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Sea Shepherd vows to tackle tuna fishing off Libya

Published: 9:00AM Monday May 16, 2011 Source: ONE News

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is brushing off fears of being caught up the conflict in Libya when they head there next month to save bluefin tuna.

Sea Shepherd went to the waters off Libya last year to do the same thing, but this time NATO-backed rebel forces are in an on-going struggle with supporters of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The society said next month two of its ships will enter the waters off the coast of Libya, with the goal of intercepting bluefin tuna poachers and freeing any illegally caught fish in attempt to save the species from nearing extinction.

The territorial waters off Libya have been declared a no-fly zone by NATO, and Sea Shepherd said this means there will be a distinct absence of poaching surveillance in the region.

"NATO is not interested in illegal fishing operations, and no European Union or International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) inspectors will be allowed into the Libyan zone," the society said in a statement.

It said this will be a dangerous campaign but the bluefin tuna are facing extinction within a few years unless they are effectively protected, "and Sea Shepherd will not fail them".

Last year, Sea Shepherd crew members located and intervened against an illegal poaching operation freeing approximately 800 bluefins.

This year, the bluefin will have some respite because nearly half of the French bluefin tuna fleet will remain in port due to the cancellation of all fishing permits in Libyan waters for all Libyan-owned, French-registered boats, the society said.

Ten of the tuna ships operating in the Mediterranean port of Sete, 185 km from the city of Toulouse, will be confined to port because they are owned by Libyan companies with links to Gaddafi.

Sea Shepherd said if any of these vessels manage to depart from the harbour with cancelled fishing permits, it will be on their tracks to prevent them from illegally catching bluefin tuna.

The Libyan bluefin quota was to be set at 902 tons out of a total of 12,900 tons for all countries for the 2011 season which started yesterday.

However, no fishing will be allowed at all in Libyan waters this year, making Sea Shepherd's job of identifying and interfering with poachers much easier this year than last, the society said.

- With Newstalk ZB