Fish for the future

This piece was originally published on Greenpeace International, October 3, 2012.

The warmth of the sun overhead mirrored the warmth of the welcome we received this morning from officials in Keelung, Taiwan. The day dawned sunny, despite warnings of a typhoon moving in on Taiwan, and our press conference to launch this leg of our tour with the Esperanza went ahead successfully.

Sadly, the future for tuna may not be quite as sunny as the skies over Taiwan.

Speaking from the heli-deck on the stern of the Espy, journalists heard my colleague Yenning tell of the decline in fisheries and, in particular, the sharp decline of the tuna, a species targeted for its economic value as well as its taste.  If current trends continue, however, Greenpeace as well as local Taiwanese fishermen worry that the tuna will not exist in the future.

Greenpeace recently conducted polling of people in Taiwan and interviewed coastal fishermen to hear directly how Taiwanese people view the situation in the oceans, and released a report and video today summarising the results.

In interview after interview, the fishermen spoke of how few fish there are now, compared to a decade ago – how the fish are smaller and harder to find. In contrast, they say, the large fleets operating out in distant waters use new technologies to find and scoop up tonnes of fish, leaving little behind for local fishermen.

Tamara StarkThey worry, that their town’s future – where fishing is the primary industry – may be limited. They worry, that soon there will be no fish.

I was struck by how similar the story is the world over – whether you talk with artisanal fishers in the UK, in Senegal or here in Taiwan. There is too large an industrial fleet on the world’s oceans, and too much overfishing by those same fleets. Unless we adopt more sustainable fishing methods, our already depleted oceans will be unable to recover, and fishing communities will cease to exist.

And yet a thread of hope is woven into the same story, wherever you go. Over 86 per cent of the people polled in Taiwan believe that their government should restrict how tuna is caught. And over 90 per cent of people say they are willing to even stop eating tuna, if it will help the fish recover.

If individuals are willing to take action, it’s reasonable to expect our governments and corporations to do the same. As we explained this morning, many major retailers internationally are already committing to only purchase fish that have been caught sustainably, and unless Taiwan and other Asian fishing powers adopt these methods, they won’t have access to this growing market.

But if the people, our governments and corporations work together to address the problem of overfishing, it’s entirely possible for us to reverse the trend and ensure that we do, indeed, have fish for the future. And that is what the Taiwanese people want.