Urgent action by Japan needed to protect the Pacific tuna

Press release - 11 September, 2009
Western Pacific Ocean – Activists from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, campaigning to end the destruction of the world’s oceans, today unfurled banners saying "Marine Reserves Now" and "No Return from Overfishing" after witnessing Japanese purse seiner Fukuichi Maru scoop tuna in a pocket of international waters in the Pacific where key tuna stocks are threatened with collapse.

The ship was caught using a fish aggregating device (FAD), supposedly banned in the Pacific ocean for two months although a gaping loophole (1) in the ban is allowing fleets from Japan, the Philippines and New Zealand to continue their plunder of the Pacific.  Japan is the world's largest consumer of tuna, and fleets from Japan catch over a quarter of the Pacific tuna taken annually (2).

"Countries are making a mockery of the two month ban on FAD fishing. In our first week on the high seas, we came across six of these devices although they are banned. Today we've witnessed a Japanese vessel hauling a massive catch from a FAD, and exemptions in the ban are allowing them to get away with this plunder," said Josua Turaganivalu, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, onboard the Esperanza. "A total ban on the use of fish aggregation devices is urgently needed. If Pacific tuna species are not protected soon, it will spell not just the end of Japan's favourite sushi, but of a vital resource of Pacific Island countries."

Greenpeace is calling on Japan's new government to lead other major fishing nations in the region to agree to an immediate 50% reduction in Pacific tuna catch, support the closure of all four pockets of international waters to fishing activities, and have them declared as marine reserves to allow tuna stocks to recover.

Several tuna species, such as Pacific bigeye and yellowfin, are already fished beyond their limits (3), and continue to face the spectre of species collapse. 

Responding to this, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) - the Pacific's tuna governing body, of which Japan is a member - agreed to close two of these pockets to purse seine tuna fishing from 2010 onwards. A ban on FAD use during August and September was also instituted.  In addition, Pacific Island countries proposed in May to close all four pockets of international waters in between their economic zones where the significant amount of tuna fishing is taking place.

"Fisheries management has failed tuna stocks the world over. However, the WCPFC will have the opportunity to close the four pockets to all fishing at its next meeting in December," said Karli Thomas, Greenpeace New Zealand Oceans Campaigner, on board the Esperanza. "By doing this, the WCPFC can reverse the grim future faced by Pacific tuna stocks and those that depend upon them, and establish itself as a global leader in oceans conservation."

The Esperanza's "Defending Our Pacific" tour is part of an international campaign for clean and healthy oceans through the creation of a global network of marine reserves and effective enforcement of laws that protect ocean life. The tour will call for the protection of Pacific tuna through the establishment of marine reserves spanning the four pockets of international waters in the Pacific Ocean, and ensuring sustainable levels of fishing outside of these areas. Home to endangered leatherback turtles, humpback whales and other deep-sea life, the proposed areas (4) provide vital feeding and breeding areas for tuna - the region's lifeline.  The Esperanza has already uncovered illegal use of fish aggregating devices in the high seas, and Taiwanese vessels illegally transferring tuna at sea.

Greenpeace is campaigning for a global network of fully protected marine reserves, covering 40% of our oceans. They are essential to ensure clean and healthy oceans and protect marine life from overfishing and habitat destruction. Healthy oceans can also play a vital role in building resilience against the devastating effects of climate change.

Notes: (1) Paragraph 15 of the WCPFC’s Conservation Management Measure which sets the conditions of the ban provides such exemptions as follows: "As an alternative to the high seas FAD closure…members may adopt measures to reduce their catch by weight of bigeye tuna in the purse seine fishery in the area between 20°N and 20°S by a minimum of 10 percent relative to 2001-2004 average levels…. This alternative shall only be available to members identified by the Commission in advance as having demonstrated a functioning capacity to implement such measures in an effective and transparent manner including through: an established and functioning port monitoring program that allows monitoring of bigeye landings for each trip by each vessel; a commitment to carry on board observers from the Regional Observer Program…."

(2) The Organization for the Promotion of Responsible Tuna Fisheries, an industry lobby, www.oprt.or.jp

(3) The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation now considers bigeye stocks as either fully or overexploited in all the world’s oceans, and moderately to fully exploited in the Indian Ocean. The areas with the highest proportions (46-60%) of overfished stocks of tuna are the Southeast Atlantic, the Southeast Pacific, and the Northeast Atlantic, as well as the high seas, particularly those in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The Scientific Committee of WCPFC this year found that for the highly exploited western equatorial region of the WCPO which accounts for 95% of the total yellowfin tuna catch, the spawning biomass has declined to about 30% of the unexploited level.

(4) The pockets of international waters identified by Greenpeace as needing protection as marine reserves lie between Pacific Island country national waters - a map showing their locations is available athttp://www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/oceans/marine-reserves/pacific-tuna-need-marine-reserves