The crew of one of 12 vessels operated by Sea Shepherd fell under attack by poachers inside the Vaquita Refuge in the northern part of the Sea of Cortez. Sea Shephard is an international conservation society dedicated to saving marine wildlife. Their mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans.
Dozens of angry fishermen in pangas raced alongside the Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat, hurling objects and attempting to foul the ship’s propellers with their illegal nets.
Sea Shepherd for months has been patrolling, removing the gillnets set by fishermen catching totoaba. Totoaba bladders are sold on the black market in China for up to $10,000 per bladder.
Nets used to catch totoaba are a threat to critically endangered vaquita porpoises, and Mexico has banned gillnet fishing but allows Sea Shepherd to patrol the refuge as part of an effort to save the vaquita from becoming extinct. (The vaquita population is estimated at fewer than 30.) Totoaba are also threatened with extinction, mostly because of the damming of the Colorado river where they spawn. And the crazy Chinese believe they are a treatment for fertility, as well as circulatory and skin problems. The Mexican government pays the fishermen to not fish, but they can’t pay as much as the profit from selling the fish.
Sea Shepherd said in a news release that the tense incident involved 35 pangas swarming around the monitoring vessel until the Mexican Navy zoomed in to help.
Part of the news release reads:
The Sea Shepherd ship approached the pangas where obvious illegal poaching was taking place, as totoaba fishing gear was detected being loaded into a boat. 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 Molotov cocktails they hastily prepared. They also sprayed gasoline at the ship and poured gas in the sea around the vessel.
Poachers then dropped one of their illegal gillnets in front of the bow of the moving Sea Shepherd vessel in an attempt to foul the ship’s propellers. Five angry poachers boarded the Farley Mowat and looted multiple objects from the vessel’s deck while it was temporarily immobilized.”
Sea Shepherd crew used fire hoses to keep poachers from entering the ship, while calls for assistance were made. Navy sailors stationed on the ship were under orders not to fire on the fishermen.
The fishermen began to disperse as a Navy helicopter arrived overhead. As the Farley Mowat got under way after its propellers were cleared of netting, the vessel was met by a Navy ship and the situation was brought under control. It was not clear if any arrests were made, or if anyone was injured.
Stated Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson: “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”.