Due to a combination of increased surveillance and patrolling of territorial and economic waters by relevant national bodies like the governments of Australia, France, the UK, and New Zealand, together with other conservation measures, conservation management bodies believe IUU fishing to be largely mitigated in the areas that were formerly heavily-exploited. But illegal fishing for toothfish continues to take place in areas outside of national jurisdiction and waters with limited legitimate vessel traffic where the risk of detection is minimal. Even on the rare occasion that illegal fishing vessels may be spotted, the time between detection and apprehension allows for a long period when evidence can be destroyed. These are the areas that Sea Shepherd refers to as the "shadowlands" of the Southern Ocean.
In 2014-15, Sea Shepherd’s Operation Icefish was our first campaign in the world to specifically target the last of the toothfish poachers on the high seas. Sea Shepherd refers to these vessels as the Bandit 6 - six resilient, outlaw vessels that continued to exploit the loopholes in international law and fish in the shadowlands of Antarctica, outside the reach of traditional law enforcement.
The campaign, which lasted for over 5 months and saw the historical and world-famous chase of the poaching vessel Thunder, spawned international efforts that caused massive disruptions to the illegal toothfish trade.
Sea Shepherd has been monitoring the movement of the illegal vessels and believes that two of the vessels have slipped through the grasp of the law and will be returning to Antarctica to poach for more toothfish. The two vessels, Viking and Kunlun, are wanted by Interpol and will be the target of Operation Icefish 2015-16. This campaign’s aim is to replicate the successes of last year using Sea Shepherd’s flagship, the Steve Irwin, to confront, intervene and shut down toothfish poaching operators.