Our second ship tour of the Indian Ocean as part of the campaign for sustainable tuna fisheries ended last week. Combined with last year's tour, Greenpeace has been patrolling the region for illegal and unsustainable fishing practices for five out of the last 10 months.
During the last two months we have documented illegal and destructive fishing and have used our port stops to meet with key stakeholders and staged a direct action on a South Korean vessel found to have been fishing illegally. All of this has helped spark discussion about the future of tuna fishing in the Indian Ocean.
This is a long way from where we started last September when we arrived in the region for the first time with our ship the Rainbow Warrior. Our work this year has taken forward many of the conversations started last year and allowed us to start talking with many more people from different coastal states.
On the Esperanza we documented some of the illegal and unsustainable fishing that is happening away from government and public scrutiny. We exposed for a second year in a row evidence of illegal fishing by Sri Lankan boats inside the protected Chagossian waters and have submitted the evidence to the relevant authorities, including the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC).
We found evidence of tuna transshipments at sea where caught tuna is moved from fishing vessels into larger container ships, a practice notorious for allowing illegally caught fish into the supply chain. Back on land, we met with the Mauritian Fisheries Minister, Nicolas Von Mally, who agreed in writing to put forward a motion to ban transshipments of tuna at sea at next year’s IOTC meeting. This is real progress.
While in Mauritius, the Esperanza was joined by a flotilla of local fishing boats as we sailed up the coast to the annual IOTC meeting, urging delegates to count the number of Indian Ocean tuna fishing boats and to ban the use of destructive Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) with purse seine nets.
Inside the meeting, our first ever formal delegation to the IOTC worked tirelessly to highlight the need for urgent reform.
Earlier, we had tracked down a vessel owned by South Korean fishing giant Dongwon found to have been fishing illegally in waters off the African coast. While the vessel was in Port Louis, Mauritius, we painted the word 'illegal' in English and Korean on the ship's hull. We also called on the Mauritian authorities to refuse permission for the vessel to unload. All of this culminated in the Mauritians refusing to let the vessel unload its untraceable and suspect catch.
In Reunion, more than 1,400 people toured the Esperanza over two days of open boats. Combined with meetings with key companies, fishermen and their unions, local NGOs and many media interviews we took our message about the urgent need for reform of tuna fishing to a big audience on the island.
Similarly in Madagascar we met with local fishermen to hear how the big tuna fishing boats are impacting their fishing and livelihoods. This was the first time that Greenpeace has worked on sustainable fishing issues in Madagascar and we made many useful contacts.
In total, we were at sea for two months documenting fishing at sea, while we talked with politicians, businesses, scientists, NGOs and fishermen on land.
In their different ways, it is clear that many of these very different groups recognise the need to change and improve the way tuna fishing is run and operated in the region. While we may not yet have agreement on what that change should be, our work over the past 10 months has ensured that a dynamic and far-reaching debate has properly begun. This is the first step towards change.
Now the hard work of securing that strong and lasting change to protect tuna stocks and the wider Indian Ocean marine environment begins.
Oliver Knowles, Greenpeace International senior oceans campaigner