Arrest of Three Fishing Vessels by Navy Marks Sea Shepherd’s Return to Sierra Leone
Thursday, 23 Feb, 2023
At the start of the new year, an armed detachment of Sierra Leone Navy stationed on board the Sea Shepherd Global ship Age of Union boarded and arrested two trawlers as they crossed into Sierra Leonean waters from neighboring Guinea-Conakry.
The two trawlers possessed fishing licenses for Sierra Leone but not for Guinea-Conakry where they had recorded fishing positions. The two trawlers were escorted to the Sierra Leonean capital of Freetown by Age of Union where they remain detained more than three weeks later.
The arrests follow the apprehension of a 65-meter purse seiner named Sea Frontier, which was illegally deploying fish aggregating devices (FADs) in Sierra Leonean waters.
The subsequent time that Sea Frontier spent detained in port—during judicial proceedings--is estimated to have prevented the netting of at least 160,000 individual tuna, the majority of which would have been below reproductive age.
A FAD is a floating object, usually made of plastic, that attracts fish. Sonar and satellite communications equipment fitted to the high-tech FAD alert fishing vessels to the presence of fish. FADs are problematic because they lead to higher numbers of by-catch, or the unintentional catch, of sharks and juvenile fish. In the case of the latter, fishing on FADs in the waters of Gabon—another Sea Shepherd Global partner country—has resulted in almost 80% of the tuna caught being below reproductive age, as opposed to 12% on free schools of tuna. Gabon is now regulating the number of FADs that can be deployed by ship, and there is a movement within Gabon to ban FADs all-together. That movement will save countless sharks.
The resumption of Operation Sierra Leone Coastal Defense marks almost two years, since the joint patrols by Sea Shepherd Global and the Sierra Leone Navy netted five vessels in less than 50 hours.
Over 70 other fishing vessels retreated to port when they received news that a patrol was underway in order to avoid the boardings.
I remember watching a parade of ships—dozens and dozens of them—filing into the Port of Freetown, because inspections were underway. The combined fishing efforts of seventy ships ground to a stop for the duration of the mission. It is the belief of Sea Shepherd Global that none of them had valid fishing licenses.Peter Hammarstedt, Director of Campaigns.
One of the five busted trawlers, Jianmei 3, was arrested for 44 documented accounts of fishing illegally inside prohibited areas reserved for artisanal and small-scale fishers, and would never go to sea again. The captain tried to destroy the evidence of fishing record books as the Sierra Leone Navy breached the wheelhouse.
In Sierra Leone, more than 200,000 people work in small-scale fisheries. To safeguard the environment and to protect the livelihoods of local fishers, the government of Sierra Leone instituted an inshore exclusion zone (IEZ) where industrial and semi-industrial fishing is strictly forbidden. However, due to challenges of monitoring, control and surveillance, local fishermen report that trawlers routinely run over their canoes and nets as fish populations also decline.
Under the leadership of Sierra Leone’s Minister of Defense and National Security, the Honorable Brigadier General (Rtd) Kellie Conteh, Sea Shepherd Global is supporting the Sierra Leone Navy to conduct patrols at-sea to combat illegal fishing through the assistance of Sea Shepherd crew and the Sea Shepherd vessel Age of Union. The patrols are generously funded by Age of Union, an environmental non-profit founded and led by philanthropist and tech entrepreneur Dax Dasilva.
Age of Union is about supporting high-impact projects but also about forging alliances between parties of changemakers whose combined efforts can make the greatest difference for the planet. The arrest of three vessels in the waters of Sierra Leone for illegal fishing, reinforces my belief in the power of partnerships, and what is possible when governments, civil society and philanthropy combine forces for good.Dax Dasilva, Age of Union
Since 2016, Sea Shepherd has also been working in partnership with the governments of Gabon, Liberia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Tanzania, Namibia, The Gambia and Benin to combat fisheries crime by providing the use of civilian offshore patrol vessels to African coastal and island States so that authorities can enforce fisheries regulations and conservation laws in their sovereign waters. To date, the unique partnerships have resulted in the arrest of over 80 vessels for illegal fishing and other fisheries crimes.