Late last year, while I was onboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, we discovered a Taiwanese ship, the Sheng Chi Hui Number 7, catching and finning sharks in Palauan waters. This is a sad, destructive and unfortunately widespread practice in the Pacific Ocean: sharks are caught, their fins cut off and the bodies thrown back into the ocean, left to die. Millions of sharks are caught for their fins every year in this way for making shark fin soup, an expensive delicacy served mostly in Asian nations.
For over ten years, I have been working in the Pacific region to unify the Pacific island governments to protect our oceans- a key source of food and jobs for our communities. We’ve made a lot of progress in bringing Pacific communities together in recent years, convincing governments to stand up to foreign fishing powers and protect the fish and the jobs that our islands will need to survive. In 2009, Palau declared its waters a shark sanctuary and we worked with the government during our most recent Defending our Pacific ship tour to do joint patrols of their waters - in the hopes of stopping illegal fishing and maintaining fish and fishing jobs for the future.
It was a bittersweet moment for me to catch a Taiwanese ship catching sharks in Palauan waters; I was angry because these foreign ships travel so far to rob my people of fish and keep their profit margins strong. But I was thrilled to play a part in stopping an illegal fishing ship caught in the act of wrongdoing, and excited to play a role in bringing these fishing pirates to justice. I am also proud that the president of Palau, Johnson Toribiong said this in his statement today: “We are grateful for the help of Greenpeace in patrolling our waters to apprehend this vessel and shining a spotlight on the impacts of illegal fishing in the Pacific.” It means a lot to be thanked by governments for what we do.
Today, a settlement was announced: the Taiwanese government will pay Palau USD$65,000 for the infraction and both the ship and the ship’s captain are banned from Palau’s waters for one year. This is important because Taiwan has one of the world’s most aggressive fishing fleets, and sends a clear message to Taiwan that they should better regulate their fishing industry. Just last week, a lawsuit against one of my friends and colleagues in Taiwan, YuFen Kao, ended with a not guilty verdict. The Taiwanese fishing industry sued YuFen for aggravated defamation, because she demanded better regulation of Taiwanese fleets. Today’s settlement is yet another reminder to Taiwan that it must change its fishing policies. And earlier this week, Paul Hilton, one of our photographers, won a World Press photography award for his documentation of shark finning, including photos taken during the 2011 Defending our Pacific ship tour. Taiwan is now on notice: the world is watching what you are doing at sea.
In a few short weeks, leaders will be gathering in Guam to decide on the future of the Pacific tuna. This settlement is a good reminder to leaders that Pacific people and governments are working with Greenpeace, to enforce sensible and necessary conservation measures in our waters. We need action now to ensure that the Pacific tuna can recover and thrive. Greenpeace will continue to advocate for the Pacific communities and we’ll continue to work with governments here to enforce fishing regulations and stop destructive fishing. Watch this space for details on how you can help us secure healthy oceans and ample fish for the future.
Lagi Toribau is the oceans team leader at Greenpeace Australia-Pacific, based in Suva, Fiji.