It can be done

It’s not always an easy thing to do but sometimes you have change your mind.

I’ve never been a fan of Sea Shepherd. I’ve followed their activities and some of their whackier antics over the years.

Fishing News International has described them as eco-pirates; irresponsible extremists who shouldn’t be allowed in charge of a ship, endangering lives and livelihoods, often in pursuit of issues that didn’t need pursuing.

When it was reported that the Japanese whaling programme in the Southern Ocean wasn’t going ahead, it seemed likely that Sea Shepherd would be looking for some other high-profile cause to focus their energies on.

Then came the pursuit of the under, the long chase of one of the few remaining toothsh pirates, a four month-pursuit halfway around the world, culminating in the sinking of the under off western Africa.

A sad end for a veteran ship; did it sink or was it sunk?

It’s open to speculation but it’s not hard to draw your own conclusions.

In fact, Sea Shepherd’s initiative to pursue the few remaining Southern Ocean ratbags puts, we can hope, a full stop at the end of a long tale of deep-water piracy that’s in reality a success story, something so many other beleaguered fisheries around the world could take as an example.

A decade ago there was an extensive fleet of illegal boats plundering the Southern Ocean.

There’s no doubt that someone did very well out of it while it lasted, certainly not the unfortunate crews on their rattletrap ships fishing some of the most dangerous and remote waters in the world.

Then a combination of industry, science and management efforts gradually shut the illegal operations down as markets for the illegally-caught toothsh dried up and running the pariah longliners became increasingly problematic.

Today Southern Ocean toothsh is an example of what a clean, well-managed fishery should be.

A bunch of responsible operators got together and set out to put things right, forming their own association, pushing hard for the science to be done and for governments to do the right things.

These things can be done. The legal toothfish operators have proved it, demonstrating that the key is for the industry to take the lead. While it calls for energy, organisation and commitment, these aren’t aims that are so distant as to be unachievable.

The real heroes of the piece are the guys who have spent more than a decade fighting to establish a fully legal fishery, putting their money where their mouths are by continuing to invest in it – and their efforts have been given a denouement in dramatic style, courtesy of Sea Shepherd.

By Quentin Bates, Technical Editor, Fishing News International
Photo: Simon Ager / Sea Shepherd Global