Last week, the Greenpeace ship MY Esperanza (Espy) trailed an unregulated Cambodian-flagged reefer named Heng Xing 1 in the Pacific ocean after catching it in the act of violating various fishing laws, including the transfer of tuna at sea. Espy and her crew hoped to bring the vessel and its owners to justice but instead were forced to abandon its pursuit of the Heng Xing 1 due to a lack of legislation that would enable the necessary steps to address its involvement in illegal transshipments of tuna. An untouchable ocean destroyer.

The Heng Xing was caught transshipping tuna from not one but three purse seine vessels: two Indonesian vessels (KM Starcki 10 and KM Starcki 11) and one Philippine vessel (Sal 19). Despite repeated calls to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the regional fisheries management organization responsible for managing tuna fisheries in that part of the world, Greenpeace was informed that no action could be taken because the illegal transfer of fish took place in international waters and Cambodia is not a member of the commission.

The vessels from which the Heng Xing 1 received the tuna, however, were flagged to WCPFC member countries.

The Pacific is the source of 70 per cent of the world’s tuna, providing an important source of protein and supporting the livelihoods of many coastal communities. Greenpeace has long been working with governments of the Pacific to address overfishing and prevent foreign fishing nations from plundering their fishing grounds. But failed management of these resources by the WCPFC and a lack of enforcement such as this case, undermines efforts to ensure the future health of these precious tuna stocks.

Greenpeace is calling on the WCPFC to take immediate action against the fishing vessels that transshipped the tuna to the reefer. Greenpeace is also calling for the closure of the Pacific Commons into fully protected marine reserves and a more comprehensive legally binding global enforcement system for our oceans in an attempt to address the rampant illegal activities in international waters where laws and enforcement are the weakest.

In Canada, most of the tuna found on supermarket shelves comes from the Western and Central Pacific ocean. We’re working with Canadian brands to source from more sustainable and equitable tuna fisheries that do not operate in high seas areas proposed for protection. Find out which brands are taking action for our oceans here, and learn about how Canada’s biggest brand, Clover Leaf, refuses to switch to ocean-friendly tuna here