Sea Shepherd is a non-profit organisation set up in 1977 and committed to the defence, protection and conservation of the oceans. Their strategies involve the use of direct action to defend marine wildlife and protect their habitat, and a focus on exposing the crimes happening at sea through the use of media.
As part of the media team onboard the M/Y Sam Simon, I spent three months documenting the work of Sea Shepherd, first for Operation Sola Stella III in Liberia, and then for Operation Dolphin Bycatch along the Atlantic coast of France.
OPERATION SOLA STELLA III - FIGHTING IUU FISHING IN LIBERIA
IUU fishing stands for Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to IUU fishing, which accounts for up to 40% of the fish caught in West African waters. In countries like Liberia, the resources of the Liberian Coast Guard to monitor, control and surveil all of Liberia’s sovereign waters are stretched. Sea Shepherd's mission is to assist them in identifying and arresting the unlicensed foreign industrial vessels operating in its waters, and to protect the six nautical miles closest to shore reserved for subsistence, artisanal and semi-artisanal fishing, an industry which employs 33,000 Liberians.
Captain Alistair Allan of Sea Shepherd's M/Y Sam Simon describes how Liberian waters have recovered from overfishing thanks to the successful partnership with the Liberian Coast Guard to stop the scourge of illegal fishing in their sovereign waters. "When I compare the wildlife to when I was first here to now, the pods of dolphins, the schools of tuna are so much more ample," says Captain Allan. "What that means is that for the 33,000 Liberians who depend on local artisanal fishing, their life is returning to normal; they're seeing fish in their nets once again."
SEA SHEPHERD - OPERATION DOLPHIN BYCATCH
Each winter thousands of dolphins visit the Atlantic coast of France to feed on its abundant fish, and each year thousands of them die in the nets of trawling vessels that are busy catching sea bass and hake. Even though dolphins are endangered and protected animals, these deaths aren't monitored nor punished, as they are considered "inevitable bycatch" under the French law.
Sea Shepherd’s Operation Dolphin ByCatch aims to expose dolphin deaths off the Atlantic Coast to put pressure on the French government to require fisheries observers on all commercial fishing vessels, enforce the accurate reporting of bycatch, and ban fishing practices that unnecessarily result in thousands of dolphins killed as bycatch every year.
During the first six weeks of the 2018 campaign, 600 dead dolphins washed up on French beaches in the Vendée, Charente Maritime, and Gironde. These deaths are only the tip of the iceberg though, since more than 80% of the corpses, often gutted, sink at sea. Most of the bodies found are mutilated, with severed fins, gaff hook marks, deep cuts, and broken rostrums consistent with capture in fishing gear.
In the video I captured below you can see the dead body of a dolphin, trapped in the fishing net, while being pulled up by a trawler. This was one of many we filmed and reported during the campaign.
The question of how "accidental" these deaths are is what this campaign wants to call the attention to. Can we really define accidental something that happens repeatedly, consistently and predictably, which causes thousands of losses in a protected species? I believe these deaths are systematic and inevitable, intrinsically connected with the fishing methods, and the use of the word "accidental by-catch" is misleading, to say the least.