Taking action to stop the plunder of the high seas

by Mike Gaworecki

October 20, 2009

Our tour is wrapping up. We steamed into port here in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, on the 19th. We spent the last few days of the tour in high seas pocket number 3 (see a map of the high seas pockets here), looking for fishing vessels that are threatening the future of the Pacific. And let me tell you, we had absolutely no problems finding them.

On Thursday, the 15th, we found a Taiwanese long-liner, Kai Jie No. 1, that had no license to fish in the waters of any Pacific island countries. This does not make it illegal for them to be fishing on the high seas, since these waters belong to no particular nation, but this is one of the main ways fishing fleets get around the regulations that Pacific island countries are introducing to better manage their tuna stocks.

We spoke with the captain of the vessel and explained that what he was doing was decimating the tuna stocks that Pacific island nations rely on and asked him to pull in his line. When he refused, we took action. We went out and, using a special contraption designed by our fitter from the first leg of the tour, Jono, to hold the line up out of the water, we went down the long-line and removed the bait from their hooks.

I shot this video of the action, in which our resident marine life expert, Gabe, explains more about the process:

This ship may not have been a pirate fisher in a legal sense — though it was operating in an area known to host a lot of the region’s illegal fishing — but it was certainly plundering the Pacific. That’s why we’re trying to shut down the four high seas pockets to all fishing.

The next day we spotted yet another unlicensed Taiwanese long-liner fishing on the high seas. It might seem unlikely for us to come across one vessel after another in an ocean as vast as the Pacific, but when you consider that these ships are part of a massive fleet of more than 1,300 long-liners — and that’s just the Taiwanese fleet — you begin to realize how big the problem is and why we keep encountering them.

Again, we went and spoke with the captain, passed him information about our campaign and the science showing that Pacific tuna stocks are in bad shape, and asked him to stop plundering the Pacific. He also refused to haul in his line, as you’ll hear our translator Tan-chi tell us in this video:

As you could see, the captain of this ship was quite an agreeable guy who seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say. He sat and read our campaign materials for several minutes. He was even very hospitable towards us: when we refused the grape sodas he offered after reading our literature, he insisted we take them so vehemently that he actually threw them onboard our boats. We are not trying to set ourselves up in opposition to this hard-working captain and his crew.

As Tan-chi translated for us, the economics of the situation make it impossible for him to stop fishing and head back to port. And that’s what we are trying to change. You can read more about this situation — the vicious cycle of fishing in the Pacific and the diminishing returns these vessels are producing as Pacific fish stocks grow more and more depleted — in this blog by Karli, our onboard campaigner.

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