For the last five years, Wietse van der Werf (Netherlands) has worked to protect threatened fish species, in particular bluefin tuna, in European seas. Driftnets have been banned by the United Nations since 1992, and various new rules and regulations at EU level have since restricted their use further. However, fishing vessels, primarily from Southern Italy, continue to use driftnets to illegally catch tuna, while posing a major hazard to cetaceans, turtles and shark species, which are often found entangled and suffocating in the nets.
Wietse’s work sets out to mitigate a shortcoming in conservation: especially in the case of fisheries, conservation efforts are increasingly hampered by the limited capacity of authorities to act. In response, Wietse founded the Wildlife Air Service in 2014, which is the world’s first civilian air service dedicated to conservation. They mobilize existing resources present in civil society to act as monitoring and evidence collection platforms. Private pilots and their aircraft, enthusiastic conservation minded individuals, are trained as civilian fishing inspectors to help monitor wildlife crime at sea.
Wietse’s work has already secured numerous measurable results, such as confiscations of illegal fishing gear and initiations of prosecutions, all the while establishing new groundbreaking partnerships to strengthen the work of official authorities. In his view, such uncommon collaborations are what the conservation movement urgently needs to scale up its capacity and maximize its impact.