Hundreds of days of chasing down illegal fishing ships in the frigid Southern Ocean have paid off for environmental activist group Sea Shepherd. The last of the known poaching ships designed to catch Patagonia toothfish—or Chilean sea bass, as they’re called in markets and restaurants—has been detained in Indonesia.
Sea Shepherd captain Siddharth Chakravarty, who had been discreetly tracking the pirate ship for several weeks, notified officials when it entered Indonesian waters last week. Members of the Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries detained the Viking and its 11 crew members for falsifying the ship’s name.
“In a short span of 15 months, the entire fleet of the toothfish poachers is in disarray, with no poachers fishing in Antarctica for the first time,” Chakravarty said in a statement issued Friday. Crews were previously able to operate illegally with few consequences, hidden from authorities in the remote Southern Ocean.
— Sea Shepherd (@seashepherd) February 27, 2016
Chakravarty, who previously helped chase down another illegal vessel, called the Kunlun, called the capture of the last of the Bandit 6 one of the “swiftest and biggest successes in marine conservation history.”
Although it’s neither a bass nor is it always caught off Chilean waters, Chilean sea bass fetches a high market price. That makes it a valuable catch for poachers, with the ships able to haul in about $1 million worth of fish. Roughly twice as much Chilean sea bass entering the U.S. market comes from poachers rather than legal fishers, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
While these unlawful crews hurt legal fishers’ businesses, they also threatened the Antarctic ecosystem. Toothfish aren’t listed as an endangered species, but illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing makes tracking the species’ status difficult. As predators, toothfish are an important part of the food chain. The poachers also use illegal gill nets to capture the deepwater fish, which can snatch up and unintentionally kill other species.
The Indonesian navy plans to sink the Viking within the next few days, signaling, at least temporarily, the end of the destructive practice.