The harsh reality of longline fishing

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Feature story - November 15, 2011
On Monday our activists made a gruesome discovery aboard the Chinese Taipei vessel Ming Maan Shyang No. 20

The world’s appetite for tuna exceeds our oceans’ capacity for production.

Over the past several decades, vessels from far away nations (commonly referred to as Distant Water Fishing nations or DWFNs) have become reliant on tuna from foreign waters for their tuna supplies while significantly expanding their fleets.

Moving from ocean to ocean targeting species after species, the Western and Central Pacific is today the largest source of tuna supplying over 70% of the worlds tuna for these DWFNs. With this migration they bring with them their old practices and usual ways of fishing an industry and region out of its ability to sustain itself in the longer term.

Tuna have no borders – they swim between the high seas and the large waters of the Pacific countries and the same can be said about fishing vessels straddling these same borders. The problem is for vessels that ‘pretend’ to be high seas only from time to time sneak into the waters of the island countries if they see a school of fish and then return to the high seas pockets. This is common with longline fishing vessels. Not only is this illegal but it’s also a huge economic loss for the Pacific when these vessels do not have to pay for a licence or be under any strict rules. This is one of the reasons why Greenpeace wants these pockets of high seas closed.

On Monday our activists made a gruesome discovery aboard the Chinese Taipei vessel Ming Maan Shyang No. 20 in one the high seas pocket that borders Papua New Guinea, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. The 31m tuna longliner with only a high seas permit had been on the high seas for just two weeks, and had more dead sharks than tuna in the hold – 40 tuna and 41 sharks including the vulnerable oceanic whitetip shark, as well as 22 swordfish, nine blue marlin and one striped marlin.


Coupled with the significant amount of bycatch - in particular sharks - this vessel is amongst the 3000 longliners that fish in the Pacific high seas without any control or enforcement. These vessels can essentially steal millions of dollars worth of fish from Pacific Island nations by fishing in national waters after claiming to only fish in international waters, ignoring the need to pay license fees.

Approximately 35% of longline catch consists of non-target species, such as threatened oceanic sharks and turtles (1). Many longline tuna vessels also engage in controversial shark-finning activities and have been documented in numerous illegal fishing activities. It is estimated that between 21-46% of the tuna caught in the Pacific is taken by pirate fishing ships, mostly longliners (2).

Greenpeace wants to see the Pacific tuna fisheries sustained over the long term and part of our solution is calling for halving of the total catch, a ban on the use of FADs, increased bycatch mitigation methods for longliners  and the closure of the pockets of high seas to both purse seine and longline fishing – the key fishing methods responsible for catching over 80% of the Pacific tuna catch.

(1) Molony, B., (2007). Overview of purse-seine and longline bycatch issues in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. In: Oceanic Fisheries Programme, Secretariat of the Pacific Community. Inaugural meeting of the Asia and Pacific Islands Bycatch Consortium. Honolulu, USA 15-16 February 2007. SPC: Noumea, New Caledonia.

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