In a joint operation in partnership with the government of The Gambia to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in West Africa, Sea Shepherd crew worked together with law enforcement agents representing the Gambian Department of Fisheries and The Gambia Navy onboard the Sea Shepherd vessel Sam Simon to arrest two industrial trawlers for a number of fisheries offenses. Photos by Flavio Gasperini/Sea Shepherd.
On August 27th the fishing vessels Lao Yuan Yu 010 and Victory 205 were arrested by Gambian fisheries inspectors and The Gambia Navy – supported by Sea Shepherd crew — for several fisheries violations including fishing without a fishing log book and fishing within The Gambia’s nine-nautical mile Special Management Area reserved for artisanal fishermen, respectively.
The waters of The Gambia are particularly rich in biodiversity as the country is positioned where the nutrient-rich Gambia River meets the Canary Current. The livelihoods of over 200,000 Gambians are directly or indirectly dependent on local fisheries while the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) believes that more than 46% of the assessed fish populations in the Eastern Central Atlantic are experiencing overfishing.
Sardinella and other small pelagic species are of critical importance to Gambians which is why the Ministry of Fisheries and Water Resources instituted a nine-nautical mile Special Management Area to conserve waters frequented by artisanal fishermen. However, industrial trawlers routinely come close to the shoreline; artisanal fishermen make daily complaints to the Ministry asking for compensation for nets lost to industrial trawlers running them over. Populations of sardinella are also rapidly declining due to these daily incursions.
Once on board the Victory 205, fisheries inspectors uncovered that on two separate occasions in the past month, the trawler fished within the Special Management Area including trawling at a distance of 1.6 nautical miles from the coast on August 10th. Living conditions on board the Victory 205 were abysmal, with six African crew from Sierra Leone and The Gambia accommodated in a small crawl space between the engine room and wheelhouse. Heated from the rising temperature of the engine room, the accommodation space was an oven with soiled mattresses and not enough space to even sit up.
The Victory 205 and the Lu Lao Yuan Yu 010 are presently detained in the Gambian Port of Banjul.
“Sea Shepherd recognizes the challenges of monitoring, control and surveillance in West African waters and therefore commends the government of The Gambia for taking the initiative to partner with Sea Shepherd to ensure protection of the Special Management Area and to combat illegal fishing. With two arrests already, the Honorable James Furmos Peter Gomez, Minister of Fisheries and Water Resources, is showing criminal operators that illegal fishing will not be tolerated in waters of The Gambia.”
Peter Hammarstedt, captain of the Sam Simon during the arrest of the two trawlers.
Sea Shepherd’s partnership with The Gambia, named Operation Gambian Coastal Defense, marks the seventh African coastal State to join a growing effort to stop illegal fishing around the African continent through joint at-sea patrols.
Operation Gambian Coastal Defense was supported by Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), who provided analysis and imagery from high resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and optical satellites. This included an unprecedented 20 images within the critical first 100 hours of the patrol, with intelligence made available on the Sam Simon bridge in as little as 45 minutes. Making use of 12 different satellites from seven different countries to provide blanket coverage of Gambian waters, they detected over 750 vessels for evaluation during the first week of operations. Maxar Technologies also generously provided KSAT with high-resolution optical imagery to support the patrol.
Since 2016, Sea Shepherd has been working in partnership with the governments of Gabon, Liberia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Tanzania, Benin and Namibia to combat IUU fishing by providing the use of civilian offshore patrol vessels to African coastal 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 34 vessels for illegal fishing and other fisheries crimes.
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