It’s the same faces on every tuna longline fishing boat we see. The young Indonesian men, the Vietnamese eyes under floppy hats, the Filipino guy hunched over a basket of fishing line. They reach out their hands and help us onto their boat. They’re curious but cautious; I’m sure they don’t get many visitors far out at sea, let alone visitors in Greenpeace gear.

While one of the campaigners speaks to the captain about what’s being caught and how the vessel operates, I take a walk around.

07 October 2012 Taiwanese Fishermen in the Pacific Ocean, 10/16/2009

Taiwanese Fishermen in the Pacific Ocean, 10/16/2009 This picture shows the very similar living and sleeping conditions of the crew in the Indian Ocean. The Crew members are pictured sleeping down below in the living area on board the Taiwanese longliner Ming Jyh Fwu 16. This picture is

Last night’s ship had one crew cabin. Eighteen men in a room, maybe three meters wide, eight long. Two levels, no mattresses, someone trying to get some rest. The kitchen is a narrow afterthought with bright fluorescent lighting. A soup pot is tied to the stove to stop it from sliding off, and something salty is boiling. Meals are eaten at the back of the ship, in the same space where hooks are baited.

Seeing first-hand the excesses of industrial fishing, it’s easy to blame the fishermen. They’re the one’s setting the longlines, gaffing the fish, and cutting off shark fins. But one quickly realises that’s too easy, they’re just doing their job, have families at home, and if they didn’t do it, there’s a long line of those who would.

They work a fourteen-hour day, setting miles and miles of hooked and baited fishing line out the back of the ship. Then they pull it back in, sometimes right through the night. They process the fish and pack the freezer. They get soaked by the sea, and bloodied by fish.

Rest and repeat.

On the ships we’ve inspected so far, it’s been more or less the same when it comes to crew contracts. Six months out fishing, a few days in port, then back out to sea – for up two years straight.

Pay for basic seamen is about $250 a month, but can be as low as $200. Sometimes crew members get their pay in-hand, other times it’s sent straight home. The average albacore tuna these fishermen pull out the water sells for about $75 a piece. According to the captains we spoke to, they catch between 20 and 80 tuna a day as well as other fish and sharks. It occurs to me that someone somewhere is making a lot of money from all this – but it’s not the people pulling the fish out the water.

07 October 2012

Fishing Activities on a Longliner.

I wasn’t surprised to read that in the 80’s it was still possible for Taiwanese prisoners to carry out their sentences on a fishing vessel. On the Taiwanese boats we’ve been on, it’s easy to see how that could have worked. There are even stories today of crew members who try to escape during port stops, or by jumping over the side.

As we were leaving the ship last night, a young guy was pulling off a gumboot. Earlier I had watched him weighing tuna and noticed his tshirt because it was similar to one of mine at home. He looked up and I waved.

“See you next time,” he said.