As two humpback whales struggled to free themselves from a purse seine fishing net deployed by a European-owned fishing vessel, a Sea Shepherd drone hovered above.
Two Humpback Whales in Net
The drone captured distressing imagery, and for more than one hour, the humpback whales frantically fought to escape. Despite repeated requests for the vessel to open their net, to allow the whales to escape, they did not.
Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker deployed the drone. The Bob Barker has been patrolling the waters of Gabon for six years, in partnership with Gabonese authorities. The Gabonese authorities regularly board and inspect fishing vessels licensed to fish within Gabon’s sovereign waters to ensure compliance with their law.
It was in 2015 that Operation Albacore began, a campaign to stop illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Gabon waters. At that time, fisheries observers were reporting purse seine fishing vessels that routinely used whales and whale sharks as living fish aggregation devices. The fishermen deliberately set their nets around marine megafauna with the expectation that they would ensnare the tuna that swim with them.
Gabon’s Minister of Fisheries Takes Action
Gabon’s Minister of Fisheries, the Honorable Biendi Maganga-Moussavou, banned that practice, requiring purse seine fishing vessels to immediately open their nets if whales or whale sharks are inadvertently trapped inside. The order applied even if it meant the loss of their tuna catch.
Clearly, the European vessel did not comply with that law, even when reminded of it by Sea Shepherd crew.
“Even though the two endangered humpback whales were ultimately released, every minute of additional stress reduces the likelihood of survival post-release,” said Captain Peter Hammarstedt, Sea Shepherd’s Director of Campaigns.
Purse seine fishing is the practice of deploying a large wall of net around an entire school of fish, closing the net on the bottom and then drawing the net in, compacting the catch.
When Minister Maganga-Moussavou was shown the distressing footage, he committed to joining Gabonese fisheries inspectors, national park eco-guards, Navy sailors and Sea Shepherd crew on board the Bob Barker for several days of at-sea patrols.
Strong Message Sent
“I wanted to see the practices of the purse seine fishing fleet firsthand while also sending a strong message that illicit fishing activity will not be tolerated in the waters of Gabon. I travelled out to sea over 190 kilometers from Libreville-right up to our maritime border with neighboring São Tomé and Príncipe-to show that the government of the Gabonese Republic is vigilant in patrolling every square kilometer of its sovereign waters; and to convey that Operation Albacore has my full support as well as the complete backing of the Head of State, H.E. Ali Bongo Ondimba,” said Minister Maganga-Moussavou.
Minister Maganga-Moussavou sanctioned the vessel that refused to open its nets for the two humpback whales.
“The publication of this shocking footage, the sanctioning of the vessel and my own personal participation in the patrol will deter future illicit acts,” said Minister Maganga-Moussavou.
For more information about Operation Albacore: https://www.seashepherdglobal.org/our-campaigns/operation-albacore/