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The vicious cycle of Pacific plunder must be broken

by Guest Blogger

October 20, 2009

Karli is the lead campaigner onboard the Esperanza for the Defending Our Pacific tour.

Last week, we found no less than four Taiwanese fishing vessels on the high seas in the space of just three days. We took action against two of them (Mike wrote about those vessels and the actions we did in this post). Though this makes it seem as if these vessels and their crews are our adversaries in the fight to save the Pacific tuna stocks and close the four high seas pockets to all fishing, that is not the case. We were not there to try and tell these captains what to do, but rather to give them the information their employers might not be giving him, to appeal to their sense of morality, and to ask them to stop plundering the Pacific.

Taiwanese captain
Greenpeace activists ask the captain of the Ming Jhy Fwu No. 16 to haul in his long-line after giving him information about our campaign and the state of Pacific fisheries. © Paul Hilton/Greenpeace

What we do oppose is the corporations they work for, which are colluding with the Taiwanese government – just as so many other corporations are colluding with governments around the world – to trap them and their crews into economic circumstances that only benefit the corporation, while also blatantly disregarding the plight of Pacific fisheries and the theft of fish right out of Pacific islanders’ waters.

Our adversaries are also governments, like that of Taiwan, that continue to ignore the warnings of scientists about Pacific fish stocks and instead allow new fishing vessels to be built and sent out to chase after fewer and fewer fish. One of the ships we encountered last week, the Ming Jhy Fwu No. 16, was just built in 2006 – at a time when we were already aware that overfishing in the Pacific was having dire consequences.

The captain of the Ming Jhy Fwu No. 16 seemed like a thoughtful guy. As Mike described, he sat right down and read the campaign literature we gave him with genuine interest. We are not against this captain or his crew. If anything, we have total sympathy for him and are glad to be on his side.

By allowing this vessel, and many, many others like it, to leave the ship-building yards and join the already bloated fleet in the Pacific, countries like Taiwan are locking their own fishing industry – and people like the captain of the Ming Jhy Fwu No. 16 – into a vicious cycle whereby they must fish to make a return on what they have invested in their fishing ship and gear. If governments do not take responsibility, the fishing industry will simply fish itself to death.

Though Taiwan has reduced its fishing capacity in the past years, they still build more vessels and then simply get them flagged under foreign nations. But it’s usually still owned by the same owners. The fishing industry is always trying to find and exploit loopholes to avoid national, regional and international regulations. This irresponsible behavior on the part of the fishing industry compromises Taiwan’s efforts.

The Taiwanese government and the regional fisheries management organization have to take a much stricter stand on the continued introduction of new capacity into the region and drastically reduce the masses of overcapacity of the fleets that currently exists.

It’s not just Taiwan that has such recent additions to its fleets. In fact, you might recall that on the first leg of the tour we exposed a refueling operation involving a brand new “super-seiner,” a massive fishing vessel with nets large enough to encircle whole schools of tuna and all the other marine life that is swimming with them. That ship, the American Legacy, only left the shipyard for its maiden voyage in 2008.

This is a cycle that we need to break, and this year is going to be a deciding moment for the Pacific. Through the Defending Our Pacific expedition, Greenpeace has again provided evidence that fishing in the high seas is undermining management and threatening the Pacific. We’ve also demonstrated that transshipment by long-line vessels and the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) by purse seiners are enabling the plunder of marine life.

It’s time for those countries that want a future for their fishing fleets to stand up and be counted alongside the Pacific island countries in their call for the high seas to be closed to fishing.

– KarliKarli Thomas, Greenpeace campaigner

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