A toothfish - know as 'white gold' by poachers - caught in the illegal gillnet left by the Thunder. Photo: Jeff WirthA toothfish – know as ‘white gold’ by poachers – caught in the illegal gillnet left by the Thunder. Photo: Jeff WirthIn an operation that lasted for five days, the crew of the Sea Shepherd ship, Sam Simon, has successfully completed the retrieval of an illegal gillnet, abandoned by the poaching vessel, Thunder. The outlawed fishing gear was located at 62? 16’ South 081? 14 East, inside the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) area of management, in the Southern Ocean.

The thirty-strong crew, made up of volunteers from fifteen nations, worked 24 hours a day to retrieve the illegal gillnet, which measured a total of 25 kilometres in length.

Over 200 targeted Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish were found dead in the gillnet, the largest approximately 1.6 meters long. Scientists on board the Sam Simon confirmed that a number of the dead toothfish were females of a reproductive age, and were carrying eggs.

Non-target species including rays, jellyfish, crabs and a staggering number of grenadiers were also found dead after being caught in illegal fishing gear. A majority of the crabs caught in the net were still alive, and were able to be released back into the Southern Ocean.

Captain of the Sam Simon, Sid Chakravarty, said, “With the confiscation of the illegally laid gillnet set combined with the pursuit of the Thunder by the Bob Barker, Operation Icefish has achieved what it had set out to do in less than a month from when it was kicked-off. The shadowlands of Antarctica, used by this wasteful and destructive industry, are being cleared of their illegal vessels, and the marine life of this pristine ecosystem is being given the protection they deserve.”

The strategic gillnet retrieval operation as it unfolds on the aft-deck of the Sam Simon. Photo: Giacomo GiorigiThe strategic gillnet retrieval operation as it unfolds on the aft-deck of the Sam Simon. Photo: Giacomo GiorigiHe added, ““Having hauled in the illegally-set gill net continuously for 5 days, the Sam Simon crew has given the world a chance to observe first-hand the destruction caused by this fishing method. 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.”

Starting tomorrow, the Sam Simon will continue to scout the region around Banzare Bank on the lookout for more gillnet sets laid out by the Thunder.

Captain Chakravarty has reported the salvage operation to the relevant authorities, including Interpol, CCAMLR, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and Australian Federal Police. The confiscated equipment will be kept as evidence of the Thunder’s illegal activity, and handed-over to the relevant port authorities to aid in the prosecution of the vessel.

A known poaching vessel, the Nigerian-flagged Thunder was issued with an Interpol Purple Notice following a joint effort by Norwegian, New Zealand and Australian authorities, and is currently included on CCAMLR’s black-list of IUU fishing operators.

The Sea Shepherd ship, Bob Barker, has been in pursuit of the Thunder since the vessel first fled on December 17. Yesterday, the conservation ship escorted the poachers out of the CCAMLR region.

The use of gillnets has been outlawed by CCAMLR since 2004, and the Commission has specifically expressed concerns regarding the impact of this fishing method on the marine ecosystems of Antarctica.

Operation Icefish is Sea Shepherd's first Southern Ocean Defence Campaign to target IUU fishing operators in the waters of Antarctica.

The Sam Simon crew, triumphant after completing the operation. Photo: Jeff WirthThe Sam Simon crew, triumphant after completing the operation. Photo: Jeff Wirth Veterinarian, Colette Harmsen and Biologist, Bia Figueiredo find eggs in a deceased female toothfish. Photo: Jeff WirthVeterinarian, Colette Harmsen and Biologist, Bia Figueiredo find eggs in a deceased female toothfish. Photo: Jeff Wirth
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