News

New Tools In The Fight Against Illegal Fishing

Newly installed satellite-based vessel monitoring system (VMS) has proved its worth already by leading to the arrest of illegal fishermen. The state-of-the-art system was financed and installed on May 20th,2009 by WildAid, Conservation International, the Walton Family Foundation, and Resorts World at Sentosa in cooperation with the Galapagos National Park Service and represents the culmination of three years of work.

The Manta-based tuna vessel B/P Don Mario was caught illegally fishing in the Marine Reserve (GMR) on June 29th. The boat had authorization for "free passage" through the GMR, but alert Park officials tracking the boat on the VMS noted that the vessel was slowing and speeding up erratically. It has long been suspected that fishing boats sometimes abuse the free passage by fishing illegally for tuna and sharks for their fins. The Park immediately sent a fast launch to the site where they found the crew using a large fish aggregating device. The vessel and crew were detained & legal processes initiated. Penalties can include confiscation of boat and gear.

The same day a routine patrol apprehended a small fishing boat 33 miles southwest of the island of Isabela fishing without permits. The boat and three fishermen were detained. The crew was using a 3-mile long line, which is prohibited in the GMR.

On June 25th, the K-9 Environmental Police Unit of Santa Cruz seized 52 shark fin in the highlands of Santa Cruz. The fins were wrapped in aluminum foil, soaked in bleach in order to prevent detection and awaiting shipment to Manta where they were to be sold for $10,000. The trafficker remains in jail and records indicate he had been arrested for the trafficking of sea cucumber in 2008. WildAid in cooperation with Sea Shepherd and Conservation International have an ongoing K-9 program with the Environmental Police. The dogs are specially trained to detect shark fins, sea cucumbers and illegal drugs.

On July 8h, the Park Service detained the Ecuadorian artisanal fishing vessel BP Tatiana II after monitoring its movement in and out of the GMR over a three-day period. While the Tatiana II and its crew attempted fleeing, the Park Service was able to catch them five miles outside of the GMR and seized nets, longlines, tuna, 45 sharks, in addition to two small fiberglass boats. Eight of the ten crewmembers were from the continent and did not possess fishing permits. The Tatiana had been detained illegally fishing in the GMR in April 2007.

On July 15th, the Guatemalan tuna vessel B/P Antonia F. was spotted by the VMS system and HQ in Santa Cruz coordinated with the floating base "Tiburon Martillo" near Wolf and Darwin to intercept the vessel. The vessel was detained 45 nautical miles west of Pinta. It had both expired national & international transit permits, expired fishing permits & 380 tons of tuna in its hull. Only five of the total 25 crewmembers were Ecuadorian. The vessel and crew were detained and the GNPS is beginning admin/penal process.

The Galapagos Marine Reserve is one of the largest in the world and at 133,000sq kilometers is the size of New York State. Since 2000 WildAid has helped to equip the Marine Reserve with patrol vessels, provided ranger training, equipment and technical assistance, as well as working to reduce the demand for shark fin in Asia.

"Marine reserves are the last great hope to save fish stocks. Marine enforcement is always difficult due to the distances involved and cost of marine operations, so illegal fishing has been an almost risk free crime. But tools like VMS can provide much better surveillance and the sniffer dogs can prove to be a great deterrent as well as assist in detection of smugglers. The sooner we can deploy these tools to more marine reserves the sooner we can secure the world's dwindling fish stocks." said WildAid director Peter Knights.

We must ban shark fin imports unless it comes from a properly managed sustainable fishery that prohibits the wasteful and barbaric practice of shark finning," said Knight. "Sharks have been around for nearly 400 million years, but at the current rate of overfishing they could be wiped out in a single human generation."

Stills available.

Please contact Marcel Bigue at bigue@wildaid.org for more information.