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July 18, 2008

Vanishing into the Darkness — A 4am Expedition


©OCEANA/ Keith Ellenbogen


At 4 am with only the stars and the moon illuminating the darkness of the sea — our expedition team Carlos Perez, Cesar Fuertes, Maria Jose Cornax,Gorka Leclercq, and Keith Ellenbogen rapidly descended down a vertical ladder from the Oceana Marviva Med into the Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) underway at 8 nautical miles per hour.

Our objective this morning was to use the RIB to get close (within 50ft/20m) to the driftnet fishing boats — and to photograph them catching pelagic fish such as swordfish or tuna.

Onboard the RIB, racing through the dark mist of the warm ocean mixing with the cool air and flat seas — we accelerated for about twenty minutes to our first targeted boat the S. Maria. In the open ocean as we approached the driftnet extreme care was taken not to let the propeller get caught in the drifting net — that was nearly impossible to see. For a brief moment, our propeller did get entangled in the net — but was quickly removed by Cesar Fuertes.

Continuing onward we arrived at the S. Maria at 4:35am and noted she had already finished hauling in the driftnet. In frequent communication with Xavier Pastor onboard the Oceana Marviva he proceeded to give us coordinates for our second targeted driftnet fishing boat the Anna Prima.

With tensions high our team carefully positioned the RIB so we were able to photograph (as best we can with virtually no light) the net being hauled in.

With the RIB underway we accelerated through the Tyrrhenian Sea towards our second targeted driftnet fishing boat the Anna Prima. During the 15-20 minutes of reeling in the driftnet we did not observe them catching any pelagic fish. Perhaps they weren’t fishing for them or maybe there were no fish left in this area to catch.

Driftinet fishing is one of the worst methods of fishing as these walls of death kill anything and everything that comes into contact with it.

Many of the Italian driftnet fishing boats aware of their illegal activities have adopted a number of strategies to avoid being easily photographed/videographed. Recently the fisherman have begun hauling in the driftnet under the darkness of night — finishing before light breaks at 5am. A second technique to avoid being photographed is to cut the driftnet and return later in the day. Lastly, the driftnet fishing boats knowing — in advance they have caught a pelagic fish— repositioning the stern of the boat to block the fish being photographed by our RIB.

As the light broke, at 5am we continued to look for other driftnet fishing boats before heading back to the Oceana Marviva Med — and picking up some plastic drifting in the Ocean.


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