By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

PARIS: Environmental activists from the Sea Shepherd group said Friday they had “liberated” some 800 bluefin tuna that had been caught by what they described as poachers and were being towed by two fishing vessels off the coast of Libya.

Five scuba divers on Thursday afternoon cut open a circular holding net filled with fish below legal weight and caught after the fishing season closed, Sea Shepherd said in a press release.

The operation was carried out 68 kilometers off the coast of North Africa in waters claimed by Libya, according to the release.The net was being towed by two boats, the Italian vessel Cesare Rustico and the Libyan vessel Tagreft, it said.

“Sea Shepherd is convinced that this catch was caught after June 14 and they hold the position that this operation by these two vessels was illegal,” the statement said.

Activists on the Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin rejected claims by the captain of the Libyan vessel that the fish had been caught three days earlier.

The divers took pictures of their action and posted them on the organization’s website (

Bluefin tuna have become a major source of controversy.

Highly prized in Japan for consumption in sushi, their numbers have fallen dangerously low in the Mediterranean and east Atlantic, say green groups.