29 April 2013 Esperanza On Patrol In The Indian Ocean

Tuna trans shipment on the high seas in the Indian Ocean between the Jetmark 101, a Manila-registered long-liner and the Tuna Queen, registered in Panama. The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is on patrol in the Indian Ocean documenting fishing activities. © Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace

 

Today I discovered I am not the only South African in the Indian Ocean.  

On the fringes of the Mauritian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is an area where fishing vessels offload their catch to another, often bigger, ship.  And it is here, in this transhipment hotspot, that I find my fellow patriot. On board a Japanese-owned Panama-flagged reefer, called the Tuna Queen,  he is an observer for the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission.

Though South Africa is not a member of the IOTC, my countryman is tasked with monitoring vessels that tranship tuna from longliners to reefers, as tuna from this region can end up on our plates.

Transhipping makes it easier for longliners to stay at sea for months, even years. Reefers not only take the tuna that longliners have caught, but also deliver important supplies to the fishing vessels, like fuel and food. As straightforward as this may sound, it is a different story when it comes to transparency.

There is little control over the catch the reefers take in from longliners, meaning transhipping falls into a loophole. This can lead to reefers receiving unsustainably caught tuna from illegally operating ships. One way to do this is by fixing logbooks, so tuna from an unlawful fishing vessel goes into the same pot as the catch from a longliner that has a permit.

29 April 2013 Esperanza On Patrol In The Indian Ocean

Tuna transhipment on the high seas in the Indian Ocean between the Taiwanese longliner Yi Long No 202 and the Tuna Queen, registered in Panama. The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is on patrol in the Indian Ocean documenting fishing activities. © Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace

In one day, we witnessed the Tuna Queen receive two loads. From the Greenpeace inflatable, I saw tonne after tonne of frozen tuna being hauled from two longliners to the reefer. We don’t know whether this tuna, strung up like a bunch of grapes, was legal or illegal catch. We also don’t know what the South African observer really thought of this.

Much of South Africa’s coastline laps the Indian Ocean, so it is good to see an observer from my country onboard. As consumers, we have a right to know where the tuna in the cans on our supermarket shelves come from. But transhipping is a murky business that needs addressing. With many of South Africa’s neighbours already active members of the IOTC, perhaps it is time for our status to shift from observer to member.

Don’t forget that Thursday the 2nd May is World Tuna Day – make a pledge to choose only sustainably canned tuna or buy from your local fishing community to ensure you know where it’s actually coming from!