'Operation Driftnet' - The discovery that shut down an entire poaching operation

Fair Projects started 2016 aboard Sea Shepherd's flagship vessel, 'The Steve Irwin' as it sat in dock in Fremantle, Australia. Over the coming months we were to produce media content for the marine conservation organisation as they embarked on their second campaign to confront the illegal poaching of Antarctic Toothfish in the Southern Ocean, and in January we set sail, due West.

En route, The Steve Irwin searched an area of the Indian Ocean where some unusual vessel movements had been observed via satellite. On the evening of the 25th of January, the Steve Irwin located a fleet of vessels, and confirmed the following day that they were engaged in the illegal practice of fishing with driftnets.


The Fu Yuan Yu 073 - one of the six vessels found fishing illegally.

Upon the arrival of the Steve Irwin, the Fu Yuan Yu fleet fled, leaving behind their nets. The crew of the Steve Irwin - under the command of Captain Siddharth Chakravarty - retrieved roughly 5k's of abandoned driftnet, which contained a total of 321 animals. The discovery of this operation came as a surprise to the organisation, as no one was aware that such a large scale illegal operation was being carried out in the Indian Ocean. As a result, 'Operation Driftnet' was launched, with the aim of re-locating the fleet and shutting them down.

The video announcing the launch of 'Operation Driftnet'.

Upon the launch, Fair Projects worked with campaign leader Siddharth Chakravarty to develop and produce a campaign website that would be used alongside Sea Shepherd's social media channels to educate their audience about the issue, as well as updating those back on land with the latest news from sea. The website utilised the powerful images and footage that Fair Projects captured during the initial confrontation, as well as the confiscation of the abandoned driftnet.

The images captured of the 321 animals brought aboard - including Sharks, Seals, Dolphins, Swordfish critically endangered Bluefin Tuna, as well as hundreds of pelagic fish - helped illustrate the indiscriminate nature in which these nets kill, and helped remind the world why this fishing practice was banned by the United Nations in 1992.

On the evening of the 13th March, 2016, the 'Fu Yuan Yu 076' was located by the Steve Irwin in the Indian Ocean, and over the next two weeks we would chase the vessel across the seas as it fled to its home port in China.

Upon finding the Fu Yuan Yu 076, this video was released.

Fair Projects documented the vessel as it began destroying evidence of their fishing equipment, and assisted in the production of official documents that were submitted to the relevant International and Chinese authorities with the intention of strengthening the case against the Fu Yuan Yu fleet.

The vessel would eventually pull into port on the 28th of March, 2016, at which point the Steve Irwin and its crew docked in Hong Kong. The at-sea campaign had come to a close, and it would now be up to the Chinese authorities to prosecute the fleet.

The review of the campaign, produced upon completion of the chase.

Then, in early July of 2016, Sea Shepherd received an email from the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture stating that the company which owns and operates the Fu Yuan Yu fleet - the Dong Xing Long Ocean Fishing Company - has been investigated, and as a result:

- All of their vessels have had their fishing licences temporarily suspended.
- The Fu Yuan Yu fleet are to be kept in port indefinitely.
- The Captains of the Fu Yuan Yu vessels have had their certifications permanently revoked.
- Each Fu Yuan Yu vessel has been fined the equivalent of US$300,000.

In closing their email, the Ministry stated:

"...On behalf of China fishery competent authority, I would like to express our sincerely appreciation for your and the Sea Shepherd Global's timely notification and constant attention regarding the case of illegal driftnet fishing by some Chinese fishing vessels in the southern Indian Ocean."

On receiving the news, campaign leader Captain Siddharth Chakravarty said:

“These are severe penalties and the actions of the Chinese government clearly illustrate that they view fisheries crime very seriously. Sea Shepherd would like to thank the Chinese government for their cooperation with the investigation and we appreciate the recognition of the success by the government of China.”

The video announcing the prosecution of the Fu Yuan Yu fleet.

For Fair Projects, 'Operation Driftnet' was an incredibly rewarding campaign to have been a part of. The photographic and video content we produced was able to assist Sea Shepherd in new ways, enabling the production and distribution of detailed evidential reports to assist in the prosecution of the Fu Yuan Yu fleet, as well as the development and management of a campaign-specific website that we were able to run from sea, ensuring that we could communicate with supporters and donors back on land in real time, as the campaign developed.

To find out more about the campaign, visit the Operation Driftnet website by clicking here.