In memory of the incredible Doug Tompkins

The world has lost one of its greatest conservation leaders with the recent sudden death of Doug Tompkins. As pioneering philanthropist, conservationist and ambassador of The Black Fish, Doug was a major figure in the ocean conservation movement; inspiring and supporting many people and initiatives around the world.

Tompkins, 72, was paddling with five other experienced outdoorsmen on Lago General Carrera, a large lake straddling the border between Chile and Argentina in southern Patagonia when his kayak overturned in bad weather.

Wietse van der Werf, who founded The Black Fish in 2010, was lucky to count Doug as a personal friend: It was on an Antarctic expedition in 2009 when we first met. Spending numerous weeks at sea together makes for strong relationships and we hit it off quite instantly with our shared love for nature, history and aviation.

We stayed in touch and when I started The Black Fish a year later Doug really was one of the first with confidence in our ambitions. His support so early on when we really had very little to show for ourselves has definitely made the crucial difference to enable us to get started. His loss is felt greatly across the conservation world especially because he was so receptive and supportive of young initiatives such as ours. His enthusiasm, drive and commitment to the protection of the natural world was really quite incredible.

In the new year The Black Fish will present a fitting way to honour Doug’s work and passions to ensure his legacy can live on to inspire others for years to come.

Read on: Doug Tompkins: life and death of the ecological visionary behind North Face | Everything We Know About the Kayaking Accident That Claimed Doug Tompkins’ Life

Rock legends in concert for ocean conservation

Rocks legends Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor, Doug Wimbish and Leah Wood joined Bernard Fowler and an impressive line up of bands including The Strypes, Hidden Charms and Will Heard, as well as a host of celebrities in London for Project 0’s Wave Makers Concert. The night, which featured the work of Project 0 and its partners, raised crucial funds for the Blue Marine Foundation, Nature Conservancy and The Black Fish.

Ronnie Wood, guitarist of the Rolling Stones, joined the concert as a special guest. Photo by Project 0

Concert goers and people around the world enjoyed live stream performances and short talks on the importance of taking action for the oceans by actress and model Cara Delevingne, actor and Project 0 board member Jimmy Jagger, the Nature Conservancy’s Maria Damanaki and Wietse van der Werf of The Black Fish.

The Black Fish has partnered with Project 0 to raise the profile of its fight to halt illegal overfishing and raise funds to strengthen its civilian enforcement work in the Mediterranean Sea.

Learn more about Project 0 and get involved at weareprojectzero.org

Civilian air service patrols for shellfish poachers

A unique new partnership between The Black Fish and the Wildlife Air Service has realised crucial surveillance flights for shellfish poaching off the UK’s North West coast. Monitoring flights were carried out over the coasts of Northern Wales, Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria for two weeks in mid-August. Observers from The Black Fish inside a Cessna 172 patrol aircraft have been on the look out for shellfish poachers, believed to be operating in the River Dee estuary and Morecambe Bay during low tide.

Pilot Dan Beeden after an early evening patrol flight. Photo by Paul Wolfgang Webster.

While the initial flights have not yet uncovered the larger poaching operations believed to be taking place in the region, the air crew remain determined. “This is all about having eyes in the sky and ramping up crucial surveillance capacity. We will locate illegal activity soon enough if it is occurring. Otherwise we very much hope to confirm the shellfish populations in this region are safe and well protected.” says Wietse van der Werf, the primary Airborne Inspector onboard; responsible for evidence collection and analysis.

Dan Beeden, pilot and founder of the Wildlife Air Service; “This is the start of a much larger operation we will run along the UK coast over the coming months in order to have eyes in the sky and ensure crime on our coasts can be identified and tackled. The regions we are now patrolling have traditionally experienced problems with shellfish poaching. Our flights help realise much needed additional monitoring capacity to collect evidence, which will be handed over to enforcement agencies.”

The Black Fish’s Citizen Inspectors have carried out coastal patrols on the ground during the same period as the Wildlife Air Service’s patrols in the air. Collected evidence has been shared between the two organisations to ensure investigative efforts into shellfish poaching can be as effective and cooperative as possible. The Black Fish is preparing for a report to be published during the fall, which will be presented to prosecutors and national enforcement agencies.

Learn more about issue of shellfish poaching here. Follow the Wildlife Air Service on Twitter and Facebook.

Night patrols seek out UK shellfish poaching

The Black Fish has launched a series of civilian night patrols around the English coast to track shellfish poaching. Shellfish poaching is a multi-million dollar black market trade, threatening shellfish populations, exploiting migrant workers and fuelling organised crime.

Citizen Inspectors have been on watch since early this week, at bays and estuaries where shellfish poaching has traditionally occurred. Poaching activities have already been observed and documented at three separate locations. The patrols will run until the end of the month and collected evidence will be handed over to prosecutors.

