Chasing Rainbows and Longliners

by Jessica Miller

May 13, 2008

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A bigeye tuna on a Taiwanese longliner in Pacific international waters

Over the past three days we have discovered and taken action against overfishing by six Taiwanese longliners in the Pacific Commons. One of these was the Ho Tsai Fa 18 that we met eleven days ago and released marine life from her hooks. Having previously agreed with the captain that they would leave these international waters we were very disappointed to find them again but we managed to prevent this boat from fishing for three days.

Another vessel we boarded (the Yu Jaan Shang) had nine tonnes of tuna, sharks (including sacks of fins and tails) and marlin. We came across one longliner that was actually fishing (the Chin Yu Chun) so we hauled in what line they had in the water and confiscated 2 of their radio beacons (they need these to find the ends of their lines). Last night we escorted this vessel out of the international waters, where we returned the beacons. We asked all of the longliners to leave the Pacific Commons and they agreed. We are also writing an official letter to the Taiwanese Government asking them to withdraw their entire fishing fleet from the Pacific Commons so that tuna stocks here will be able to recover in this ecologically important area.

Two of our activists who were involved directly with these vessels have been lovely enough to write about some of their experiences.

By Rose – our Chinese translator from New Zealand:

We talked to three boats on Saturday, and surprisingly all of them were from Taiwan. They were not from the same company, and each experience was totally different.

The first boat was run by an old Taiwanese man who was just so unbelieving that a group of us turned up in small boats with such big waves. He welcomed us to board his boat, felt honoured that we wanted to video him and was so pleased to talk to us, amazed that he could really communicate with me in his native tongue (Chinese). He had not heard of Greenpeace at all. He showed us all around the boat, including the freezers. We gave him the letter outlining our campaign and I talked it through with him. He assured us that he will return to the Federated States of Micronesia and that the company base in Guam will be given the letter. I’ve met lovely people like that in China, kind hearted honest people and I hope that he and his associates will think more about the Greenpeace concerns, as the crisis is already affecting their livelihood.

The next boat had not fished at all yet having just left port. They were quite happy for us to come on board to show us their empty holds. They were willing to talk and seemed to absorb our concerns and again promised they will return to national waters where they have a license to fish. They praised me for my Chinese speaking, and of course it is easiest to communicate in this direct friendly environment. He also told us who some of their sister ships are, and roughly where they were. Our message definitely reached a whole new group of people, so the momentum continues.

After leaving the Ho Tsai Fa 18 last time, having successfully stopped their fishing operation, we were hoping not to see them again. But unfortunately (especially for them) this was not to be. Here he was again 300 miles away from the first place we met him. The captain was not at all happy to see us. I bore the brunt of his rage as I was the only one that could understand, and this was not easy. They had no valid license for any pacific nation’s EEZ so really had nowhere else to go to catch fish.

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Rose talks with the captain of the Ho Tsai Fa 18 (again!)

As much as I feel sorry for him and his crew, there really is a huge crisis out here in the Pacific Commons. I am hopeful that Pacific island countries will stop all fishing in these areas but I also hope at the same time that these fishing nations and large companies will look after their fishermen if they are no longer able to fish.

By Miguel – a deckhand and boat driver from Mexico.

On Saturday we woke up like any other day at 7 30am. It was not hot but humid and it was a nice morning, but after 10 minutes we were asked to have our boats ready to go and look closer at some fishing vessels. So I went to prepare the big boat, pump air into it and have it ready to go at any moment. So I was there with my coffee, checking step by step all the details of a safe boat. Then we were standing by to launch it, as the Esperanza was getting closer. We launched the boats and went to meet a longliner. We got hit by a small squall but this was actually refreshing – just enough to get us wet. Then we had a nice, big, complete rainbow in front of us and in the middle of it there was the Taiwanese longliner.

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After boarding and documenting two boats that were not fishing, to our surprise, we found the boat that we had painted just some weeks ago — the one where we rescued the turtle, marlin and sharks from the line. He told us that he was waiting for fuel and it will take some days to get the refuel ship to come.

I didn’t need to understand Chinese to realise that the captain was getting upset and didn´t want us nearby. But we stayed with him for 3 days in order to prevent him from fishing. He knew what we could do if he tried that again!

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Miguel driving one of the Esperanza’s inflatables

Images: #1,2 and 4 © Greenpeace/Paul Hilton
# 3 © Greenpeace/Lisa Vickers

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