Thirty Years of Vigilance Against Destructive Driftnets

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson.

Sea Shepherd documented 321 dead marine creatures of 12 different species in just one net confiscated during Operation Driftnet.

In the years between 1987 and 1992, Sea Shepherd launched a number of campaigns to oppose and shut down high seas drift netting.
 
I took three ships into these confrontations, the DIVINE WIND, the SEA SHEPHERD II and the EDWARD ABBEY.
 
They were campaigns of intense confrontations. We rammed drift netters and confiscated and destroyed their nets, and with every campaign we focused more and more attention on this incredibly destructive industry.
 
The driftnets we found ranged from 10 to over 100 nautical miles in length, set in panels from the surface to about 15 meters in depth, buoys holding them up at the top and lead weights holding down the bottoms.
 
Massive weapons of devastating ecological destruction, and every day enough driftnet was being set to encircle the globe three times.

Aerial photograph depicting the scale of one of the illegal driftnets discovered by Sea Shepherd during Operation Driftnet.

In 1987 we challenged Taiwanese and Japanese drift netters in the North Pacific and the Bering Sea, covering ground all the way past Adak in the Aleutians and within sight of the coastline of the Soviet Union.
 
In 1990 we intervened against Taiwanese drift netters in the North Pacific. In 1991 we confronted them in the Caribbean, and in 1992 we challenged them a thousand miles due north of Hawaii.
 
Finally in December 1992, the U.N. implemented resolutions to ensure that a global moratorium on all large-scale pelagic drift-net fishing was fully implemented on the high seas of the world's oceans and seas, including enclosed seas and semi-enclosed seas, by 31 December 1992.
 
So for 24 years these insidious curtains of death and destruction have been illegal and during all these years we have not encountered any of these lethal monofilament nets anywhere in the ocean.

The Fu Yuan Yu 076, one of the six illegal driftnet poaching vessels during the 18-day pursuit of Operation Driftnet.

That is until recently in January when Captain Sid Chakravarty and his crew on the M/V Steve Irwin discovered a six-ship Chinese fleet setting these banned nets in the Indian Ocean.
 
Sea Shepherd began the campaign against driftnets nearly 30 years ago in 1987. We succeeded in taking a practise that was virtually unknown and focusing international media attention on it, and to do that we had to engage in aggressive campaigns to disable the fishing equipment by destroying power blocks and confiscating and destroying hundreds of miles of driftnet. 
 
We had no other alternative but to dramatize the situation through aggressive campaigns.
 
Things are different today. The world’s governments are more receptive to taking action against illegal high seas fishing in response to the gathering of evidence.

 

Crew of The MV Steve Irwin confiscating illegal driftnets.

Back in 1991 when we reported illegal activity to the authorities, there was no response and if there was it was to condemn Sea Shepherd for the interference.
 
Now governments are taking over-fishing and illegal fishing seriously.
 
Over the last 15 months Sea Shepherd was instrumental in shutting down the entire six-ship fleet of toothfish poachers and we did so with the full cooperation of Interpol and numerous state governments.
 
The situation we have now is that Sea Shepherd has caught a six-ship fleet flying the flag of the People’s Republic of China.
 
There was no aggressive action taken, just the deployment of video crews on small boats and the use of drones. As a result these ships were caught violating numerous international laws, and most importantly they were caught using driftnets that have been banned since 1992.

Sea Shepherd has reported the Fu Yuan Yu 076’s position to the Chinese government, providing authorities with an immediate opportunity to arrest and investigate the vessel.

Sea Shepherd believes that this evidence is all that is needed for the government of China to investigate these operations. Sea Shepherd has reason to believe that the Chinese government was unaware of the illegal activities of this fleet in the Indian Ocean. The reason for this is that Sea Shepherd has filmed evidence of the fishermen destroying their gear. They would not be doing this if they had nothing to hide from the Chinese government.
 
The Sea Shepherd ship MV STEVE IRWIN is now in the territorial waters of the People’s Republic of China. Contact has already been made with the Chinese Navy and the STEVE IRWIN has not been stopped in the pursuit of the poaching Vessel FU YUAN YU 076.

The MV Steve Irwin alongside one of the illegal driftnets discovered on Operation Driftnet.

Captain Sid Chakravarty intends to make the evidence he has gathered available to the Chinese authorities. It will be the decision of the government of China on how to proceed with an investigation. Sea Shepherd trusts that the Chinese government will uphold its obligations under international law and will act accordingly.
 
After all, China is not Japan.