San Felipe, BCN, Mexico – January 9th, Sea Shepherd Vessel M/V Farley Mowat was conducting maritime patrols inside the Vaquita Refuge in the Upper Gulf of California, and had recovered three illegal gillnets that morning, when at 1:00 PM the crew noticed approximately 35 skiffs operating inside the refuge.
The Sea Shepherd vessel headed towards the skiffs to observe fishing methods being employed, as all gillnet fishing is strictly prohibited inside the marine protected area.
At 1:20 PM, the Sea Shepherd ship approached the skiffs where obvious illegal poaching was taking place, as totoaba fishing gear was detected being loaded into a skiff.
At this point, one of the skiffs began circling the Sea Shepherd vessel which was soon joined by the remainder of other skiffs.
The M/V Farley Mowat was ambushed and overwhelmed by more than 35 skiffs, many containing gillnets. The poachers attacked by hurling lead weights, anchors, trash, dead fish and even Tabasco sauce at the vessel and its wheelhouse windows in addition to threatening ship’s crew with Molotov cocktails, spraying gasoline at the ship and pouring gas in the sea around the vessel.
Poachers then dropped an illegal gillnet in front of the bow of the moving Sea Shepherd vessel in an attempt to foul the ship’s propellers. Five agitated poachers illegally boarded the M/V Farley Mowat and looted multiple objects from the vessel’s deck while it was temporarily immobilized.
During the illegal boarding, the Sea Shepherd crew was able to keep the poachers from entering into the ship, and used an emergency firehose to repel the boarders, while
waiting for naval forces to arrive. At this time a Mexican Naval Helicopter made several passes above the scene and the skiffs began to disperse.
Mexican Navy sailors and Gendarmeria stationed onboard the Sea Shepherd vessel were under strict orders not to fire. The captain of the M/V Farley Mowat managed to restart the engines after the propeller fouling and headed to the port of San Felipe where the ship was met by the regional Navy Commander and reinforcements.
Captain Paul Watson, Founder and CEO of Sea Shepherd said of the event “Sea Shepherd will not be deterred by violence. Our mission is to prevent the extinction of the vaquita porpoise and we will continue to seize the nets of poachers in the Vaquita Refuge. Sea Shepherd salutes the quick responsiveness of the Mexican Navy in defusing a dangerous situation.”
Sea Shepherd has been present in the Upper Gulf of California since 2015 as part of Operation Milagro, a campaign to protect the most endangered marine mammal on Earth – Mexico’s Vaquita porpoise. Less than 30 vaquitas remain alive. The main threat to the tiny cetacean is illegal totoaba gillnet fishing.
The totoaba fish is another endemic endangered species to the Gulf of California and it is poached for the trade of its swim bladder in Asian black markets. Totoaba bladders are known as “aquatic cocaine” due to their high value. It is believed that a totoaba bladder can be worth up to USD 100,000.
Sea Shepherd has already removed more than 780 pieces of illegal fishing gear from the Upper Gulf of California. That is more than 174,000 meters of illegal gear, directly saving the lives of over 3100 animals.
Source: Sea Shepherd