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Saanich researcher spends council leave fighting maritime crime

Unusual partnerships on the high seas off Africa appear to be curbing illegal fisheries
Now a Saanich councillor, Teale Phelps Bondaroff gathering research off Gabon and the Republic of Congo, while embedded on board the Bob Barker in 2022. (Courtesy Teale Phelps Bonderoff)

As a passionate marine conservationist, crimes committed on the high seas are of keen interest to Saanich Coun. Teale Phelps Bondaroff.

In particular, the researcher has followed the strategy of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society since his doctorate research days looking at the strategies of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in international affairs. He specifically spent time on the ship Bob Barker about 15 years ago during a campaign against Japanese Antarctic whaling.

They’ve gone from bright blue arctic ships with a personalized jolly roger and “badass piracy image” to a whale logo and grey vessels with a military feel.

When a similar opportunity arose this spring, and fearing he’d miss more than four consecutive meetings, Phelps Bondaroff was granted the required leave of absence from council. He wound up only missing three, catching one remotely while on a plane through the magic of modern technology.

However, he didn’t divulge the work he’d be doing, or where so illegal fishers wouldn’t be forewarned. Phelps Bondaroff said he’s grateful for the opportunity to participate in Operation Guegou (the language for big tuna).

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It marked a return to the waters off West Africa, documenting a partnership between the Sea Shepherd, law enforcement and the government of Benin aboard the Bob Barker on a 20-day patrol to stop poaching.

“People were happy … because the operation’s working,” Phelps Bondaroff said.

During this patrol, they did not encounter any suspicious vessels to board.

That didn’t stop the information gathering. The partnership itself is unusual as government doesn’t typically interact with NGOs this way, he noted. As one of the largest private navies in the world, Sea Shepherd has the large vessels and the ability to man and maintain them.

“Sea Shepherd crew were fantastic to talk to and the stories were great,” Phelps Bondaroff said. With 24-hour piracy watch, the research team felt safe, but also found a wealth of information and fascinating conversation any time of the day.

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Last summer, research took him to the coast of Gabon, where he amassed 800 pages of notes while watching Sea Shepherd in action. He harnessed efficiency this trip, gathering 450 pages of mostly anthropological notes.

Aside from academic papers, Phelps Bondaroff expects a podcast is imminent exploring the team’s work and delving into the role of non-state action.

“I’d like to further the goals of social movements. I like to be involved in campaigns of important causes,” he said. “My hope would be we can help other movements better understand how to win campaigns and change the world.”

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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