In April 2016, Sea Shepherd began a partnership with the government of Gabon to stop illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing in their coastal waters. In August 2016, the campaign expanded to include the waters of São Tomé and Príncipe.
Of the global catch of fish, 15-40% is estimated to be caught by illegal operators, and 90% is caught in waters that fall under the authority of a Coastal State like Gabon. Gabon is a hotspot for a marine wildlife, including the largest breeding population of leatherback and olive ridley sea turtles, 20 species of dolphins and whales, and some of the world’s richest tuna waters. It is also a humpback whale breeding ground and nursery. Despite laws and political will to protect the waters, Gabon lacks the adequate resources to do so.
During the 110-day chase of the infamous poaching vessel the Thunder, Gabon expressed a willingness to help intercede and arrest the ship if possible. Due to that connection and the government’s commitment to stopping ocean crime, Sea Shepherd and the government of Gabon arranged to have one of our vessels patrol their waters.
From April-September 2016, the M/V Bob Barker patrolled Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe’s coastlines as a civilian patrol vessel, with Sea Shepherd crew under the direction of Campaign Leader Captain Peter Hammarstedt, Gabonese Navy officers, and officers with the Fisheries Enforcement Agency. During this time, over 40 inspections and boardings were carried out at sea, resulting in the arrest of five IUU fishing vessels, including one discovered trawling inside Mayumba National Park, a marine protected area.
In 2017, following the announcement of the creation of 9 new national marine parks and 11 new aquatic reserves in West Africa, Sea Shepherd returned to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe.
During the four-month campaign, officers from the Gabonese Navy and Fisheries Enforcement Agency and Sea Shepherd crewmembers were stationed on board the M/V Bob Barker. Admiral Giuseppe de Giorgi, the former Chief of the Italian Navy, also crewed.
Operation Albacore II resulted in the arrest of two fishing vessels, who were found to be fishing without a license. The campaign also led to the discovery of systematic non-declaration of by-catch on board tuna fishing vessels, by a factor of as much as 3 or 4. Ships were observed discarding endangered species, such as Hammerhead and silky sharks. On board a Spanish vessel, Sea Shepherd and the Gabonese authorities discovered 69 tons of processed sharks and shark fins, despite the fact that the vessel was only licensed to fish for tuna and similar species.
Sea Shepherd is currently working with the governments of the ship’s countries as well as the government of Gabon to invoke infringement proceedings against the vessels in question.