The Philippine purse seiner 'Geneviva' (top) and the Philippine fish carrier/supply boat 'Gene-2' (bottom) alongside each other as they deploy fish aggregation devices (FADs) in the international waters of high seas pocket No1. FADs are a highly destructive form of fishing that Greenpeace are seeking to be banned at the forthcoming Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting due to be held in Manila, Philippines from 02-06 December 2012.On board the African Queen, one of MY Esperanza’s inflatable boats, we approached GENEVIVA, a purse seine fishing vessel from the Philippines. As we got nearer, the crew from the ship gave their genuine smiles and even gave us a hand to get aboard. Others were curious on what’s going on. They even took out their mobile phones and snapped pictures and videos of us.

GENEVIVA is a 19-meter fishing vessel with a crew of 18 Filipinos. They had been out at sea for two months. The smell of fish is just all over the boat because of fish getting tangled in their net, which they stored at the stern of the fishing vessel. Tons of blue nylon rope was everywhere, as it is what they use to connect to a FAD (fish aggregating device). Their living condition is a sad reality. They only have four bunks with no mattress. I was not even able to notice a bathroom.

While on-board, we were able to witness how they deployed a FAD. They first painted the FAD with MV – 26 for identification. Next, they deployed a heavy cement block that would serve as an anchor to the FAD. This would help in resisting strong current and waves. After using 4,620 meters of blue nylon ropes, they were ready to unload the FAD, which was a 3-meter, buoyant, barrel-like steel.

Crew members of the the Philippine purse seiner 'Geneviva' hold a banner reading "Support Marine Reserves" on top of a Fish Aggregation Device (FAD) in the International waters of high seas pocket No.1.

Since the Philippines was given a temporary license to fish in the High Seas Pocket 1, we are here to investigate and document if these fishing vessels were complying with the regulations the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has given them. Some of the requirements that we check for were licensing, registration, mesh size of the fishing net and the number of FAD being deployed.

It was my first time to board a fishing vessel and reality struck me hard. I was scared as I watched them work and dump the FAD without proper protective equipment - they don’t even have gloves. These people are just doing their job to make both ends meet. They have to sacrifice being away from their family in unknown waters and unpredictable weather, yet they are not the ones making a lot of money from what they are doing.

When I was back at the inflatable, I noticed the Philippine flag on top of the fishing vessel waving rhythmically against the strong wind. Seeing it wave like that made my hopes high -- it’s not too late for the Philippines to recognize the fisheries problems and lack of policy implementation. We should adjust our sails onwards to a new and better direction NOW!

Cristina Nitafan is a volunteer at Greenpeace Southeast Asia - Philippines. She is currently on board the Esperanza as a blogger. You can also follow her updates on Twitter via @cr3ng.