Sea Shepherd Rescues Drowning Fisherman In Gulf Of California After Two Men Go Overboard While Fleeing The Scene Of Illegal Fishing Activity

Search for second victim still ongoing

During a night patrol on Wednesday, January 25, 2017, Sea Shepherd vessel M/V Farley Mowat spotted a panga boat with four men fishing illegally in Mexico’s Gulf of California at 9:16 p.m.

When the Farley Mowat shone a searchlight on the panga to identify the vessel, the fishermen immediately fled at a speed of over 30 knots. The Farley Mowat kept the spotlight on the panga but did not pursue it.

According to Sea Shepherd crew, the panga stopped suddenly in the distance. A big splash behind the panga was seen although the crew was not able to identify what occurred.  When the anti-poaching vessel slowly approached the motorized watercraft to see if assistance was needed, one man from the panga was overboard in the water.

The Farley Mowat tossed him two life rings and notified its nearby fleet member, M/V Sam Simon, of the rescue. When the man was unable to climb the pilot ladder to get on board the Farley Mowat, the ship deployed a crane to lift the fisherman on deck. Farley Mowat’s medical officer began providing assistance.

Sea Shepherd Rescues Drowning Fisherman In Gulf Of CaliforniaThe two remaining fishermen on the panga informed Sea Shepherd that one other member of their group had also gone overboard but was nowhere to be found.  The rescued fisherman on board the Farley Mowat confirmed the information. 

The Farley Mowat contacted the Mexican Navy to request a search and rescue team. The Navy arrived on the scene at 10:07 p.m. The rescued fisherman was transferred over to them and the Farley Mowat and Sam Simon teamed with the Mexican Navy to search the waters for the missing man.

The search continued overnight and in to the morning.  By 4:30 p.m. on Thursday 26th, 2017, the fourth fisherman was still not located and the search was called off due to an approaching storm.

“Every year illegal fishermen risk their lives by fishing at night without lights, in the cold, and hiding from the authorities,” said Captain Oona Layolle, Director of ship operations. “Many die when they fall overboard without life jackets and some don’t even know how to swim.  They are willing to risk their lives, attracted by the lucrative black market of the totoaba swim bladder. They know the risks of their illegal activities but they still do it for the money. Last campaign, in the midst of a storm, we rescued three fishermen in a disabled panga.”

The Farley Mowat and the M/V Sam Simon are currently in the Gulf of California as part of Operation Milagro III to stop the imminent extinction of the endangered vaquita porpoise. Both ships are protecting the vaquita refuge and patrolling for poachers among other duties.

Known as the world’s smallest and rarest marine mammal, the vaquita is facing a real threat of extinction. The most recent population estimates show that there are fewer than 60 vaquita remaining.

The biggest threat to the vaquita’s survival is poachers using illegal gill nets to catch the totoaba. The totoaba, which is also threatened by extinction, is a fish found only in Mexico, whose swimming bladder is smuggled mainly through the U.S. border, for its consumption in China. Vaquita often become entangled in the nets and are unable to reach the surface of the water to breathe, causing them to drown.

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