Sea Shepherd’s Epic Ocean Chase of a Notorious Poacher

A blacklisted ship is in hot water after the environmental group busted it illegally catching Patagonian toothfish.

Illegal fishing vessel Thunder. (Photo: Courtesy Seashepherd.org)

Jan 9, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

It’s been more than three weeks since the environmental group Sea Shepherd started chasing a blacklisted vessel illegally fishing in the Southern Ocean.

One thousand nautical miles later, Sea Shepherd’s Bob Barker is still in hot pursuit.

Captain Peter Hammarstedt and the crew aboard the 788-ton Bob Barker spotted the Nigerian-flagged boat, Thunder, illegally fishing in an area regulated by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. The international watchdog had put the Thunder on its blacklist of fishing operators.

“When we found them, they were actively fishing,” Hammarstedt told AFP. Sea Shepherd said the boat was using illegal gill nets to catch Patagonian toothfish, often sold as Chilean sea bass in high-end restaurants.

When it ran from Sea Shepherd, the Thunder reportedly left behind about 27 miles of gill nets in the water, which the crew of the Bob Barkers sister ship, Sam Simon, spent weeks hauling in. Sam Simon skipper Sid Chakravarty said the nets were found stuffed with more than 700 dead toothfish.

“The Sam Simon crew has given the world a chance to observe first-hand the destruction caused by this fishing method,” Chakravarty said in a statement. “Never has any conservation movement seen the recovery, confiscation, and documentation of such length of gear. The onus is now on the relevant international authorities to use this evidence to prosecute the Thunder.”

CCAMLR in 2004 outlawed the use of gill nets in its management area in the Southern Ocean, where the Thunder was fishing.

Back on the Bob Barker, Sea Shepherd, an activist group that’s no stranger to confrontation, initially threatened to “directly intervene” if the Thunder didn’t stop fishing and turn itself over to Australian authorities. But the Sea Shepherd crew decided to play the waiting game instead—chasing the vessel for more than 1,000 nautical miles to date.

On Friday, Hammarstedt told AFP the two boats were about 900 miles southeast of South Africa, and the Thunder had taken evasive maneuvers through heavy ice floes and treacherous seas in an attempt to lose the tail.

Now, it’s a waiting game. If Sea Shepherd can stay with the Thunder until it goes to harbor, Hammarstedt said the team can alert local port authorities to intervene and seize the vessel.

“Certainly we are prepared to chase these poachers to the ends of the earth and back if we have to,” he said.

Now 22 days in, the pursuit is the longest high seas chase ever, beating out an Australian patrol vessel’s 21-day chase in 2003 of the Viarsa I, suspected of poaching Patagonian toothfish.