Operation Icefish represented a turning point in human history. Sea Shepherd broke the record for the longest maritime pursuit when they chased the toothfish poaching vessel Thunder for 110 days from the frigid seas of Antarctica to the coast of West Africa. They confiscated 75 km of net and boarded the vessel to retrieve evidence when it sank itself to avoid prosecution. The captain and officers of the vessel were sentenced to two to six years in prison and the company was fined more than $30 million. Sea Shepherd later provided information that resulted in the arrest of four other “Bandit 6” vessels before chasing the Viking to Indonesia, where it was blown up by authorities. Effectively ending illegal fishing in Antarctica, none of these vessels poached again, and this case has been cited by INTERPOL and other global law enforcement bodies.
     During the course of the second year of Operation Icefish, Sea Shepherd stumbled upon a fleet of illegal driftnet vessels in the Southern Indian Ocean. Operation Driftnet saw them chase the fleet back to China, reporting and documenting its activities, seizing 5 km of net, and ultimately securing $1 million in fines against the company and costing the captains their fishing licenses.
     Something remarkable happened as a result of these partnerships: countries wanted to work with Sea Shepherd to stop illegal fishing. Since 2016, they have launched Operation AlbacoreOperation Sola StellaOperation JodariOperation GuegouOperation VanguardOperation Sierra Leone Coastal Defense, and Operation Gambian Coastal Defense. These partnerships with the governments of Gabon, Sao Tome y Principe, Liberia, Tanzania, Benin, Namibia, Sierra Leone, and The Gambia have resulted in the arrest of nearly 75 IUU fishing vessels for crimes like shark finning, using banned gear, using undocumented immigrants for labor, violating human rights laws, smuggling drugs and mangroves, bribing officials, catching endangered species, fishing in marine protected areas, and a plethora of other offenses.
     This is merely the expansion of their earlier efforts against illegal fishing. They were active in the fight against driftnet fishing in the North Pacific, Caribbean, North Atlantic, and Mediterranean and dolphin bycatch in the tuna nets of the Eastern Pacific between 1987 and 1997, resulting in bans in these practices. They evicted cod trawling vessels from Canada in 1993, secured a temporary ban on salmon fishing in British Columbia in 1995, and worked on several occasions to protect Cocos Island, Malpelo Island, Coiba Island, and Fernando de Noronha between 1992 and 2017. Their most famous collaboration was with the government of Ecuador between 1999 and 2017 to stop the plundering of the Galapagos Marine Reserve; aside from busting dozens of poaching operations and exposing corruption in environmental law, they launched landmark legal, educational, monitoring, surveillance, and detection programs. The modern iteration of this campaign is Operation Treasured Islands; the organization is working with Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Ecuador to stop illegal fishing.
     Modern threats have required modern solutions, and their range has been truly global: Operation Apex Harmony-Timor Leste led to the arrest of 15 shark finning vessels and three driftnet vessels in just a few weeks, saving the lives of a million sharks. Operation Blue Rage, covered in the TV show “Whale Wars,” exposed the illegal bluefin industry in the Mediterranean. Operation Requiem worked with the Phoenix Islands and other South Pacific areas to stop shark finning. Operation Sunu Gaal busted numerous illegal fishing operations in Senegal. Operation Cap Roux and Operation Siracusa have focused on stopping poaching in the marine reserves of Southern France and Sicily. Operation Anguilla is working to stop the poaching of eels in Italy, and Operation Siso has cleaned up numerous tons of fishing gear from the Aeolian Islands. Operation Oresund exposed illegal trawling along the coast of Denmark.
     Nor have their efforts focused only on species being intentionally caught. They are working to save the vaquita porpoise from extinction caused by bycatch in nets, protecting Hector’s dolphins from industrial trawling, exposing the slaughter of 11,000 dolphins a year by French vessels in the Bay of Biscay, protecting porpoises in the Baltic, and have previously saved the Saimaa seal of Finland from extinction with Operation MilagroOperation PahuOperation Dolphin BycatchOperation Perkunas, and Operation Saimaa Seal, respectively. This is in addition to their legal workshops in the Philippines, Malaysia, Gabon, Peru, Palau, China, Indonesia, Mauritania, Senegal, Singapore, Thailand, Liberia, and numerous other nations.
     If there is one organization doing more than any to protect the oceans from the onslaught of IUU fishing, it is Sea Shepherd. Their efforts have busted hundreds of illegal operators, changed laws, and rallied the international community to see IUU fishing as a threat to national security and the global environment.


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