Two Trawlers Arrested with Over One Ton of Rays and Fins in Gabon

Monday, 17 Aug, 2020

On the 8th of August, Gabonese authorities working on board the Sea Shepherd vessel Bob Barker arrested two trawlers with over one metric ton of rays and ray fins in the waters of Central West Africa.

Arrested Guo Ji 826 and Guo Ji 866. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.
Bob Barker intercepts fishing trawlers. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.
Sea Shepherd marine biologist with ray fins. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.
Sea Shepherd marine biologist with Gabon Navy sailor. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.
Guo Ji 826 and Guo Ji 866 arrested for finning rays. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.
Gabon navy sailor. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.
Fisheries inspection team on board arrested trawlers. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.

During a routine inspection of local trawler Guo Ji 826 as part of Operation Albacore V—a collaboration between the government of Gabon and Sea Shepherd to conduct joint at-sea patrol to stop illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing—fisheries inspectors discovered a catch of two rays from prohibited species, one of which was finned. They also found five metric tons of rough-head sea catfish, the catch of which is not allowed in the waters of Gabon. 

Gabonese authorities with boxes of fins and rays. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.

The boarding of a neighboring trawler, Guoji 866, uncovered additional ray fins with the captain revealing to investigators that there were more boxes of fins in the frozen fish hold, hidden underneath cartons of fish.  

Boxes of rays on Guo Ji 826. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.

So as to ensure that evidence could not be tampered with, or destroyed, the Honorable Biendi Maganga-Moussavou, Gabon’s Minister of Fisheries, ordered for both Guo Ji 826 and Guo Ji 866 to be placed under arrest; and to be escorted by Gabonese Navy sailors and Bob Barker to the port of Libreville. 

Gabonese authorities with box of fins. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.

Further investigation in port, uncovered a total of 40 boxes (800 kilograms) of rays and of 13 boxes (260 kilograms) of ray fins including daisy stingray, a protected and endangered species facing risk of extinction. 

Arrested of Guo Ji 826 and Guo Ji 866. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.

“The arrest of these two trawlers highlights the importance of continuing with fisheries patrols at sea during the pandemic. These crimes could only have been detected thanks to the diligence of Gabonese law enforcement authorities—assisted by Sea Shepherd crew on board Bob Barker—who continue their duties offshore with great courage, despite COVID-19”, said Byron Carter, captain of Bob Barker

Protected species of rays, finned. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.

Since 2019, the finning of sharks, rays and skates has been strictly banned in the waters of Gabon.  

Sea Shepherd Legal, an environmental law firm associated with Sea Shepherd, is currently working to support the Gabonese government to establish Africa’s first shark sanctuary.  

Catch of trawlers being inspected. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.

“Sea Shepherd applauds Gabon’s leadership for protecting sharks and rays; but also for continuing fisheries enforcement at sea during a pandemic. Poachers do not rest during a pandemic. Neither does our proud coalition of Gabonese fisheries inspectors, eco-guards, navy sailors and Sea Shepherd crew."

Peter Hammarstedt, Director of Campaigns for Sea Shepherd
Fishers with Gabon Navy sailor. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.

About Operation Albacore  

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% 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 hundreds of fishing vessel inspections at sea and the subsequent arrest of twelve illegal fishing vessels. The partnership includes Gabon’s Department for Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Gabonese Navy and the National Agency of National Parks. 

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 (COPVs) 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 54 vessels for illegal fishing and other fisheries crimes. 

Read more about Operation Albacore 

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