How a Drone Busted an Illegal Fishing Operation

Pete Bethune of ‘The Operatives’ pushes for more marine preserves to protect ocean life from overfishing.
Aug 25, 2014·
Todd Woody is TakePart's editorial director, environment.

In Sunday night’s episode of The Operatives, Pete Bethune and his commando team deployed a drone to find fishing boats illegally trawling in a Costa Rican marine sanctuary. In this week’s Captain’s Vlog (video above), Bethune reveals that they later discovered the boat they intercepted was operated by “one of the kingpins of Costa Rican fishing.”

The captain and his crew were trawling the bottom of the seabed with weighted nets in the supposedly off-limits ocean sanctuary, scooping up all marine life, not just the fish the boat meant to catch. It’s like strip-mining the ocean. Bethune turned over the evidence his team collected to Costa Rican prosecutors.

Trawling by ships big and small is a major contributor to overfishing, driving species such as the bluefin tuna to extinction. After the nonprofit Oceana analyzed federal fisheries data, it estimated that 22 percent of catch is thrown overboard annually in the United States alone. That so-called bycatch includes dolphins, seals, sea turtles, and other marine life. Beyond the decimation of marine life, all that waste costs the U.S. fishing industry an estimated $1 billion a year.

According to Save Our Seas, an international nonprofit, 90 percent of marine predators have disappeared from the world’s oceans. The main culprit? Overfishing. The group cites data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature to show that 96 percent of threats to sharks come from fishing. Nearly 60 percent of sharks are killed when they’re caught as bycatch.

The World Wildlife Fund, meanwhile, approximates that 85 percent of the world’s fisheries are overfished.

One solution is to create marine-protected areas to give fish and marine mammals the space to thrive. But as the WWF points out, only 1.6 percent of the oceans have been protected, and 90 percent of marine-protected areas are open to—you guessed it—fishing.

“We need more marine-protected areas and with suitable enforcement,” says Bethune. “We need to make sure our governments know we care about our marine ecosystems, and we want more MPAs.”

New episodes of The Operatives air Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Pivot TV.