Sea Shepherd Returns to Patrol Africa’s Largest Marine Protected Area
Wednesday, 10 Jul, 2019
Two years after Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba declared the creation of nine new national marine parks and 11 new aquatic reserves at the United Nations Ocean Conference in New York, Sea Shepherd has committed to another three years of assisting the Gabonese government in the combat against illegal fishing through at-sea patrols in Africa’s largest network of marine protected areas. Photos by Rebecca Griffiths/Sea Shepherd
For Operation Albacore IV, Sea Shepherd has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Gabonese Ministries of Fisheries, Defense and Environment to extend a successful partnership that has already seen the arrest of eight illegal fishing vessels since the start of joint patrols three years ago. The expansion of at-sea patrols to include the waters of the neighboring island state of São Tomé and Príncipe resulted in the apprehension of another two fishing vessels for shark finning offenses.
Under the framework of the MoU, Sea Shepherd pledges the continued provision of a civilian offshore patrol vessel (COPV), the operating crew to run it, and fuel. Gabonese partners dedicate the law enforcement agents who sail on the COPV with the authority to board, inspect and arrest violators of Gabonese law.
Starting on June 5th, a 15-day covert patrol led by Gabonese authorities on board the M/Y Bob Barker focused on marine parks situated in border areas between Gabon and neighboring Equatorial Guinea and Congo-Brazzaville. When Operation Albacore began in 2016, fleets of more than a dozen foreign trawlers were routinely detected crossing into Gabonese waters from neighboring Congo-Brazzaville to fish illegally. However, the covert patrol discovered that both border areas were unusually quiet, with past violators staying well-clear of the border adjoining the marine parks.
“These foreign trawlers have previously seen Gabon’s marine parks as biodiversity piggy banks to be smashed and looted by their nets. However, three years and many arrests later, the poachers stay well-clear thanks to the leadership of Gabon. Operation Albacore has successfully evolved from making arrests to deterring criminal activity, the latter allowing fish populations to recover while the marine parks are vigilantly defended, not just on paper but also in practice."Peter Hammarstedt, captain of the M/Y Bob Barker.
Throughout the 2019 tuna fishing season, Gabonese marines (Marine Nationale), inspectors with the Gabonese Ministry of Fisheries (DGPA) and rangers with the National Agency of National Parks (ANPN) will continue to be stationed on board Sea Shepherd’s ship, the M/Y Bob Barker, working alongside Sea Shepherd crew to patrol Gabon's sovereign waters. These patrols will provide a vehicle for law enforcement to defend, conserve and protect critical tuna habitat in Central West Africa.
Operation Albacore IV aims to continue defending Gabon’s newly established marine protected areas, to detect and deter IUU fishing activity while also monitoring legal compliance by licensed fishing operators, and to expand existing monitoring, control and surveillance measures.
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