As a Pacific Islander onboard the Greenpeace vessel, the MY Esperanza (Spanish for Hope), I cannot help but feel that there is hope despite the plight facing our magnificent Pacific Ocean. This vast oceanscape has been the bridge connecting people of Pasifika for thousands of years. It is what brought our ancestors to these idyllic islands many centuries ago. It is the reason they decided to remain on these tiny specks of dirt and saw what none before had seen. For what these islands lacked by way of nature’s terrestrial gifts, a bounty of unimaginable wealth and beauty lay beneath the Pacific’s tranquil waters. The ocean itself would provide. The Pacific spoke of an endless nurturing. The Pacific is to us what mother is to child.
My ancestors believed that this was our chosen element – the oceans would sustain families and descendants throughout the ages and for generations to come.
And so it has. For thousands of years the Pacific Ocean has been the provider of my long ago ancestors. It is now provider to the livelihoods of mine and my Pacific cousins.
It is Our Breadbasket. Our Playground. Our Spirit. Our Identity. Our Heritage. Our Pasifika. Our Life.
Yet our Pacific Ocean is under threat.
Strangers from across the ocean have, with woeful intent, cast their coveting eyes on the bounties beneath the waves.
Our tuna, which provide Pacific Island countries with much needed nourishment and an abundant source of livelihoods, is being fished into certain oblivion by countries outside the Pacific. Small Pacific island countries together control approximately 80% of the rich tuna grounds, which extend along the equator from as far east as French Polynesia, all the way west to Palau.
However more than 85% of the vessels actually undertaking the industrial-scale fishing here are from the countries outside of the region. Countries such as Korea, Taiwan, Japan, US and EU – spurred on by corporate lobbyists – are sending fishing vessels in their thousands to plunder our Pacific of its tuna. These countries are taking almost 95% of the share from a multi-billion dollar industry and returning the remainder as paltry access fees to the island states.
In 2009, over 2,467,903 tonnes of tuna were caught. This was the highest annual catch on record despite countries agreeing in 2008 to curb overfishing of bigeye and yellowfin tuna. The top five fishing nations were Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Korea and USA, which together took two-thirds of the entire catch (1,625,542 tonnes).
To make matters worse, tuna fishing vessels from outside the Pacific are in some cases literally stealing tuna. Stealing one of the only exploitable resources of countries that are among the least developed, the smallest, the poorest and the most vulnerable in the world! It’s estimated that 400 million US dollars is being lost to illegal fishing activities in the Pacific every year. That’s five times the GDP of a small country like Kiribati.
Fishing corporations are tearing at the veins of our Pasifika’s very existence. Our fish, our tuna, has always been synonymous with our very existence. NO FISH MEANS NO FUTURE! Tuna companies would rather see our fish, our tuna, our turtles and our sharks wasted on the pages of history than to appreciate them in all their natural glory as we, the people of Pasifika, have for thousands of years. Understanding that there is balance between what and how much to take and when to take it is crucial.
The tuna fishing vessels coming to our islands from afar have a level of fishing sophistication beyond our wildest imaginations – whilst we fish from canoes, they fish from vessels that lay nets that can encompass an area the size of four city blocks and literally empty our oceans. Purse seine fishing using Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs) is an abomination. It is a fishing method that indiscriminately takes baby tuna, sharks other fish and even occasional turtles leaving nothing to rejuvenate and replace that which has been lost. This is no longer fishing. This is extermination.
These same purse seine vessels are now targeting whales, dolphins and whale sharks – animals protected under numerous international agreements – setting their destructive nets around these wondrous beings and often killing them in the process in order to get to the prized tuna. For example, in 2009, it was estimated that there were 1,323 toothed cetacean deaths and 60 whale shark deaths due to encirclement by purse seine nets.
Each time I think of these mindless acts of aggression against animals that we have but a grain of understanding about, I cannot help but feel that we are losing our very humanity. The sinew that binds us all as Mother Nature’s children are unraveling and we are being held together by a mere thread.
It is during these testing times that true champions rise up to defend the vulnerable and ensure our ancestors dream of a prosperous Pacific is maintained.
In 2010 a group of Pacific Island countries announced the world’s largest closure of the high seas to purse seine fishing, covering 4.5 million square kilometers. That’s an area larger than India, the world’s seventh biggest country. Although the closure was only to purse seine fishing, it was enough to give all Pasifika hope. These same countries have banned purse seiners from targeting whale sharks and have banned the use of FADs for several months of the year. They are now taking further steps to protect our Pasifika by looking to close certain ocean areas to longline fishing.
And so this is what has brought me here. I’m proud to say that I am sailing onboard our Greenpeace flagship the Esperanza, a ship named HOPE. With a crew of 32 and of 20 different nationalities, we are bound by a single ambition to deliver its good news to the people of PASIFIKA and to support our Pacific island brethren in Defending Our Pacific. Although the road ahead is long, I am reassured by the presence of likeminded individuals, all striving toward a common goal and sharing a common vision.
An equitable and sustainable tuna fisheries for the Pacific.
A future for Our Pacific.
A future for you and Me.