Finning Operation Busted in The Gambia

Monday, 20 Jan, 2020

On the 13th of January, while on a joint patrol with the Gambian Department of Fisheries and The Gambia Navy, Sea Shepherd crew on board the M/V Bob Barker supported the boarding, inspection and arrest of the Turkish-flagged trawler named Atlantide 1 for the illegal finning of sharks or rays.

A Gambian Navy Officer holds a confiscated fin, with the Bob Barker in the background. Photo by Robert Lehmann/Sea Shepherd.

During a routine inspection, 54 fins belonging to either sharks or rays were discovered drying on the upper decks of the trawler, which was licensed to fish for fish and cephalopods in the waters of The Gambia and was actively trawling at the time of boarding.

F/V Atlantide 1 in The Gambia. Photo by Christiano Menci/Sea Shepherd.

The fins belong either to dogfish (shark) or one of three ray species: largetooth sawfish, African wedgefish or whitespotted guitarfish. All belong to the same family and the rays are endangered species.

Boarding of Atlantide 1. Photo by Photo by Robert Lehmann/Sea Shepherd.

Gambian investigators were told that the fins were part of a crew bonus scheme that the captain was allegedly unaware of but the finning of sharks, rays and skates is strictly illegal in The Gambia and constitutes one of the most serious violations of Gambian fisheries regulations.

Ray in trawler catch. Photo by Christiano Menci/Sea Shepherd.

“The Atlantide 1 had started their first day of fishing in The Gambia since returning from Dakar, Senegal when boarded, so one can only speculate about the number of sharks or rays finned in one fishing trip in a lucrative and illicit side business that has resulted in the plummeting of shark and ray populations off the coast of West Africa”, said Peter Hammarstedt, captain of the Bob Barker.

Fins drying on deck. Photo by Christiano Menci/Sea Shepherd.

Two months earlier, Atlantide 1 was arrested by The Gambia Navy for using improper mesh size. The vessel was caught using a mesh size of 40 milimetres (mm) when the license required them to use a mesh size of a minimum of 70 mm. After spending one month in detention, the vessel was released after paying its fine. With the discovery of the fins, the Atlantide 1 was arrested again and escorted to port by The Gambia Navy sailors who had served on board Bob Barker.

The Gambia Navy with fin. Photo by Christiano Menci/Sea Shepherd.

Since September 2019, Sea Shepherd has been conducting joint at-sea patrols with the Gambian Department of Fisheries and The Gambia Navy, under the direction of the Minister of Fisheries and Water Resources of The Gambia, the Honorable James Furmos Peter Gomez.

Bob Barker guarding Atlantide 1. Photo by Robert Lehmann/Sea Shepherd.

The arrest of Atlantide 1 marks the 15th arrest since the joint patrols began. In October of last year, ten trawlers were apprehended in a single nighttime sweep.

The Gambia Navy discover fins on board. Photo by Christiano Menci/Sea Shepherd.

The presence of the Sea Shepherd vessel deters industrial trawlers from entering a Special Management Area extending nine nautical miles from the Gambian coast and reserved for local artisanal fishermen.

Captain Peter Hammarstedt with fin. Photo by Photo by Robert Lehmann/Sea Shepherd.

“It is the hope of Sea Shepherd that just as the patrols are deterring incursions into what is essentially a marine protected area thus allowing fish populations to recover for fishing pressures, the arrest of Atlantide 1 will also deter finning operations at sea. Sea Shepherd is proud of supporting the leadership of The Gambia in eradicating illegal fishing from its waters as well as protecting vulnerable and endangered populations of sharks and rays”, said Captain Hammarstedt. 

The waters of The Gambia are particularly rich in biodiversity as the country is positioned where the nutrient-rich Gambia River meets the Canary Current. The livelihoods of over 200,000 Gambians are directly or indirectly dependent on local fisheries while the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) believes that more than 46% of the assessed fish populations in the Eastern Central Atlantic are experiencing overfishing.

Bob Barker crew on Operation Gambian Coastal Defense together with Philip Wollen.

Sea Shepherd’s partnership with The Gambia, named Operation Gambian Coastal Defense, marks the seventh African coastal and/or island State to join a growing effort to stop illegal fishing around the African continent through joint at-sea patrols.

Since 2016, Sea Shepherd has been working in partnership with the governments of Gabon, Liberia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Tanzania, Benin, Namibia and The Gambia to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by providing the use of civilian offshore patrol vessels to African partner countries so that authorities can enforce fisheries regulations and conservation laws in their sovereign waters. To date, the unique partnerships have resulted in the arrest of 51 vessels for illegal fishing and other fisheries crimes.

Learn more about our Illegal Fishing Campaigns:

Watch arrest video below.

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