Two years after Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba declared the creation of nine new national marine parks and 11 new aquatic reserves, the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd has committed to another three years of assisting him in the combat against illegal fishing.
Named Operation Albacore IV, Sea Shepherd has signed a MOU with the Gabonese Ministries of Fisheries, Defense and Environment to extend the partnership which has already seen the arrest of eight illegal fishing vessels since the start of joint patrols three years ago.
Under the framework of the MOU, Sea Shepherd will provide a civilian offshore patrol vessel and the operating crew to run it, along with fuel. The Gabonese partners will provide the law enforcement agents on board.
Starting on June 5, a 15-day covert patrol led by Gabonese authorities on board the Sea Shepherd vessel M/Y Bob Barker focused on marine parks situated in border areas between Gabon and neighbouring Equatorial Guinea and Congo-Brazzaville. When Operation Albacore began in 2016, fleets of more than a dozen foreign trawlers were routinely detected crossing into Gabonese waters from neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville to fish illegally. However, the covert patrol discovered that both border areas were unusually quiet, with past violators staying well-clear of the border adjoining the marine parks.
Throughout the 2019 tuna fishing season, Gabonese marines (Marine Nationale), inspectors with the Gabonese Ministry of Fisheries and rangers with the National Agency of National Parks (ANPN) will continue to be stationed on board the M/Y Bob Barker.
It’s estimated that between 11 and 26 million tons of fish are caught globally through IUU fishing every year. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to IUU fishing: up to 40 percent of the fish caught in West and Central West African waters are caught by criminal operators.
In 2016 Sea Shepherd partnered with the government of Gabon for the first Operation Albacore, and since then the collaboration has resulted in over 140 fishing vessel inspections at sea and the subsequent arrest of 10 illegal fishing vessels.
Since 2016, Sea Shepherd has been working in partnership with the governments of Gabon, Liberia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Benin and Tanzania 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 31 vessels for illegal fishing and other fisheries crimes.
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