The crew of a Sea Shepherd vessel fell under a prolonged assault Wednesday by poachers inside the Vaquita Refuge in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.
The accompanying footage shows dozens of angry fishermen in pangas, or skiffs, racing alongside Sea Shepherd’s ship, M/V Farley Mowat, hurling objects and attempting to foul the ship’s propellers with nets.
Sea Shepherd for months has been patrolling the northern portion of the gulf, removing gillnets set illegally by fishermen in the hope of catching totoaba, a type of croaker.
Totoaba bladders are sold on the black market in China for up to $10,000 per bladder, and illegal fishing operations in the Sea of Cortez are directed, in part, by Mexican drug cartels.
Nets used to catch totoaba are a threat to critically endangered vaquita porpoises, endemic to the northern gulf. Mexico has banned gillnet fishing and allows Sea Shepherd to patrol the refuge as part of an effort to save the vaquita from becoming extinct. (The vaquita population may number fewer than 30 animals.)
Sea Shepherd said in a news release issued late Wednesday that the tense incident, which involved 35 pangas and ultimately the Mexican Navy, began at 1:20 p.m.
Part of the news release reads:
“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.”
Sea Shepherd crew used fire hoses to keep poachers from entering the ship, while calls for assistance are 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 M/V Farley Mowat got underway, after its propellers were cleared of netting, the vessel was met by a Navy ship and the situation was 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.”
–Images and video are courtesy of Alex Beldi/Sea Shepherd
Source: USA Today
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