Defending Our Pacific : Q and A

Standard Page - 13 November, 2011
Greenpeace is back in the Pacific to highlight and take action against the illegal, unsustainable and inequitable fishing of tuna from the area.

Sometimes our tuna campaign work can get a little jargon heavy, below is a brief list of frequently asked questions that aim to make some of the key issues and terms clearer.


How is tuna caught?

Three main methods are used to catch tuna: purse seine nets, long-lines, and pole and line; other techniques include trolling and artisanal fishing techniques. Purse seining is responsible for more than two thirds of the catch in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

What is a purse-seiner?

The method responsible for the majority of the tuna catch is purse seining. A purse seine is a net. To set the net, a small boat (skiff) carrying one end of the net is launched from the purse seiner vessel. The seiner then encircles the school of fish with the net and returns to the skiff to retrieve the other end. The net is then “pursed” or drawn tight at the base using a heavy cable. When the net is closed, it is hauled alongside so catch can be brought on board.

This method nets marine life indiscriminately. Bycatch - species other than tuna - is crushed under the weight of the tuna in the net or damaged by the strong nets. Some by-catch survives to be hauled on board the ship, only to be tossed back later, dead or dying. Sharks, turtles, whales and dolphins - some species endangered – as well as juvenile tunas all fall victim to purse seine fishing.

The sheer volume of catch from the massive nets also puts tuna populations at great risk, 75% of the catches in the Pacific are taken by this method. The commercial fishing industry, sometimes subsidised by the country of origin, is busy creating super seiners and super super seiners. These carry larger and larger nets and can take up to 3000 tonnes of fish in one trip. of exposure to GMOs, and yet the long-term health impacts remain unknown.

What is a long-liner?

A long-liner lays fishing lines of up to 100km in length with up to 3000 baited hooks hanging at different depths. Many species of fish, turtles and birdlife are caught accidentally. About 10% of Pacific tuna is caught this way.

The main tuna species caught by long-line fishing are yellowfin, bigeye and albacore with smaller amounts of skipjack. Longline fleets also catch other fish species like marlin, wahoo, mahi mahi, swordfish and sharks as well as turtles. The sharks that are caught are often finned – the fins are cut off the live shark which is then thrown back into the water to die. Depending on the size and freezer capacity of the individual vessel, longliners can stay at sea from a few weeks to many months or even years if they are serviced by transshipments and re-fuelling.

What is pole and line?

The pole and line fishery is a year-round tropical skipjack fishery and is the most sustainable way to fish for tuna if done properly. Domestic fleets from Indonesia, Solomon Islands and Japan are engaged in pole and line fishing. Currently 7% of the Pacific tuna catches are taken by this method. Pole and line boats differ from purse-seiners and longliners in that they use live baitfish stored in bait wells aboard to attract tuna. Surface tunas are attracted to the baitfish, which characteristically remain close to the pole and line boat. Long fishing poles and lures are then used to catch the tuna.

Pole and line is a selective fishing method where tuna are caught one by one, with very little other species or juvenile tuna caught. The pole and line method is small-scale and suited for the use of coastal communities and can provide good socio-economic benefits to the coastal states.

Greenpeace encourages the Pacific to develop their own sustainable and equitable pole and line industries and to reduce the amount of foreign fishing licenses in their waters.

What is a reefer?

Reefer Carriers - also known as motherships - are storage vessels with the space to carry and store fish, supply fishing vessels with fuel and other supplies and transport catches back to port.

Reefer Carriers - also known as motherships - are storage vessels with the space to carry and store fish, supply fishing vessels with fuel and other supplies and transport catches back to port.

What is transshipment?

Transshipment is the transfer of fuel and fish between reefer carriers and fishing vessels while out at sea. Transshipment allows the origin of the catch to be hidden, and is often used by pirate vessels to avoid detection by authorities. Most Pacific Island countries ban transshipment at sea, and it is illegal to transship on the high seas.

What is a FAD?

Purse seiners use Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs) to attract fish schools. They can be anchored (mainly coastal) or free floating (off shore purse seine fisheries). FADs act to create a mini-floating ecosystem and attract both the target fish and unwanted and vulnerable by-catch such as juveniles of the overfished yellowfin and bigeye as well as other fish species, sharks, rays and turtles. Up to 10% of the purse seine catch on FADs consists of these unwanted species. Watch this great explaination animation

What are the Pacific Commons?

