Pacific plunder

As industrial fishing fleets exhaust tuna stocks around the globe more and more are heading to the Pacific in search of a disappearing resource. There are almost 6000 vessels licensed to fish for tuna in the Pacific and in 2012 around 2.6 million tonnes of Pacific tuna were caught – that’s about 60 per cent of the world’s supply of tuna. However, overfishing means tuna stocks are being caught faster than they can replenish.

This plunder of the Pacific is impacting on the health of our ocean, the future of tuna in the region and of Pacific island countries and their people which rely on the fisheries economically and as an essential source of food.

Pacific bigeye and yellowfin are already in serious trouble. Two years ago scientists advised that fishing needed to be cut by up to 50 per cent to allow bigeye tuna to recover. In New Zealand we’re noticing the reduced numbers of yellowfin arriving in our coastal waters from the Pacific, especially long the east coast of the North Island. The Whakatane Sportsfishing Club has removed the word ‘tuna’ from the name of one of its annual tournaments as tuna are no longer being caught.

Destructive fishing practices are wiping out tuna stocks as well as other marine species. The main method of catching skipjack tuna (the most common species you’ll find on supermarket shelves) is one of the worst offenders. Fishing fleets use floating death traps to attract schools of tuna - fish aggregation devices (FADs) - then scoop up everything in the area with huge purse seine nets. The indiscriminate catch includes tuna so young that they haven't had a chance to reproduce as well as unwanted species including sharks and turtles which are thrown back into the sea dead or dying. This method of using death trap FADs, along with purse seine nets, catches up to ten times more unwanted species than more sustainable practices.

Pirate fishing is also rampant in high value tuna fisheries, literally stealing tuna from the plates of some of the poorest people in the world. Illegal fishing is estimated to cost the Pacific region up to NZ$1.7 billion per year.

But even the legal tuna fisheries are part of the robbery. The way that foreign fishing nations and rich multinational corporations negotiate with Pacific Island countries for access to fish tuna in their waters is incredibly unfair. Only around five per cent of the value of the tuna is given to the resource owners, often denying coastal communities much-needed employment and perpetuating irresponsible fishing.

In 2013 we launched a report providing a blueprint for Pacific Island governments and regional bodies to promote a more sustainable and locally owned and operated tuna fishery in the region.

The latest updates


How I came to believe we need to Change Tuna

Blog entry by Lauren Reid | September 9, 2015

The moment we heard we were boarding our first fishing boat, I was so overwhelmed with excitement and nervousness that I nearly jumped straight off the Rainbow Warrior and into the sea – almost missing the inflatable altogether. I...

The mind boggling size of the Pacific

Blog entry by Andrew Davies | September 7, 2015

The Pacific ocean covers approximately one-third of the Earth's surface. You could fit all the land in the world into the space it occupies – with room left over for an extra Canada. Put another way, it’s bigger than the surface of...

A bad kind of FAD: The fish magnet that’s not so sexy

Blog entry by Sophie Schroder | September 4, 2015

To the untrained eye it looks like a rogue barrel, fallen overboard from a distant ship, bobbing along in the calm Pacific Ocean. Time and again we see odd objects floating past out here, things like mini cocktail umbrellas or...

Like longline ships passing in the night

Blog entry by Sophie Schroder | August 29, 2015

The Korean longliner looked impressive from a distance. In the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean where you can go weeks without seeing anything but sea, the lights of the fishing vessel at night on the horizon were almost majestic. ...

A mothership your mother wouldn’t like

Blog entry by Oliver Knowles | August 27, 2015

Motherships… transshipping… they sound like things you'd find in outer space while you're star trekking across the universe. But the Rainbow Warrior is finding them way out in the high seas, in areas of the Pacific Ocean that are more...

Fishermen confirm shark finning on tuna longliners

Blog entry by Dan Salmon | August 22, 2015

The cruel yet lucrative shark fin trade is back in the  headlines  and it's clearly something people care deeply about, public pressure and a  petition  signed by nearly 180,000 people, prompted shipping giant United Parcel Service...

What we saw – South Pacific albacore fishery

Blog entry by Rainbow Warrior crew | August 19, 2015

Our main work on this trip has been exploring the South Pacific albacore tuna fisheries. With less than 1% of fishing activity on longliners witnessed by independent observers in the region, it really is a fishery with very little...

Desperately Seeking: South Pacific Albacore tuna

Blog entry by Dr Cat Dorey | August 7, 2015

There's a tendency, outside my science world at least, to talk about 'tuna' as if it was one species of fish. In fact tuna is a generic name for a whole bunch of tuna and mackerel species. As well as the main commercial species of...

These Are the Videos the Tuna Industry Doesn’t Want You to See

Blog entry by John Hocevar | July 29, 2015

Today, we're releasing five new video testimonials from Pacific tuna fishermen detailing the horrible conditions they've worked under. The interviews—conducted in a South Pacific port earlier this year—reveal incidents of abuse,...

There’s slavery in the seafood industry. Here’s what we can do about it.

Blog entry by David Pinsky | July 22, 2015

There’s no easy way to say this:  The seafood at your local supermarket may be connected to slavery.  It’s heartbreaking. Fishing operators  in over 50 countries  around the world are crewing ships through human trafficking networks...

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