Greenpeace frees ocean life from Pacific longliner

Feature Story - 2008-05-06
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza freed tuna, sharks, marlin and an endangered sea turtle from a Taiwanese longliner on Saturday. The vessel was fishing in the Pacific Commons, the international waters we want to see protected as a marine reserve.

Greenpeace activists free an endangered Olive Ridley turtle from a hook of the controversial Taiwanese longliner, Ho Tsai Fa 18, in the Pacific Ocean, 03 May 2008. Greenpeace wants this area of the high seas to become part of the first marine reserves in international waters. Greenpeace/Paul Hilton

An endangered olive ridley turtle rescued by Greenpeace from a Taiwanese longliner.

We encountered the longliner, Ho Tsai Fa 18, while it was hauling in tens of kilometres of fishing line. The captain was asked to release all of the live catch. When he refused our activists freed everything, including several oceanic sharks and a massive Pacific blue marlin that leapt into the air like a rocket as soon as it was freed and quickly swam away.

Our activists also found a juvenile olive ridley sea turtle caught on the line which was released alive. In the past, this species of turtle was slaughtered in the hundreds of thousands for meat and leather. It has yet to recover from centuries of over-exploitation. This young turtle probably hatched in Papua New Guinea where olive ridleys are known to nest.

The Esperanza also hauled in several kilometers of the longline and activists branded the hull of the fishing vessel with "PIRATE?" in red paint.

Why the question mark? To make a point: loopholes in existing regulations and lack of enforcement on the high seas make it impossible to know when legal vessels are actually fishing illegally -- and the pockets of international waters surrounded by national fishing zones provide safe haven for pirates who are plundering fish from nearby Pacific island countries.  Turning those international waters into Marine Reserves would make piracy harder.

Once the fishing gear was completely out of the water the captain of the Taiwanese vessel reluctantly agreed to leave the international waters.  But several kilometers of his line remains on the Esperanza so that Greenpeace can publicly return it to the vessel's company headquarters in Taiwan.

Tuna is one of the most valuable exports from the Pacific, bringing in more than 10 percent of the total GDP of the region. It is worth US$3 billion US a year, but up to 95 percent of this goes into the pockets of foreign fishing operators who take 900 times as much fish from the Pacific as Pacific nations do. The Esperanza is currently in the Pacific defending the pockets of international waters we call the Pacific Commons from greedy fishing fleets. These industrial fleets have decimated and almost destroyed their own fisheries and are now determined to exploit the Pacific as much as possible.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission is supposed to responsibly regulate fishing in this region. But last December Japan and Korea, together with Taiwan and mainland China, blocked conservation measures advocated by Pacific island countries to protect these stocks for the future. This happened despite strong scientific advice that yellowfin and big-eye tuna catches be reduced. The ability for the Pacific island countries to make decisions about tuna in their region is continually being undermined by the interests of distant countries. It's a stalemate that will see tuna disappear from sandwiches and sushi across the world unless some serious changes are made soon.

With an international crew including citizens from Fiji, Kiribati, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, we have taken to the high seas to defend the Pacific ourselves.

In 2005, 24 percent of all tuna caught in the Pacific was caught in international waters. Creating marine reserves in these areas would go a long way towards protecting tuna habitat and future fishing. Within marine reserves the tuna populations can recover and help to replenish stocks outside the reserves. Pirate fishing vessels will no longer be able to steal from Pacific Island nations' waters by claiming their catch is from the high seas.

United the people of the Pacific can stop their future from being fished to death, by halving the fishing activity in the region and declaring the Pacific Commons as marine reserves, off limits to fishing.

We cannot allow the fishing industry to destroy the last tuna stocks in the name of consumer demand. Greenpeace is also asking retailers to act as gatekeepers, ensuring that fish sold on their shelves is not stolen from the people of the Pacific, or overfished to the point that a consumer buying fish today becomes complicit in that fish disappearing tomorrow.

Take action

Ask the UN to create of a network of marine reserves by protecting 40 percent of the world's oceans so that fisheries and marine life can recover.


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