The royal blue waters of the Indian Ocean give nothing away. Keeping my eyes focused on the horizon, I search for the presence of a ship or a Fish Aggregating Device (a FAD). But there is stillness here. I don’t know if this is uplifting or indicative of a world we all fear. I look around me again - no ships could mean no sign of life.
For the next two weeks, I will be on the Greenpeace ship MY Esperanza, (Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish). As part of the onboard research team, we are investigating illegal, unregulated and unauthorised fishing that target the world’s most vulnerable fish, the tuna. The information wwe gather will be brought to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) meeting in Mauritius later this month.
Some of the world’s poorest nations belong to the Indian Ocean, many of which depend on it for food and economic development, but poor governance has led to the presence of large foreign vessels in the area.
Owned and run by faraway countries, these ships use the waters here as their own backyard and their fishing practices are destroying stocks not only for themselves, but also for smaller artisanal fleets. Two weeks before my arrival onboard, the team encountered several vessels in these waters, the majority of which were Purse Seines from Europe. Some of these ships can bring in catches up to 50 tonnes per sweep, leaving less each day for those nations of the Indian Ocean.
It is greedy, powerful nations that have come to pillage from waters that do not belong to them, but changes are happening. Last year in Senegal, the newly-elected President Macky Sall made history when he cancelled all foreign fishing licences for fisheries operating in Senegalese waters. This means the protection of not only the livelihoods of artisanal fishermen there, but ensures sustainability for the future. This is just one success – there can be so many more.
There are obstacles, including decreasing fish stocks, weak governance and infrastructure. It will be challenging, but we can start making smarter, more sustainable choices when it comes to the fish we buy and eat. The Esperanza is traversing the Indian Ocean to realise this hope.