Anti-poaching and marine conservation group Sea Shepherd announced with a new video today a campaign to add to its long list of efforts to protect the ocean. “Operation Albacore” will be a six-month crusade to halt the illegal fishing of albacore tuna in the territorial sea of the West African nation, Gabon. The Sea Shepherd will work in tangent with the Gabonese Navy and the nation’s Fisheries Enforcement Agency meaning that, for the first time, all of Gabon’s waters can be patrolled.
Gabon, located on the equator in West Africa, is home to a vibrant sea life — partly because of its ongoing efforts to protect its waters. But with territorial waters that are estimated to be able to support an annual catch of 15,000 tons of tuna, the area is ripe with illegal fishing operations who typically get a license in a different country, fish in Gabon, and then sell the catch in Ghana.
The territorial waters of Gabon make up part of the African Coastal State waters where 90 percent of the global catch of fish is caught. Of this catch, 15 to 40 percent is estimated to be caught illegally.
“The Gulf of Guinea has some of the richest tuna waters in the world, and because tuna are a migratory species, regional and international cooperation is absolutely necessary to protect that species from overfishing,” Sea Shepherd’s Captain Peter Hammarstedt says in the video. “One of the biggest challenges facing Gabon for enforcing its own fisheries laws is that they currently don’t have the ability to cover their economic waters.”
So, Sea Shepherd is sending one of its premier vessels, the Bob Barker, to help. The six months that the Bob Barker will be patrolling the Gabonese seas lasts the entire tuna season and will serve the double purpose of catching illegal activity and keeping licensed operations honest.
Sea Shepherd has said it is happy to help Gabon, which it views as a leader in conversation efforts for other central African nations. This isn’t the first time Gabon and Sea Shepherd have worked together — during Sea Shepherd’s 110-day, record-breaking pursuit of the Thunder, an illegal poaching vessel, the Gabonese Navy announced it was willing to come out and arrest the Thunder if it entered Gabonese waters.
“It’s absolutely paramount for the Sea Shepherd to work together with governments that may lack the adequate resources to enforce the law in their waters,” says Hammarstedt. “Sea Shepherd can assist in actually bringing boots on the ground, to bring operational capability in the form of a civilian patrol vessel, to a country like Gabon that really wants to address the issue of IUU [unregulated and unreported] fishing.”