Samantha Hook, who runs the Citizen Inspector Network: “The tidal areas where the poaching occurs are very difficult to monitor. Our Citizen Inspectors add monitoring capacity and collect much needed evidence. The black market in shellfish fuels organised crime in this country while exploiting workers and endangering consumer health. The people involved simply need to be identified and made to face justice. We are here to help realise that.“

While most would not immediately associate cockles, scallops and sea snails with illegal fishing and organised crime syndicates, in reality the illegal trade in shellfish is a multi-million dollar black market industry, providing organised crime groups with a lucrative income stream while threatening species, coastal biodiversity and human health. Learn more about the issue and support our work at http://www.theblackfish.org/shellfish

New campaign targets illegal Fish Aggregating Devices

They look small and harmless but Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) are the hidden killers of ocean life, catching large numbers of juvenile (baby) fish, causing bycatch and entangling other wildlife such as turtles and sharks. The Black Fish has now launched a new investigative campaign in the Mediterranean to pinpoint who is deploying the illegal devices and confiscating as many of them at sea as fuel budgets allow.

The new campaign is focused on investigating exactly which vessels and companies construct and the deploy the illegal devices, in a bid to map out the extend of the illegal activity. The Black Fish has already started confiscating illegal FADs at sea and plans to continue this into the autumn.

FADs heavily impact on juvenile fish of various species, prohibiting them from enjoying at least one reproduction cycle before being caught. Furthermore, FADs cause high levels of bycatch and the plastics used in the process often end up floating ocean waste, forming navigational hazards to shipping and animals.

In November 2014 The Black Fish carried out a series of sea patrols off the North coast of Sicily, Italy. Over 300 illegal FADs were observed in a relatively small area of sea and a number of devices were confiscated until the available fuel budget was exhausted.

The Black Fish has now started focusing on other areas and instead of removing FADs already deployed at sea, the campaign has deployed Citizen Inspectors in fishing ports to monitor FAD preparations at dock level. Groups of Citizen Inspectors have been out since mid-July and will carry on with their surveillance duties into August.

Samantha Hook, coordinator of the Citizen Inspector Network: “We have been present early morning until late evening in those ports we believe are the hotspots for illegal FAD activity. Over the coming weeks we will step up our efforts and we will do our best to ensure that any collected evidence is followed up by concrete enforcement action. Securing confiscations of illegal fishing gear is our top priority and we will call on the authorities to increase fines to those found using the prohibited devices.”

Read more about the FAD issue on the dedicated campaign page or follow us via Twitter and Facebook. You can also sign up for our mailinglist below, to get news updates straight into your inbox.

Interested to become a Citizen Inspector yourself? All we ask for us two weeks of your time a year and you can make a concrete difference to help expose and prosecute illegal fishing. Find out more and apply at theblackfish.org/cin/

 

Deadly driftnet loophole exposed in Italy

Italy’s deadly driftnets are back. The illegal use of the destructive nets, thought to have ended on a larger scale thanks to recent measures taken by the EU and Italy, has again been exposed with fresh evidence emerging of their deployment. Citizen Inspectors of The Black Fish, who are currently on deployment to investigate other forms of illegal fishing in the country, were surprised to find evidence of widespread use of the illegal nets. Fishermen, exploiting a new legal loophole, are now openly setting the nets at sea again.

Dubbed the ‘curtains of death’, driftnet form an impenetrable wall in the ocean and while targeting tuna and swordfish, are instead the cause of thousands of cetacean, turtle and shark deaths annually, in the Mediterranean alone. Outlawed by the United Nations in 1992, the use of the nets are strictly regulated in the EU, yet compliance has been a contentious issue for decades.

Samantha Hook of The Black Fish: “At least ten different laws were introduced in the last decade that prohibit the use of driftnets but to no avail. The deadly nets are back. Throughout the last two weeks, as we have carried out inspections in ports across Southern Italy, it has become painstakingly clear that fishers are exploiting a new legal loophole and are once again causing havoc for marine life across the region. We call on EU policy makers to take urgent action and ensure this new loophole is closed before the start of next year’s fishing season.”

Fishers have added metal rings to their nets, arguing that the illegal driftnets on their vessels are instead surrounding nets, used to catch smaller species. Hook: “The international regulations are vague as to what exactly constitutes a surrounding net and fishers are cleverly exploiting this to their advantage. The mesh sizes of the driftnets are far too large to ever catch any smaller fish as surrounding nets do yet the law is obviously not clear enough on this.”

The Black Fish has presented the fresh evidence to the European Commission and US authorities in a bid to push for further sanctions over Italy’s continued disregards for international law concerning the illegal fishing gear. A publicly available report with the latest evidence will be published once The Black Fish’s field investigations in Italy have ended.

Interested in supporting our work? Please make a donation or get actively involved as a Citizen Inspector or volunteer.

Unique ocean crowdfunding platform launched

The Black Fish has launched a new dedicated crowdfunding platform for ocean conservation, named the #OceanCrowd. The online platform, on which anyone can create an appeal to crowdfund for the work of The Black Fish, was built to give a boost to The Black Fish’s community fundraising efforts.

“We have developed this platform as a way of empowering ordinary people to fundraise for our work to stop illegal fishing. Being less reliant on traditional grants is all part of The Black Fish’s continued drive towards financial independence and transparency.” says Wietse van der Werf, founder and international director at The Black Fish.

The platform is now online at crowd.theblackfish.org where you can create a profile and get crowdfunding. Questions? Contact us, we’re happy to help!

