They have only been out on the high seas for a couple of days and already they are taking action to defend the great fish of the Pacific. Here's the latest from Mary Ann, on the Esperanza.
We arrived a few days ago in the High Seas of the Pacific. Since yesterday, we have been on constant watch, scanning the horizon by day, the radar by night, diligently on the look-out for FADs and fishing boats.
Up in the bridge, Gabriel was the first to go on FAD watch at 8 in the morning.
And lo and behold …you guessed it…he spotted the very thing we were looking for, a FAD!
For the unfamiliar, FAD stands for Fish Aggregating Device, designed to attract tuna then caught by industrial purse seiners. But these devices not only attract tuna but also a host of other species, such as sharks, turtles and other fish. These FADs float at sea until they have attracted a sizable enough population of tuna. After which the tuna and all other accumulated marine life is scooped up in a huge net, in one fell swoop. It’s a very wasteful way of fishing.
The irony of the situation is that we have found this FAD right in the middle of a two-month ban, from August 1 to September 30. The ban was declared by the Pacific Tuna Commission, which manages tuna fishing in the international waters of the region.
So there I was walking around, a sleepy zombie, however I snapped awake when someone informed me that we had found a FAD. There was a general hubbub going on around me. Deckies were by the inflatables, getting ready to launch them. The divers were checking their dive equipment and gearing up in the wet room. Breakfast was a distant memory of wolfing down one buttered toast as I hurried to catch the action. It was the same general excitement when I went up the bridge, the campaign team were complete and two binoculars were trained on the bobbing FAD,
The African Queen (one of the inflatable boats) sped to the bobbing FAD. Our divers soon discovered that schools of fish have already gathered around it.
As well as sharks, some of them juvenile too!
Normally, these FADs act like deadly fish magnets - but these critters were spared the usual fate that befalls the marine life lured to them. Instead, it was the FAD itself that we fished out of the water. It turned out to be a floating drum, looking very much like a huge brown crayon, caked with rust, barnacles and containing some small fish annoyed to be (temporarily) taken out of the water.
Finding this FAD was both good and bad at the same time. Good, because we were able to find one and confiscate it, but bad because this is a wasteful practice used by industrial fishing companies to increase their tuna catch, and despite the ban in place, we still found one.
If the use of FADs continues, tuna stocks face a grim future in the region, and other marine life such as sharks and turtles will continue to become the unintended casualties of industrial fishing.
For Gabriel (one of our dive team, and resident shark expert) the reward for his early-morning FAD spotting was the chance to get into the water with some of his sharky friends, and to know they are - at least for now - safe from harm.
Image: © Greenpeace/ Paul Hilton