Campaign Wrap for a Successful 2023 Baltic Sea Mission

Thursday, 09 Nov, 2023

The arrival of the Triton in Travemünde in mid-October marked the end of this year's Baltic Sea campaign. Since June of this year, Sea Shepherd Germany has been patrolling the waters along the German Baltic coast between Flensburg and Germany's largest island, Rügen, to recover derelict fishing gear, prevent illegal fishing activities and report violations of conservation laws. Around 60 volunteers from all over Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, and Switzerland took part in the campaign, actively helping to protect the Baltic Sea and its inhabitants from June to October. This campaign also saw the first mission of our new vessel, Triton.

Triton crew lifting ghost nets with the crane. Photo by Katie Mähler / Sea Shepherd.
Sea Shepherd Germany's vessel, the Triton, on campaign near Rügen. Photo by Katie Mähler / Sea Shepherd.
Recovering a plastic trawl net. Photo by Katie Mähler / Sea Shepherd.
A Sea Shepherd diver inspecting a net in the Baltic Sea. Photo by Sean Romanowski / Sea Shepherd.

After nearly four months at sea, our campaign concluded, marked by significant achievements amidst alarming discoveries. The crew of the Triton was able to recover more than 10 tonnes of ghost nets from the sea in 123 dives at depths of up to 42 metres – 10 tonnes of dangerous fishing gear consisting of nets, hauling harnesses, chains, and lines. Fishing gear like this poses a deadly threat to many marine animals that become entangled, e.g. while hunting for prey. Once again, the crew documented the senseless deaths of many marine species, including fish, crabs, and a seal.

"On every single dive we saw the destruction these nets cause. The saddest find of all was certainly a dead seal that we had to painstakingly cut out of the net during the recovery," said Florian Stadler, Campaign Leader Sea Shepherd Germany. "This animal died a painful and unnecessary death because reckless fishing operators do not properly report the loss of their nets and irresponsibly leave their rubbish at sea instead of taking care of it," he added. Among those recovered included nearly-intact nets that would have continued to kill for centuries. Thanks to the efforts of the crew and the dive team, who spent a total of 112 hours under water, we were eventually able to bring more than 10 tonnes ashore to be cleaned, sorted and disposed of responsibly. Any ghost nets that were suitable for upcycling were given to our partner Bracenet, who turn them into a wide range of accessories.

Dead seal in ghost net. Photo by Katie Mähler / Sea Shepherd.
Body parts from a harbour porpoise. Photo by Katie Mähler / Sea Shepherd.
Body parts of a harbour porpoise. Photo by Katie Mähler / Sea Shepherd.
A crab saved from a ghost net. Photo by Katie Mähler / Sea Shepherd.
An old gillnet in the water. Photo by Katie Mähler / Sea Shepherd.

In addition to recovering ghost nets, the crew documented numerous violations of conservation laws, including violations of the Coastal Fisheries Regulation and the Animal Welfare Act, and filed three criminal charges. The incident involving an illegal gillnet that had not been emptied for several days was particularly shocking. "Some animals had already started to decompose and the net was mostly covered in algae", said Stadler. According to the Coastal Fishing Regulation, nets must be emptied within 24 hours. In addition to this violation, the gillnet was incorrectly marked. As a result, the net was pulled in and the incident reported to the relevant authorities. More than 1,100 animals died needlessly in this single net. In mid-July, the crew made a second horrific discovery off Travemünde. Floating body parts of a harbour porpoise were found in the water, including the animal's severed dorsal fin. There were clear cut marks on the parts found. This was confirmed by the seal ranger in charge, to whom the remains were handed over. "It seems likely that this animal was deliberately cut up to cover up the traces of bycatch," said Stadler. Gillnet fishing is still allowed in the animals' territory. Even in protected areas, policy continues to rely on voluntary approaches. As a result, fatal encounters between porpoises and nets continue to occur. "Like many other conservation groups, we are calling for an end to gillnet fishing in the animals' habitats. If we continue to allow them to be caught as bycatch, we will ultimately seal the fate of the Baltic harbour porpoises,", added Stadler.

The recently published report of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, also known as the “Helsinki Commission” (HELCOM), clearly shows the extent of which the habitats and biodiversity of the Baltic Sea are threatened by human impacts. Overfishing, pollution, nutrient enrichment from agriculture and climate change are taking their toll on the ecosystems. "During the weeks at sea, we were able to identify a large number of violations. For example, endangered fish species such as cod are sold at the harbour despite a total ban on fishing, and the bycatch of harbour porpoises is covered up. Our operations have shown how important it is to be at sea in order to be able to intervene actively. We will be back next year to continue our successful work to protect the Baltic Sea", concluded Stadler.

Sea Shepherd Germany has been active in the Baltic Sea for many years, supported since 2021 by the German Postcode Lottery with €100,000 each year. In August, the German Postcode Lottery announced its support for the 2024 Baltic Sea Campaign with a grant of €250,000. "The 2023 Baltic Sea Campaign was a real success. The Triton, the crew, and the entire Sea Shepherd Germany team did a great job. Together we were able to make an important contribution to marine conservation in this country. With the German Postcode Lottery as a strong partner by our side, we will be back again in 2024, strengthened and motivated to defend, conserve and protect the marine wildlife of the Baltic Sea," said Manuel Abraas, CEO of Sea Shepherd Germany.


The Triton crew with a recovered ghost net. Photo by Katie Mähler / Sea Shepherd.

The Veja x Sea Shepherd shoe worn by our crew on the Triton now available in our eStore: By purchasing these shoes, you support Sea Shepherd’s vital mission on the German Baltic Sea Campaign!

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