For some people the oceans may seem vast – to me they are my garden and my home. For the last three decades I have spent most of my life as a sailor and a captain. So you can imagine I feel a special tie to our blue planet. The many years at sea also mean I have witnessed how things have increasingly gone wrong for our oceans.
Year by year, more and more fishing boats are out there, and they are getting bigger and bigger as well. There is so much over-fishing going on, so much poor management of fisheries and so much illegal fishing.
Having sailed with Greenpeace for a long time now, I have been up-close and dirty with industrial fishing boats. I have witnessed bulging nets so large they could not be brought on board but had to be sucked up through a pipe lowered into the sea. I hear in the news, and I see on the ocean, that fish stocks are getting smaller and smaller.
And yes, I am becoming increasingly impatient, and to some extent even angry; angry that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, while at the same time our oceans are suffering gravely for the short-term interests of the few at the expense of the many.
For the sake of our oceans and for generations to come, we’ve got to slam the brakes on destructive fishing.
For the next two and a half months I am the Captain onboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza. With my crew and a team of marine experts I will sail the waters of West Africa to bear witness to the growing consequences of overfishing taking place in these once plentiful seas. Together with you, we’ll witness the threat to food security and everyday life for local fishermen and communities who depend on fish for a living.
This is my fourth time in West Africa on board a Greenpeace vessel to put overfishing in the spotlight. I have chased a pirate vessel to Freetown in Sierra Leone. I have witnessed countless infractions by the Chinese fleet off Guinea and Guinea Bissau. In the port of Conakry I assisted with the arrest of a vessel fishing illegally – and as the arrest was made and men lounged about on the docks with machine guns slung loosely over their shoulders, there was a total eclipse of the sun. It was a dark moment in every way.
My crew and I have branded a refrigeration ship ‘STOLEN FISH’ with graffiti and chased it all the way from Guinea to Las Palmas. We caught it doing illegal transshipping. I have seen the rusty pirate boats, also known as the ‘graveyard boats’, where Chinese crew serve years, without passport or pay, on boats so decayed that there are holes in their sides. One of the boats sank while I was there.
European vessels are here too and have been for decades. For instance, huge Russian fishing vessels, with their hulking trawlers, hanging around Senegal and leaking oil. But what angered me most were the destructive Monster boats off Nouadhibou; up to 140 meters in length, about eight of them going back and forth and pulling in enormous nets full of fish. I wonder if they are still there.
The situation in West African waters calls for immediate action and the setup of strong, regional fisheries management with measures to ensure sustainable fishing and an end to overexploitation. It’s not too late – not at all, but the time is now.
That is why we are back in West Africa, and we are bringing a message of hope and support for the people as well as for those decision makers wanting to restore the once rich waters.
What better platform for all this, than the ship of hope – the Esperanza!
Mike Fincken is currently the Captain of the Greenpeace ship, Esperanza