The Tale Of The Broken Freezer At Sea

by Guest Blogger

September 4, 2009

Mary Ann is the webbie onboard the Esperanza right now. The Espy is on a two-month tour in the Pacific to help enforce a ban on destructive fishing practices.

A black dot.

Peering through the binoculars, thats how the Taiwanese fishing vessel appeared, silhouetted against the horizon.

The past few days’ activities have been like tricks from a magician’s hat – you never know what your hand will pull out. Just yesterday, we fished out a banned fish aggregating device (FAD). Yesterday, during a routine reconnaissance, we chanced upon two fishing boats transferring tuna from one to the other!

The ships, Her Hae and Jia Yu Fa (pictured above), two Taiwanese longliners, were caught RED-HANDED by the Esperanza trans-shipping in the high seas between Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)! They were photographed transferring tuna from one to the other as well as having shark fins on-board.

However, as soon as they saw us, they both stopped operations, hurriedly disengaged from each other and the larger of the two, Her Hae, sped off.

Jia Yu Fa was left alone bobbing in its wake. The order of the day was to catch up with the ship and relay our appeal to stop trans-shipment at sea and check if they were illegal or legal. Steaming at 13.5 knots, the powerful engines of the Esperanza were making the bridge door rattle beside me at the campaign office. The whole ship was humming as we pursued the fishing boat.

We came alongside the Jia Yu Fa, delivered information about our campaign, and questioned the crew about their fishing activities. The captain said they were transferring fish to the other ship because… they had a broken freezer. They also claimed to have a permit to trans-ship at sea from the FSM authorities.

Note the sharkfins on deck, bottom left corner of the green cover.

Upon checking, we discovered that both fishing boats did indeed have licences to fish. Her Hae (the larger of the two) has a licence under the WCPFC list and Jia Yu Fa, under FSM. However, under FSM’s fishing license conditions, as we discovered, trans-shipment at sea is NOT ALLOWED. Since this was the case, their activities were deemed illegal: Jia Yu Fa for transferring fish at sea against the rules of their fishing license, and Her Hae for receiving fish from a vessel that was not allowed to do so.

Having confirmed the illegality of this monkey business at sea, the Esperanza peacefully escorted the Jia Yu Fa out of the high seas and into the waters of FSM, where they hold a license to fish and their activities can be better monitored.

Trans-shipment at sea is but one fish hook on a long line of fishing woes for Pacific islanders. Until such time as the Tuna Commission starts listening to the Pacific nations’ request to close the high seas to all forms of fishing, this dubious practice will never stop. Trans-shipment at sea is stealing a precious resource, what little is now left of the tuna stocks, from Pacific nations. Their lifeblood is sucked away with every illegal, unregulated and unreported tuna catch, not to mention the by-catch of sharks, sea turtles and other fish species that needlessly die in longline and purse seine fishing.

This was just our third day in the high seas, and we’ve already found fish aggregating devices that are supposed to be banned at this time. We’ve also witnessed one of the most elusive fishing activities, illegal trans-shipment in international waters. Imagine the other 362 days of the year that go unchecked for this type of theft and plunder? Finding these two fishing boats represents just the tip of the iceberg of pirate fishing in the Pacific.

How many Her Haes and Jia Yu Fas do we need to catch before the Tuna Commission, and the world, wakes up and acts?

When will it stop?

It’s not just a matter of strong political will on the part of the Pacific nations and the Tuna Commission to protect and replenish the tuna. This is a matter of urgency that everyone — every government, every fishing company, retailer, dealer, and last but not least, every consumer — needs to act upon now. The Pacific tuna catch must be reduced by half, the high seas must be closed to all fishing and declared marine reserves, and FADs and trans-shipment at sea must be banned.

There is no time to waste, the time to end the plunder of Pacific tuna is now.

Images © Greenpeace/Paul Hilton

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