Pirates of the Pacific

Feature Story - 25 November, 2011
Yesterday we found evidence of high seas pirates illegally fishing tuna.

The high seas pockets have long been a playground for pirate fishers making it difficult for surrounding Pacific Island countries to manage their shared fish stocks. Since 2008, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, the international body responsible for governing the overall management of the Pacific tuna fisheries, closed high seas pockets 1 and 2 to purse seine fishing.

In January 2010, an additional agreement by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) [1] closing additional areas of high seas to purse seine fishing protecting 4.5 million square kilometers of the Pacific. That's an area approximately half the size of Europe.

However, pirate (or Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated) fishing is alive and well in the high seas– globally, it could account for over one-third of the total catch [2] and at an enormous cost. One of the biggest threats to marine biodiversity, it is also a threat to the legitimate fishing industry. It damages the ocean habitat and steals food and income from vulnerable coastal communities.

Over the years, Greenpeace ship the Esperanza have been out at sea taking action on illegal and destructive fishing practices. Apart from the overt illegal operators, we have also proven that pirate fishing is associated with legal authorised vessels either facilitating the operations of illegal vessels or mis reporting and underreporting their catch.

See: Greenpeace reports 2008, 2009

In dollar terms, illegal fishing is estimated to cost the Pacific region up to $1.7 billion per year. [1]

The ship we came across today had no markings, and therefore no state to which it is flagged but most of the crew including the Captain were Filipinos. It was purse seining illegally in high seas pocket one, close to Indonesia. We filmed it bringing its haul of tuna on board and illegally transshipping its catch (transferring it to another boat).

Transhipping at sea is one of the main ways pirate fishers are able to avoid detection and launder their catch. Fishing vessels can remain at sea for months at a time resupplying, refueling and even changing their crew. Transferring their catch at sea allows pirate fishers to launder their illegal fish by mixing it with legally caught fish.

After receiving no reply to radio calls to both ships, Greenpeace activists in inflatable boats approached the ships to intervene in the transshipment, paint ‘Pirate’ on the side of the fishing vessel, and eventually went on board the fishing vessel to talk with the Captain.

Greenpeace actions at sea in recent years have brought IUU fishing to the attention of consumers and fisheries managers alike driving changes at sea and in seafood markets around the world. Vessel blacklists maintained by the Pacific tuna commission and Greenpeace help prevent repeat offenders and alert traders to illegal suppliers.

Consumers don’t want to support pirate fishing, and need to have full assurances that the products they are buying have not been caught in an unfair and illegal manner. Companies must be able to trace their seafood products back to the vessel. Otherwise there’s no way of knowing where a tuna product comes from or how it was caught.

Fishing nations need to reign in vessels that break the law and support Pacific efforts to clamp down on illegal and unsustainable fishing. This means closing the high seas pockets to all industrial fishing and strong measures to ensure those who break the rules don’t do so again.

Notes

[1] Forum Fisheries Agency, PNA announces date for closure of 4.5 million sq km high seas areas to purse seine fishing, http://www.ffa.int/node/330

[2] High Seas Task Force (2006) Closing the net: Stopping illegal fishing on the high seas. Governments of Australia, Canada, Chile, Namibia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, WWF, IUCN and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. http://www.illegal-fishing.info/item_single.php?item=document&item_id=58&approach_id=16

[3] Forum Fisheries Agency, PNA announces date for closure of 4.5 million sq km high seas areas to purse seine fishing, http://www.ffa.int/node/330

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