The Black Fish: undercover with the vigilantes fighting organised crime at sea

illegal fishing

Here is a story I wrote for the Guardian about Illegal fishing and those who fight it:

Illegal fishing controlled by organised crime is a growing menace, offering big rewards for low risk. But the seaborne raiders have a new force to contend with. An army of amateur sleuths are spending their holidays fighting back

On 2 August, a flotilla of white-hulled fishing boats assembled in Sant’Agata di Militello, a port in northern Sicily, in the late afternoon sun. As a brass band played, a holiday crowd gathered along the quay. A float bearing a statue of the Virgin Mary, crowned with a halo of gold and decorated with white flowers, was loaded onto one of the craft. With the priest and the brass band on board, the vessel, decked out in palm fronds, puttered out into the bay. As the Madonna was borne over the waves in the annual ritual to bless the sea’s harvest, onlookers crowded onto the other boats, which began to follow in the vessel’s wake, their lights winking on in the dusk.

While the crowd’s eyes were fixed on the Madonna, a clean-cut, compactly-built man with neat blond hair joined the melee and crossed a gangplank onto one of the boats. As the skipper cast off, his craft now filled with revellers, the blond man slipped below deck, unseen. The stowaway, a Dutchman named Wietse van der Werf, was a former ship’s engineer and knew his way around boats. He soon found what he was looking for: an orange nylon driftnet neatly folded under a tarpaulin. Known as “curtains of death” for the indiscriminate destruction they visit on whales, seabirds, dolphins and sharks, such nets – which can be 20km long and the height of a 10-storey building – are subject to strict international controls. As guests on deck watched fireworks bursting above the bay, Van der Werf filmed the driftnet on his phone.

…Continue reading on The Guardian