Greenpeace ship busts illegal tuna fishing operation on the Pacific high seas

Press release - 10 September, 2015
Auckland, 10 September 2015 - The Rainbow Warrior is at the scene of a serious pirate fishing operation taking place on the high seas of the Pacific Ocean.

The Greenpeace ship, currently in Pacific tropical tuna grounds to investigate and expose out of control fishing, came across the Taiwanese tuna longliner Shuen De Ching No.888 , which appeared to be fishing without permission, in the high seas close to Papua New Guinea's waters.

Enquiries with the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency revealed nothing matching the name or the ship’s radio call sign on their list of vessels authorised to fish in these waters or in the waters of any neighbouring Pacific Island countries.

On board the vessel, Greenpeace activists uncovered sacks containing 75 kilograms of shark fins from at least 42 sharks. Under Taiwanese law and Pacific fishing rules, shark fins may not exceed 5% of the weight of the shark catch, and with only three shark carcasses reported in the log book, the vessel was in clear violation of both.

Greenpeace East Asia informed Taiwan’s Fishery Agency that the ship was fishing illegally. They did not respond, but we have since confirmed with the WCPFC that the Fishery Agency then submitted the fishing authorisation paperwork, and it has since appeared on the WCPFC Record of Fishing Vessels. It appears Taiwan’s Fishery Agency is using Greenpeace information to cover up illegal activities and avoid responsibility.

Karli Thomas, Greenpeace New Zealand oceans campaigner on board the Rainbow Warrior, says Greenpeace is documenting the case and demanding authorities to take action.

“We demand that the Taiwanese Government orders this illegal vessel to stop fishing and return to port immediately for a full and transparent investigation. There is a Taiwanese patrol boat in the region and this is exactly the sort of illegal activity they should be tackling.”

Greenpeace New Zealand has reported the case to the WCPFC and neighbouring Pacific Island countries, and is adding the vessel to the Greenpeace pirate fishing blacklist and urging seafood retailers to stop buying from the vessel and its owner.

Internationally, over 100 million sharks are killed every year, a number largely driven by the shark fin trade. In many cases sharks have their fins sliced off while they are still alive, before their bodies are thrown overboard.

Thomas says illegal fishing such as this is also leading to sharp declines in tuna levels.

“What we’re witnessing right now is just the tip of the iceberg. The true extent of the Pacific tuna plunder remains hidden by vessels like this one, operating hundreds of miles from shore.”

“The longline industry is chronically unregulated and poorly monitored. Overfishing is the norm, and illegal fishing adds further pressure to tuna stocks that are already in trouble.”

Overfishing has pushed many species into dangerous decline, impacting on Pacific Island countries that have relied on tuna for generations. In Fiji, local fishing vessels are mothballed and workers have been laid off.

Local fisheries in Samoa, Tonga and other Pacific Island nations are also suffering. Although more than 70% of the world’s tuna comes from the Pacific, only 20% of that is actually caught by Pacific Island fleets.

Longliners are the most prevalent type of fishing vessel operating in this part of the Pacific Ocean, and there are more than 3,500 of the vessels currently authorised to fish in the region.

“Longline fishing is well and truly out of control,” Thomas says. “Lines covered with thousands of baited hooks and up to 170 kilometres (105 miles) long are deployed by vessels. Tuna species are the target, but other ocean creatures like sharks and turtles get caught on the lines. Every year around 300,000 sea turtles and at least 160,000 sea birds die on longlines.”

The problem with longline fishing is further exacerbated because these vessels are able to transship, a process where a fishing vessel transfers its catch to a massive reefer, or mothership, at sea. Thomas says tuna fisheries are urgently in need of effective management and control, which must include an immediate ban on transshipping at sea, and the closure of the high seas pockets, known as the Pacific Commons, to all fishing.

“If fishing boats have nothing to hide they should have no problem landing or transferring their catches in port, where the fish can be accounted for properly,” she says. “Illegal behavior has been hidden out at sea for too long. It’s time for fisheries to clean up, step up and be responsible. If they don’t, there will be no tuna left.”


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