Photographer Simon Ager is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. These images are from his project ‘Operation Albacore‘. To see Simon’s body of work click on any image.
In 2016 the Sea Shepherd ship, Bob Barker, arrived in the Republic of Gabon for the commencement of Operation Albacore, a new campaign to tackle illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, under the direction of the Government of Gabon.
Throughout the 2016 tuna fishing season, Gabonese marines (Marine Nationale) and officers with the Fisheries Enforcement Agency (ANPA) were stationed on-board the Bob Barker, working alongside Sea Shepherd crew to patrol Gabon’s sovereign waters. These patrols provided a vehicle for law enforcement to defend, conserve and protect critical tuna habitat in Central West Africa from April through to September 2016.
The campaign aims were to expand existing monitoring, control and surveillance measures; to detect and deter IUU fishing activity while also monitoring legal compliance by licensed fishing operators.
Of the global catch of fish, 15-40% is estimated to be caught by IUU operators, and 90% is caught in waters that fall under the authority of a Coastal State. It is the complicated systems of trans- boundaries in the Gulf of Guinea, coupled with the fact that many regional Coastal States lack adequate operational resources, why illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is so prevalent and prevails in waters off Africa’s west coast.
Sea Shepherd vessel ‘Bob Barker’ in transit heads into the sun off the West coast of Africa
The deck crew of a Chinese long-liner gaff a critically endangered Yellow fin tuna and haul on-board the ship.
Onboard a purse-seiner the Marine Nationale secure the ship, all crew are mustered on the back deck for a head count and ID check. The fishing master and captain head to the bridge with Fisheries agents to check the log books before a visual inspection of the fish hold.
View looking up at a purse seiner net as its being hauled in, by catch is a huge issue. The ships encircling the schools of tuna and ensnare everything else that happens to be feeding in the same area. A shark can clearly be seen at the centre of the net, although Whale sharks and Brydes whales are commonly also caught inside the nets.
Purse seine nets don’t discriminate, with sharks baring the brunt of this type of fishing, Unceremoniously hauled by their tails, some barely alive and others already dead from suffocation or from the crushing weight of the net, their stomachs may hang from their mouths as they are hauled up and dropped over the side. There is little respect for the by-catch even though guide lines are there on handling different species to return them safely to the ocean.
A whale shark caught up inside the net, brought alongside, attempting to roll it out didn’t work. Clearly distressed the whale shark thrashed around getting more entangled, it was eventually released by physically cutting the net with the ship also losing its catch of tuna. The nets can always be dropped to allow non target species a stress free release, however the ships are very reluctant to do this as the highly prized catch will also be released.
As the seine draws tight, panic ensues, tuna leap in a vain attempt to escape and avoid their inevitable fate. The shear pressure of the net is so great that some tuna literally burst, the sea around them awash with their blood.
The seine is hauled alongside, confined in a ‘sack’, a bucket is lowered inside to scoop the fish and transferred onto the vessel.
A deck hand guides the catch over a shoot in the middle of the deck.
The purse is opened, the tuna in this case, Skipjack, fall down the shoot to a conveyor belt into waiting tanks filled with ice cold water, those still alive attempt to leap from the tanks, being warm bloodied they succumb to the temperature literally freezing to death.
A freezer filled to the brim, the lid goes on a tank of Skipjack tuna. Most seiners can hold between 1000 and 4000 tonnes of fish.
With all species of tuna either endangered or critically endangered, Bluefin, highly prized by sushi lovers, runs the very risk of going extinct. Tuna are apex predators keeping a check on other species maintaining a healthy balance in the world’s oceans.
Long liners and purse seiners are truly unethical methods of catching fish with the massive decimation of not only the target species but also non target species or by-catch.
The current global fishing practices and quotas for all species are unsustainable. The world’s oceans are in severe trouble, reaching a critical tipping point in the next 20 to 30 years; our own survival depends on this fragile eco-system. Anyone with a moral conscience should consider removing fish from their diet, for if the oceans die, we die!