and Annie Hillina) ranging in size from 86 to 140 meters and operating from the northwest of Le Havre to the northeast of Cherbourg, France. 

The Maartje Theadora super trawler and Sea Shepherd's Clementine, by Guillem Fox Vendrell/Sea Shepherd.

Although several nationalities share the responsibility, vessels flying the Dutch flag are increasingly taking over French waters. The only French flag is flown by the Scombrus, a ship belonging to the company France Pélagique which, as its name does not indicate, is wholly owned by the Dutch holding company Cornelis Vrolijk. Why does France allow these ships to plunder its territorial waters in this way?    

The Alida super trawler and the Clementine, by Guillem Fox Vendrell/Sea Shepherd.

Within the framework of Operation Dolphin Bycatch (in France’s Bay of Biscay), one of the issues discussed was why dolphins have come closer to the coast in recent years, dying tragically in the fishing nets of coastal fishing vessels, which are admittedly much smaller than the giant trawlers, but which are present in large numbers and using non-selective fishing methods.

Scientific hypotheses assume that the giant trawlers, by overfishing the dolphins' prey fish offshore, pushed the dolphins closer to the coast. But near the coast, the ocean is now a minefield of non-selective fishing. This is a lose-lose situation for the dolphins, who are either starving or suffocating in the fishing nets due to overfishing.

The Afrika super trawler captured from above by Sea Sepherd's drone (photo by Guillem Fox Vendrell/Sea Shepherd).

While in previous years we focused exclusively on coastal fishing vessels (whose impact on marine life was greatly underestimated), we feel it’s necessary to focus just as much on another part of the problem, further offshore, involving fewer vessels, but whose impact on the ocean is catastrophic.

When looking at the big picture, it’s absurd to continue to apply the logic of industrial exploitation to marine wildlife. No equivalent land-based hunt exists today. The ocean is a living environment and life in it is as fragile as it is necessary for our own survival, our climate and the air we breathe.

Operation Ocean Killers aims to shine a spotlight on the giant factory ships that plunder the ocean, taking the majority of the quotas and public subsidies. An environmental, economic and societal scandal. 

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