Why are we defending the Pacific?

by Jessica Miller

May 16, 2008

oceans campaigner.

Our work reaches out to the 20 Pacific Island countries in this region to move towards a sustainable and equitable fishery. I am from Fiji and as a Pacific Islander allow me to point out that the Pacific is about to hit a catastrophe with the global tuna industry that could see an end to our poor countries’ economy and most importantly the livelihoods of my fellow pacific islanders.

Let me give you some shocking facts about the Pacific and I will tell you a bit about why Greenpeace is here in the Pacific and why we do what we do best and that is confront the truth, tell the world by bearing witness and speak the unspoken.

The Pacific contains the last relatively healthy tuna fishery left in the world. Most of our island countries have nothing else but their huge ocean resources to survive on both as an economic need and an important livelihood that most of our people depend on for survival. The ocean for us defines and makes us who we are and I see that this is slowly being taken away from us.

The Pacific supplies 60% of the world’s tuna market and since the 1960s the Pacific have been preyed by the greedy eyes of foreign fishing nations migrating from everywhere around the globe. Over 75% of the world’s fisheries are exploited up to and beyond the point where they can be regarded as sustainable. I remember the famous global fisheries expert Dr. Daniel Pauly saying that in the future people will be eating jellyfish, because that is all that will be left – unless we act now.

Our Pacific people have fished the ocean for thousands of years, managing traditional fishing grounds sustainably. Today over 2 million tonnes of tuna are fished from the Pacific each year. More than 90% of our tuna is caught by fleets from Japan, Korean, Taiwan, China, USA, Indonesia, Philippines and EU countries. The Pacific island countries, typically poor developing states, do not have the resources nor the man power to commercially fish themselves. Unfortunately the future of our Pacific Oceans and of everyone who lives it is, is at the mercy of unscrupulous foreign fishers and a growing global appetite for tuna.

The Pacific is at a crossroad. One path leads to sustainable and equitable fisheries, a healthy marine environment, stable and prosperous island communities while the other path leads to the collapse of the major tuna fishery and loss of livelihood and food supply for the people of the Pacific and for the future of our generations to come.

There are 4 key tuna species; bigeye, yellowfin, skipjack and albacore. Since 2001 scientists have been warning that the Pacific stocks are in trouble because there are simply too many fishing boats out here. Overfishing is occurring on the bigeye and yellowfin stocks. Seven years later and still nothing has been done to improve the management of these fisheries. Albacore and skipjack are now the focus but it is just a matter of time till these other 2 stocks are in peril.

Fishing cannot continue the way it is now. It’s not about the US boats, nor the Taiwanese. Its about the overall amount of fishing in the Pacific that is just not sustainable. If you rely on political processes whether regionally or internationally to make decisions – you will cry everyday. The failure of political bodies that are tasked with the management of our ocean resources have failed one after the other around the globe. This is why over 75% of the world’s fisheries are already exploited. Now all eyes are on the Pacific. I have been working heavily within the political arena of this region for the past 6 years and every year I end up disappointed and scared for the future of my people.

Our Pacific island governments want to manage these resources and give hope to our people. But why are they not able to protect these fish stocks? The unspoken – the same fishing nations who have their boats in our waters are the countries that provide aid, development grants and infrastructural support to our nations. Our Pacific governments have tried to reason with these fishing nations but they refuse to reduce fishing.

This is where Greenpeace comes in. We are able to confront the problems and tell the story to the world and why people should care. We have history to make down here. The best way forward is to close off the Pacific Commons (because they are not managed properly and no one really has a true account of how much is being fished out from these areas) and reduce the amount of fishing inside Pacific island waters by half to ensure we save the tuna stocks from collapsing.

lagi.jpg

Image: Lagi, the lead campaigner on the Esperanza, waves goodbye to the Greenpeace ground team in the Solomon Islands as the ship departs from the Solomon Islands © Greenpeace/ Paul Hilton

Video: © Greenpeace/ Brent Balalas

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