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article imageSea Shepherd's crusade to save Bluefin Tuna sees confrontation

By Stephanie Dearing     Jun 18, 2010 in Environment
A confrontation that took place Thursday between Sea Shepherd and two fishing vessels, one Italian and one Maltese, resulted in one Maltese man being injured and the freeing of approximately 800 Bluefin Tuna.
Libya - The Sea Shepherd anti-Bluefin Tuna fishing campaign is called Blue Rage, and maybe the name of the campaign helped to generate a violent confrontation between Sea Shepherd and Italian and Libyan fishermen. In a bold move, Sea Shepherd cut open a cage holding nearly 1,000 Bluefin Tuna. Captain Paul Watson, reporting from the ship the Steve Irwin, said "Sea Shepherd’s helicopter reconnaissance flight this morning found two fishing vessels. One was engaged in transferring bluefin tuna into one of the two nets being towed by the other vessel.
The bluefin fishery vessels were inside waters claimed by Libya and about 42 miles off the coast of North Africa."
One of the ships was Italian, the Cesare Rustico; the other was the Maltese Rosaria Tuna. Sea Shepherd says the amount of fish it saw in one cage exceeded the quota. Watson asked when the fish had been caught, and the Italian captain told him they'd all been taken on the 14th of June. Watson disputed that claim, saying the weather had been terrible. The Italian captain responded by saying the cages were holding the catches of seven fishing ships. That's when Watson began to demand to see the fish. When Sea Shepherd was denied access to the cages, Watson directed the Steve Irwin to approach the cage, to allow the crew to see into the cage.
That's when things took a nasty turn. According to Watson, The Steve Irwin was rammed by the Maltese ship. One of the crew on the Rosaria Tuna attempted to deliberately harm Sea Shepherd personnel with a gaff, alleges Watson. A portion of the incident was recorded by Sea Shepherd and posted on the organization's web site. Personnel on board the Steve Irwin then threw 18 litres of rancid butter at the ship. Both sides then backed off and engaged in a tense stand-off.
Watson claims that at that point, Sea Shepherd contacted the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) about the tuna, which Sea Shepherd claims were poached, but said ICCAT failed to respond; prompting Sea Shepherd to free the fish. Watson reported "With two fishing vessels containing angry Italian crews, there were risks involved with getting into the water to assess the bluefin catch. But if the catch was illegal, Sea Shepherd divers knew they must cut the nets and free the bluefin tuna.
Sometimes it is necessary to do what needs to be done despite the risks. The risk of losing the bluefin tuna as a species is far more important than the risks to our own lives and freedom.
And so we decided to free the tuna."
The Times of Malta has reported two Maltese fishermen were injured during the confrontation. The Maltese government has defended the tuna fishers, saying the men were fishing according to rules, and an observer had been provided.
This was not the only violence experienced during the Bluefin tuna fishing season this year. Earlier in June, a Greenpeace activist suffered an injury that required surgery, reported the Malta Star.
Watson defended Sea Shepherd's actions in freeing the Tuna by saying "The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is not a protest organization. Sea Shepherd is an anti-poaching organization and these two seiners are poachers."
The Guardian lauded Sea Shepherd for venturing into Libyan waters, saying "Illegal fishing is believed to be widespread in the area, with one important bluefin tuna spawning area in the Libyan zone of the Gulf of Syrte attracting many fishermen. Greenpeace planned to head into Libyan waters a couple of years ago, but shelved the plan. While neither the EU, nor other Mediterranean countries acknowledge Libya's new fishing zone claim, no nation has dared to enter the disputed waters."
The World Wildlife Fund, among other conservation organizations, say the Blue Fin Tuna is an endangered species. Prized as a food fish, an international attempt earlier this year to protect the fish failed.
June 14th was the last day allowed for fishing the species.
More about Sea Shepherd, Bluefin tuna, Wildlife activists
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