Boys fish from a small boat in a Pacific atoll lagoon. Rampant industrial fishing threatens the future of Pacific fisheries and will mean an uncertain future for these children in an economy that relies on local traditional fishing for survival.
While sailing the Western and Central Pacific, documenting
fishing, andspeaking with industry leaders, local fishermen,
academics andgovernment regulators we've realised that this is a
fishery on the edgeof crisis.
Our journey of discovery began with our first stop, Suva, Fiji.
Therewe met Grahame Southwick, owner of Fiji Fish, and one of the
manyindustry leaders sounding the alarm: "We have a biological
problem,there are too many boats taking too many fish. It also
spawns aneconomical problem where we have legitimate fleets being
forced out ofbusiness by the pirate fleets or the non-conformists."
Recently, the Prime Minister of Fiji himself, Laisenia
Qarase,reportedly called for measures to ensure that tuna fishing
ininternational waters is harvested on a sustainable basis. He
alsocalled for more of the profits from fishing in the region to go
to thelocal economy: "More than 95 percent of its cash value goes
to othercountries. The return to the Pacific nations is under 4
percent of itsworth. Clearly, we must do something about this."
On our way to Kiribati we came across a long liner, our first
fishingvessel at sea, pulling in its line. The crew was friendly,
but we sawfirst hand an incident of shark
fining.Shark fins are worth a lot of money, but shark meat is
not a big seller- so they kept the fins and threw the dead shark
overboard. What awaste. Government and industry experts advocate
using fishing line thatbreaks off when a big shark bites the line -
letting the shark live.But most fishermen don't like the idea of
losing a hook and many don'tlike the idea of losing that shark fin
revenue (some crew on fishingboats are even paid in shark fin).
In Kiribati, the dilemma facing small island nations that want
toprotect their fish stocks, but are cash strapped, was highlighted
Kirata,Deputy Director of the Fisheries Resources Department:
"As you can see,the resource itself is an important one, yet we
also have a governmentthat needs hard cash. There must be a balance
in trying to manage andconserve the resource, and at the same time
reap the maximum benefitfrom it."
We also spoke to Ekueta Leremia, a successful local fisherman.
Heruns seven small fishing boats working with more than 20 staff.
As withthe other local fishermen we spoke to, he is worried about
how overfishing is hurting his livelihood: "Until 1980 it was a
very good timefor fishing, plenty fish around. You didn't need to
go very far out,just stay close to land and you could catch big
Yellow Fin. Now it'svery difficult, very difficult to get those big
At a public
meeting in the Marshalls,the Deputy Attorney General Posesi
Blommfield talked about thechallenges enforcing fisheries
regulations with a 1,321,220 square mile(2,131,000 sq km) area to
patrol with one patrol boat.
"As you are all aware, it's one thing to have laws in place
tocombat IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing), it's
quiteanother to prosecute them. The crime of IUU is quite different
to othercrimes, because it is hard to go out there and catch the
violators, itis hard to bring them in, it is hard to identify who
the owners are,and it is very hard to bring evidence in and present
it to a judge andhope that he will convict."
also visited Kolej, a local fisherman who has been around
longenough to remember the good old days. He put the blame for
decliningcatches on foreign fishing vessels. What he said was both
"I think the possible solution now is for the governments of
thecountries in the Pacific Islands to work together to be firm
inprotecting their resources. If no action is taken, the livelihood
thatwe depend on will one day be depleted and the future
generations maynever see it real life."
Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia
In Pohnpei we saw more fishing boats - purse seiners and long
liners -then at any other stops. The long liners unloaded into a
processingfacility right down the dock from us. The purse
seiners transfer their fish onto reefer (refrigerator) ships
out in the lagoon.
I had tea with some Chinese fishermen on board their long
liner.Like many fishermen, they endure cramped living conditions,
long hoursand years away from home at a time - for relatively
little in the wayof pay. A purse seiner captain was also kind
enough to allow us to comeon board, and document their transhipping
(transferring) fish to arefer (refrigerator) ship. Transhipping in
a harbour like this isacceptable because the authorities can
monitor it, but Greenpeaceopposes transhipping at sea because it
makes it too easy to evade theregulators.
industry leader on this stop, Milan Kamber, Managing Director
ofCaroline Fisheries Corporation and a long time purse seiner
captain,told us: "Our ships used to come in with 3-4000 tons (per
year), nowthey're barely coming in with 2000 tons. They used to
stay (at sea) amonth, or under a month, but now (it takes) up to 50
days, close to twomonths to finish the voyage."
Our own experiences at sea have confirmed these concerns. We
haveencountered large numbers of purse seiners on the high seas
fishing fortuna without any regulation or controls - taking
advantage ofweaknesses in the law of the sea to fish for tuna as
they migratebetween the exclusive economic zones of the Pacific
Nine times in the past week we have set off in our small boats
tofilm purse seiners and long liners hauling their gear and speak
withtheir captains and crews. Two long liners caught only four fish
betweenthem in four hours from their 75km long lines. Five out of
six purseseiners hauled in dismally
small catches,and the sixth wasn't much better. Skippers on two
other purse seinerswe visited complained of small catches and few
fish. Helicopter pilotstell us that these experiences are being
echoed all around us.
And it's not just the tuna that are threatened by over-fishing.
Ourdivers continually wonder why there are no sharks in the water
withthem as they film the purse seine nets being drawn, despite the
cloudsof blood and thrashing fish. View the slideshow
of purse seiners hauling their nets.
The reality is that the pacific tuna fishery is not in a
healthyrobust state. It is, in fact, over-fished and heading
steadily towardsthe fate suffered by some many fisheries in the
Atlantic and elsewhere.Catches are dropping, fish are harder to
find, and more boats keepcoming.
What happens next
However, the picture is not all bleak. The alarm is being raised
by awide variety of stakeholders - from the artisan fishermen, to
industryleaders, to government officials - there is a strong
consensus thattime is rapidly running out for the fisheries.
this alarm translate into urgent action? Or will greed,corruption,
poor governance and pressure from the far off nationsexploiting
these resources bring about another marine, ecological andeconomic
disaster? I don't know, but in the people of the Pacific thatI have
met on this tour, I have found reason to hope.
This article was written by
Andrew Davies our webeditor currently onboard the Rainbow
Warrior. To find out more about the tour visit its weblog.
Help us stop the destruction of the
pacific fisheries from pirate fishing by signing
our petition now!