Fish now, pay later

by Guest Blogger

September 14, 2009

Mary Ann Mayo is the webbie onboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, which is currently in the South Pacific for the Defending Our Pacific 2009 tour.

Just two days ago, the Japanese purse seiner, Fukuichi Maru, was pulling in its purse seine net, heavy with freshly caught tuna, when we found them fishing in area 2 of the Pacific high seas. Floating in the water and attached to the ship’s left side (or port side as we refer to it in nautical terms), was a FAD made of a very long log with a radio beacon on it. It was the first time that we caught a fishing vessel in the act of purse seining from a FAD.

Greenpeace photo copyright Greenpeace/Paul Hilton. Japanese fishing vessel with FAD.
You can see the FAD on the left of this pic. © Greenpeace/Paul Hilton

Seeing this made me shake my head in disbelief. There is a two-month ban on FADs declared by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Conference (WCPFC) currently in place. But a major loophole in the ban is being exploited by Japan to continue their high seas plunder of the Pacific. (*See note below.)

The Fukuichi Maru finished its hauling operations and headed away. Two of our inflatables caught up with the plundering purse seiner. Upon reaching the ship, we delivered a letter and information about our campaign on tuna in Japanese. Two of our Pacific Activists, Anna Jitoko and Josefa Nasegui, showed their indignation by unfurling banners reading "No return from overfishing" and "Marine Reserves Now."

Greenpeace image copyright Greenpeace/Gabriel Vianna No Return From Overfishing!
© Greenpeace/Gabriel Vianna

Witnessing this Japanese purse seiner using a FAD to catch tuna makes me feel sad, given how many of our global stocks of tuna are already in a state of collapse. The northern bluefin tuna population is severely overfished and has possibly already collapsed, and some Pacific tuna are in danger of heading the same way. The FAD ban was put in place to protect the tuna from being fished out during their August-September spawning season. But in the last two weeks, we have seen no less than ten FADs scattered in the Pacific high seas.

It seems that despite the laws that are in place, Japan is still using loopholes to get around this restriction. There are no boundaries too great, no territories too taboo, and no laws too strict, to prevent them from their high seas plunder in the Pacific.

Greenpeace image Japanese fishing boat plunders the Pacific

The sea may appear to be as vast as we see them, but they have lost much of the rich marine life that helps sustain life on Earth. Like every resource that we use, tuna is also finite. If we do not manage this resource properly, and respect the laws in place to prevent its abuse and safeguard its very survival, our seas will just be a great big tub of salt water, empty of life.

Tuna is a resource that is NOT for one country to plunder. Why should one country continue to fish using fish aggregating devices — plundering not just tuna but juvenile fish and sharks, turtles and other marine life — while every other country is bound by a ban on this wasteful form of fishing? What hope can we expect for the tuna to survive? And what chance can the Pacific nations have for their own survival when these distant fishing nations outfish them of their own resource?

It reminds me of low-budget travelers who snap up budget travel packages advertised on the newspapers back home: FLY NOW! Pay Later! Satisfy instant gratification and worry about the cost later. Here we have it: FISH NOW! pay later! But for low-budget travelers that get carried away, it’s their own credit cards that suffer. And when we are talking about fishing a shared regional resource, any one country’s excess has impacts for all.

Japan is the world’s largest consumer of tuna and if Japan and other countries continue to relentlessly fish tuna to the point of collapse and continually make a mockery of such laws, not only will sushi trains grind to a halt, but it will be the end of the line for Pacific nations: the loss of a vital resource and the end of a way of life.

– Mary Ann
Mary Ann Mayo, Greenpeace webbie onboard the Esperanza

* Paragraph 15 of the WCPFC’s Conservation Management Measure which sets the conditions of the ban provides such exemptions as follows: “As an alternative to the high seas FAD closure…members may adopt measures to reduce their catch by weight of bigeye tuna in the purse seine fishery in the area between 20°N and 20°S by a minimum of 10 percent relative to 2001-2004 average levels…. This alternative shall only be available to members identified by the Commission in advance as having demonstrated a functioning capacity to implement such measures in an effective and transparent manner including through: an established and functioning port monitoring program that allows monitoring of bigeye landings for each trip by each vessel; a commitment to carry on board observers from the Regional Observer Program….”


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