Yesterday, December 25, at approximately 1326 AEDT, the Sea Shepherd conservation ship, Sam Simon, located a discarded gillnet at 62° 16' South, 081° 14' East, inside the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) area of management.
Using the coordinates and photographic evidence provided by fellow Sea Shepherd ship, the Bob Barker, Sam Simon Captain Sid Chakravarty was able to identify the gillnet - a method of fishing outlawed by CCAMLR since 2004 - as the property of the Interpol-listed vessel, Thunder. The gillnet was abandoned by the Nigerian-flagged Thunder when it fled from the Bob Barker on December 17, after the poaching vessel was found inside the CCAMLR area of management without a license to fish.
The crew of the Sam Simon is now in the process of removing the illegal gillnet from the Antarctic waters. They will document the marine life killed in the net, and provide this as evidence to authorities as a part of an ongoing effort to see the Thunder prosecuted.
"A known criminal operator like Thunder has no place in Antarctica, or anywhere else in our oceans. By removing her illegally set gillnets we are putting a huge dent in the $60 million profits that her owners and operators have illicitly made over the years. We want to ensure that this vessel is completely disabled - logistically, financially and legally - and that its reign of terror is brought to a definitive end," said Captain Chakravarty.
Captain Chakravarty further added, "It is Sea Shepherd's responsibility to retrieve this gear, as abandoned gillnets eventually turn into a 'ghost nets.' Set adrift in the Southern Ocean, they wreak havoc, killing indiscriminately and indefinitely - not only vulnerable toothfish, but protected sea birds, whales, seals and other deep dwelling marine life. Such destructive fishing methods, which undermine conservation measures, have no place in this pristine ecosystem."
Once the recovery process has been completed, Captain Chakravarty will report to Interpol, CCAMLR, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the Australian Federal Police with details of Thunder's illegal catch. The Sam Simon will then join the Bob Barker to accompany the Thunder back to port, to demand that the relevant authorities investigate the poaching vessel.
Despite the fact that the use of gillnets is outlawed by CCAMLR, the Commission has expressed concerns regarding the impact of this fishing method, which is still used by Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing vessels.
Sea Shepherd hopes that the information provided to CCAMLR will help to mitigate the current deficiency in data regarding the catches of IUU vessels.
The Bob Baker has been in pursuit of the Thunder for ten days, preventing the poaching vessel from engaging in further illegal fishing activity.
Operation Icefish is Sea Shepherd's 11th Southern Ocean Defence Campaign, and the first to target IUU toothfish fishing operators in the waters of Antarctica.