Beyond the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of the Pacific Island Nations lie the high seas. The geographical distribution of the Pacific Islands means that in several places the high seas sites beyond the EEZs form ‘pockets’ – these pockets collectively form the Pacific Commons marine reserves.

What is a marine reserve?

Marine reserves are areas of ocean that are completely protected from damaging activities, just like national parks on land. The aim of marine reserves is to maintain or restore the intrinsic biodiversity and natural processes. No destructive activities are allowed in marine reserves, which means no fishing, removal of marine life, dredging, dumping, construction, mining or any other direct disturbance.  Marine reserves are widely recognized as a versatile and powerful tool for achieving both conservation and fisheries management goals. Networks of marine reserves are crucial to the conservation of highly migratory stocks such as tuna to preserve marine biodiversity and maintain vital ecosystem functions. As such they are also key to ensuring food security for regions such as the Pacific.

Many marine species, including tuna, are being fished beyond their ecological limits and yet only one per cent of the world’s ocean is fully protected. This has led to a global reduction in the size, number and diversity of marine life, making our oceans less healthy and less productive. To reverse the current decline in the health of our oceans, Greenpeace is calling for 40% of the world’s oceans to be protected by marine reserves.

What is pirate fishing?

Pirate fishing – known by its more technical name: illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing – is plundering our oceans. Pirate fishers exploit the loopholes in the laws to manage fisheries, or simply ignore those laws altogether at the expense of coastal communities, the legitimate fishing industry and marine biodiversity.

Globally, pirate fishing account for 20% of the total catch and is worth up to US $9billion a year. In the WCPO, a conservative estimate puts the loss to pirate fishing at 21-46% per cent of the total catch across all the fisheries. This can be up to four times the revenue earned by Pacific Island states from access fees.  Not only do Pacific Island countries directly lose this income, they receive no taxes or fees from the fishers, and suffer the loss of their vital fish stocks.

What does Greenpeace want?

Greenpeace advocates that Fish Aggregation Devices should be permanently banned in association with purse seine fisheries. Pacific Island Nations have taken action and are proposing to restrict the FAD fishing season in the region to 6 months only from 2012 onwards. Greenpeace wants to see a full ban on purse seining on FADs.

We call for a 50% effort reduction in all fishing in the WCPO in order to ensure sustainable and equitable fisheries.

Greenpeace is concerned about the increasing use of massive purse seine vessels in the Pacific and the out of control use of FADs that increase the catch of this fishing method.  Fishing capacity must be reduced to sustainable levels and our resources allocated equitably.  We are not calling for a ban on purse seining but rather an immediate moratorium on the construction of new large purse seine (super seiner & super super seiner) and large long-line vessels intended to fish in the WCPO, and controls on the relocation of such vessels from other areas. For example a modern super seiner can take up to 11,000 tons of fish per season. In comparison, a fleet of small aluminum boats and outrigger canoes in Niue caught an estimated 100 tonnes of the main tuna species for the whole of 2003. A super seiner would catch this much fish in just two days.

Right now in the Pacific there are far too many vessels chasing fewer and fewer fish. A substantial reduction in the number of long-line fleets operating in the region is essential to counter for the overfishing occurring on key tuna species.

Greenpeace is also seriously concerned about the 35% by-catch from long-line fishing.  By-catch mitigation techniques must be introduced immediately to reduce by-catch of endangered species and management measures must be developed to protect endangered species such as turtles and sharks. We do not currently believe that a moratorium on longliners is necessary as long as state of the art mitigation measures are implemented, the vessels carry independent observers, do not transship at sea or fish at the vulnerable high seas pockets.

Greenpeace is campaigning around the world to get retailers and tuna companies to change their sourcing policies to only buy responsibly-caught tuna. In recent years, retailers and tuna brands across Europe, Australia and North America have committed to use sustainably-caught tuna that does not come from the Pacific Commons proposed marine reserves. This progress has already proven that the fishing industry can change - which it needs to do to survive.

What can consumers do?

We are asking consumers to ask questions about where their seafood and tuna comes from and how it was caught, if it was sustainably harvested and if a fair price was given to the producers. They should turn to tuna products that are caught by pole and line or other selective methods such as hand-line or troll. They should avoid buying species that are overfished such as bluefin, bigeye and yellowfin. See our canned tuna guide