Have you ever stopped doing what you do for a moment and think about where you get all the things you need to live?  Our Oceans.  Every second breath we take comes from it.  A lot of what we eat live in it.  Jobs of many of our countrymen depend on it.  We can’t live without our Oceans. 

What have we done in return? 

We are choking them with pollution.  Just go to the nearest coast and you will barely see any life.  The amount of pollution and silt we eject into the sea everyday kills everything in its path.  Some of the plastic we throw away wind up in the sea and stay there for many years, continuously harming the environment and marine life.

We are severely altering them with our addiction to fossil fuels.  We have heard of the catastrophic oil spills that are a regular feature in our quest for more oil under the sea.  The ever increasing amount of climate changing gases we release into the atmosphere is now altering the oceans in ways we don’t yet fully understand.  The amount of acid is increasing, which could mean the end for many of the animals you know – corals, shellfish, and even the basic small animals that are the foundation of the food chain in the oceans.  The water is getting warmer, which also makes life difficult, if not impossible for some of the most important life forms in our oceans. 

We are plundering them of fish.  Globally, more than 80% of the worlds fishing grounds have either collapsed or at risk of collapse. The global fishing fleet is currently 2.5 greater than what our oceans can sustainably support.  Our liking for the taste of some fish has led to the near wipe out of fish populations such as the North Atlantic Cod and Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. Large fleets of fishing vessels are going farther and farther away to catch fewer fish.  Food and jobs for whole coastal communities have disappeared. 

Later this month, leaders from around the Pacific Ocean will be gathered in Guam for the Western and Central Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting  to decide the future of the waters that provide much of the world with its tuna and provide the Pacific region with food and income.

The Western and Central Pacific Ocean is where over 60% of the world’s tuna and tens of millions around the world rely on this area of ocean for food or employment. Increasingly, fishing boats are travelling farther and farther to catch fish in these areas- from as far away as Spain and the United States. Scientists are warning of the decline in key tuna species in these areas: yellowfin, bigeye, albacore and skipjack with bigeye being most at risk due to overfishing.

It’s very likely that the tuna on your salad, sandwich or sushi came from the Western and Central Pacific. It was likely caught by low-paid workers using destructive fishing methods- the most reckless being purse-seine fishing using Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs). These FADs- man-made or artificial floating materials, attract tuna and makes it easier to catch but also enable fishing nets to scoop everything else attracted to them in their wake.  Fishing with FADs means that young bigeye and yellowfin tuna, sharks, rays, turtles and sometimes even whales are also being caught along with the target catch of skipjack tuna, the species that are put in cans for the supermarket. Pacific Island nations pushed for a ban on the use of FADs for three months annually, which has proved to help fish populations recover from overfishing. The Pacific tuna commission must ban the use of FADs in purse seine fisheries to rescue the region’s declining marine life, for the sake of the region’s food security and economic prosperity.

This year’s Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting represents a change for leaders to get oceans management right. By reducing the number of the most threatened bigeye tuna catch by 50%, we can offer this fish- a key source income for the Pacific region- a chance of survival. The foreign fleets in the Pacific are literally fishing themselves out of existence, and fishing away the futures of the island nations that need fish to exist. By cutting the bigeye catch in half, we can help keep fish in lines, on plates and in the waters of the Pacific.

In between the national waters of Pacific Island countries lie four areas called the Pacific Commons, key spawning grounds and part of the migratory routes of Pacific tuna. Because of their size, these areas are vulnerable to pirate fishing and key to the survival of tuna and fishing industries in the region, which is why the island nations surrounding these areas have closed them to purse seine fishing in the past, which has been instrumental in reducing illegal pirate fishing and helping tuna populations remain at current levels. A recent Greenpeace expedition to the Pacific Commons revealed the areas are still heavily targeted by fleets fishing for bigeye and yellowfin tuna as well as sharks.

Our own government is leading the lobbying efforts to open up the high seas pockets at this years meeting.  On the contrary, governments at this year’s WCPFC should extend the fishing ban currently in place in the two of the Pacific Commons to include all four areas and to include all other types of fishing, for the sake of the world’s tuna, Pacific ocean life and the future of the Pacific Island communities.  Take action

Mark Dia is an Oceans campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia. You can follow him on Twitter at @markpqdia