Citizen Inspectors assist in anchovy confiscations

Over the last three months The Black Fish’s Citizen Inspectors have assisted enforcement officials in Southern Italy with surveillance to seek out illegal trade in juvenile anchovy, which are heavily overfished in the Mediterranean region. Throughout the fishing season, which started in February, Citizen Inspectors have inspected fishing ports and markets in the north eastern region of Sicily, during which a number of illegal catches were observed. Through effective cooperation with the authorities different quantities of illegal fish were confiscated and the traders now face prosecution.

Officers of the Italian Coastguard confiscate an illegal catch of anchovy

Small pelagic fish species inhabit vast areas of the global oceans and form a crucial part of marine ecosystems. In the Mediterranean Sea two important such species are anchovies (Engraulis encrasicolus) and sardines (Sardina pilchardus), which together constitute more than a third of the total catch of the Italian fishing fleet.



Several purpose-built fishing fleets in the world target anchovy and sardines specifically and catch and process huge quantities of the fish annually. Wietse van der Werf of The Black Fish: “The value for such fisheries isn’t necessarily in the individual fish themselves, it is the sheer industrial size of the vessels that can catch such huge quantities that it becomes profitable. It is this type of mega fishing that is central to driving the continual over-exploitation of our oceans.”



Known as neonata (newborn), juvenile fish are a delicacy in Italy where many regions have their traditional dishes prepared from the larval fish. The small fish are so young they have often hatched less than 24 hours previously. For both anchovy and sardine, which as species have experienced high levels of overfishing in the Mediterranean over recent decades, this form of illegal harvesting of the larval fish is catastrophic for the populations, which have little chance to reproduce.

Local coastguard officials in Southern Italy have been struggling to keep up with the scale of illegal landings of the juvenile fish and have called on the Citizen Inspectors to assist with additional enforcement capacity.



Carlo Giannetto, one of the inspectors working for The Black Fish in the region explains: “This catching of baby fish is a really important issue for the entire balance of the Mediterranean Sea ecosystem, which is why this issue of juvenile fishing is one of the priorities for The Black Fish’s work here. I have carried out many inspections now with fellow Citizen Inspectors and we keep uncovering illegal catches all the time.”



The Black Fish’s direct collaboration with the Italian Coastguard puts it in a very powerful position to train ordinary people in assisting in observation of fishing practices and assisting in obtaining effective enforcement results including confiscations and prosecutions where illegal activity is found.

The Black Fish will step up its civilian enforcement effort across Southern Italy over the coming months.

 Please contribute to our #OceanAppeal and help make our work possible.

Waitt Foundation boosts #OceanAppeal

The California based Waitt Foundation has given the #OceanAppeal a major boost, with a contribution that brings the tally beyond the 50% mark. The appeal, which was launched by The Black Fish in March, raises funds for urgent investigations into illegal fishing operations in the Mediterranean and Northern European seas. It helps establish the world’s largest independent fisheries monitoring network.

The Waitt Foundation has supported The Black Fish since 2013, when it funded a series of investigations into illegal driftnet use in Tunisia and Albania. “We are very grateful for the continued support, which enables us to train additional Citizen Inspectors and run much needed investigations into illegal fishing practices.” said Wietse van der Werf, founder of The Black Fish.

Support the appeal today and select your perk

The Black Fish moves focus on crime with new UN report

Earlier this week The Black Fish presented a groundbreaking new report on fishing crime at the UN Crime Congress in Doha, Qatar. Bringing together case studies from around the world, the publication makes the case that illegal fishing constitutes a form of organized crime and should be officially recognised and dealth with as such. With the move The Black Fish is steering away from its traditional conservation agenda, putting stronger focus on the criminal aspects of illegal fishing.

“The fact is that the global conservation effort is struggling. Most of the oceans remain underprotected and illegal overfishing is a bigger problem than ever before. As conservationists we need to rethink our approach and find ways to get ahead of the game” said Wietse van der Werf, founder of The Black Fish and co-author of the report.

While The Black Fish will continue to work for the protection of endangered species, the focus will increasingly be on mobilising civil society to tackle organized crime and corruption in the fishing industry. Van der Werf: “Half the fish sold in Europe is illegal and 800 kilos of illegal fish is taken from our oceans ever second. The situation is extremely dire and it is about time we treated illegal fishing for what it really is: crime.”

Samantha Hooks, coordinator of The Black Fish’s Citizen Inspector Network: “Criminal organisations currently have free reign and the problems surrounding fisheries crime are not dealt with head-on. It is our hope that with more attention given to the organised crime elements in the seafood sector and the corruption which drives it, we can involve more of the international enforcement and anti-corruption agencies to assist in bringing the dark corners of this industry to justice”.

Over the coming months The Black Fish is busy training new Citizen Inspectors, which are to aid struggling enforcement officials in countries where they are unable to keep up with the scale of illegal fishing. Assisting with monitoring and evidence collection, The Black Fish helps to direct such enforcers more efficiently, making the best possible use of limited resources. Interested to be involved? See how you can become a Citizen Inspector yourself!