Distressing footage of two humpback whales in fishing net prompts Gabonese minister to join patrol

Tuesday, 31 Aug, 2021

On the 4th of August, a Sea Shepherd drone hovered above a purse seine fishing net that a European-owned fishing vessel had set around a school of tuna, capturing distressing imagery of two humpback whales struggling to free themselves.  

For over one hour, the humpback whales frantically fought to escape despite repeated requests for the vessel to open their net. 

The drone was deployed from the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker, presently in the sixth year of patrolling the waters of Gabon–a country in central Africa–in partnership with Gabonese authorities who board and inspect fishing vessels licensed to fish within Gabon’s sovereign waters to ensure compliance with the law. 

Humpback whale struggling in purse seine fishing net.

When Operation Albacore–the campaign to stop illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the waters of Gabon–started in 2015, fisheries observers regularly reported that purse seine fishing vessels routinely used whales and whale sharks as living fish aggregation devices, deliberately setting their nets around marine megafauna with the expectation that they would ensnare the tuna that swim with them.   

As a result, the government of Gabon, under the leadership of the Honorable Biendi Maganga-Moussavou, Minister of Fisheries, banned the practice, requiring purse seine fishing vessels to immediately open their nets if whales or whale sharks are inadvertently trapped inside, even if it means the loss of tuna catch.  

“Even though the two endangered humpback whales were ultimately released, every minute of additional stress reduces the likelihood of survival post-release."

Captain Peter Hammarstedt, Sea Shepherd’s Director of Campaigns.
Sea Shepherd small boat with F/V Pont Saint Louis. Photo by Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.

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.  

Minister Biendi Maganga-Moussavou speaks with Captain Peter Hammarstedt about Operation Albacore. Photo by Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.

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.

“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. He has decided to sanction the vessel that refused to open its nets. 

Minister Biendi Maganga-Moussavou inspects cargo holds of purse seiner. Photo by Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.

“The publication of this shocking footage, the sanctioning of the vessel and my own personal participation in the patrol will deter future illicit acts.”

Minister Maganga-Moussavou.
Minister Biendi Maganga-Moussavou watches footage of humpback whales caught in fishing net. Photo by Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.
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