Searching for illegal fishing vessels in the Pacific

by Casson Trenor

September 16, 2011

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the founding of Greenpeace, and as I write this, thirty passionate and dedicated Greenpeace activists are here with me in American Samoa (a territory of the United States in the South Pacific Ocean) on board the Esperanza. We’ve come to this far-flung tropical port as part of our efforts to convince tuna companies like Chicken of the Sea to adopt sustainable procurement policies and to source tuna responsibly. This means ceasing the use of conventional longlines, ending the industry’s reliance on fish aggregating devices (, also known as FADs, and shutting down illegal fishing operations in the high seas pockets of the Western and Central Pacific.

FADs are floating objects that serve as giant fish magnets, attracting all kinds of marine creatures as well as the target fish, skipjack tuna. Everything is then scooped up in giant nets; the tuna is retained, while the unwanted animals are discarded, dead or dying. Countless sharks, billfish, rays, and baby bigeye and yellowfin tuna are slaughtered in this manner every year due to the indiscriminate nature of this fishing practice.

Longlining ( is the other highly destructive and wasteful way tuna gets from the Pacific to your table. Longlines are just that, miles and miles of baited hooks strung off long lines. They ensnare sea birds, turtles, sharks and all manner of other ocean creatures which drown at the end of these deadly hooks. Nearly 30 percent of the total catch of these longline vessels are non-target animals, and by the time the longlines are pulled out of the water, virtually all of these unlucky creatures are already dead.

Getting major U.S. brands like Chicken of the Sea to switch to responsible fishing methods to stop using FADs and longlines is a crucial step in salvaging fish stocks and restoring the Pacific Ocean.

It’s a huge ocean out there, one that supplies oxygen and food for much of the globe. The Pacific provides the U.S. the world’s largest tuna market – with 60 percent of our tuna. Millions of people from Asia, Australia, North and South America and island communities rely on the Pacific for food and jobs. We need to protect the Pacific and we need to protect it now. The very future of millions of people and their children depend on us doing the right thing.

That’s why we’re here in American Samoa, to convince leaders and industry to do the right thing. American Samoan Congressman Eni Faleomavaega issued a warm welcome to us, highlighting the destruction that has been visited upon these waters and upon local communities through overfishing.

Congressman Faleomavaega stressed the need to put a stop to three ocean problems transshipping; illegal, unreported and underreported (IUU) catches; and the use of FADs and implored the tuna industry to change their ways if we are to safeguard tuna, and tuna industry jobs, for future generations.

The oceans are in crisis, and fish populations are dying off. Bluefin tuna are on a one-way road to extinction, north atlantic cod have all but disappeared. Of the three main commercial tuna species for the global canned tuna market (yellowfin, bigeye, and skipjack), bigeye has been classified as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and yellowfin as a near-threatened species. Pacific stocks of skipjack are now the world’s last fully functioning tuna fishery, but are already showing serious signs of decline.

Island nations have established their solidarity in closing key areas of the high seas to destructive fishing, and some tuna companies are heartily supporting them (see

In fact, in the UK, every major tuna brand has made a commitment to responsible fishing, such as pole and line fishing and FAD free purse-seine nets.

Despite an emphatically angry response to our campaign here in the United States, Greenpeace could be the best friend the fishing industry has at the moment. We are actually fighting for the same thing a tuna industry for tomorrow. We want jobs and fish for the future, but with the way stocks are currently being mismanaged and plundered, this vision of a healthy and productive tuna industry may be little more than a dream. To make matters worse, as the tuna disappear from these waters, American jobs are being lost. Congressman Faleomavaega points out that both Bumblebee and Chicken of the Sea have chosen to export their fish processing operations, taking them to low-wage economies like Thailand instead of investing in the Pacific. Hundreds of jobs in American Samoa have disappeared as a result which has harmed the economy.

It is particularly fitting to be in the Pacific at this time, Greenpeace’s 40th Anniversary. Greenpeace sprang from humble beginnings in Pacific 40 years ago, and we have a powerful history in this ocean, from the evacuation of Rongelap and protesting French nuclear testing to the tragic bombing of the Rainbow Warrior.

Today, Greenpeace is taking action around the globe to defend our oceans and the Pacific: on the water, bringing our message to people everywhere – the UK, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, back on the mainland and here in American Samoa.

As is often said, the oceans do not separate us, they connect us.

I look forward to embarking from here tomorrow and continuing this journey across the Pacific where we will be searching for illegal fishing vessels, bearing witness to ecological crimes, and doing whatever we can to protect our flagging tuna stocks. Our oceans cover almost three quarters of this planet we live on; it is up to all of us to step up and save them.

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