Time's running out for tuna

Feature Story - 2008-04-25
Tuna stocks in the Pacific are running out due to overfishing from illegal and commercial fishing fleets.

Greenpeace activists call for marine reserves to protect the Pacific Commons.

About 60 percent of the world's tuna stocks come from the Pacific, and scientists believe that two key species - bigeye and yellowfin - are in danger of becoming overfished.

To help stop this Greenpeace is touring the Western Pacific Ocean in the ship, Esperanza, to gather evidence of illegal and excessive tuna fishing practices.

Update, 21 April 2008 Greenpeace activists boarded a Taiwanese longliner, the Nian Sheng 3, to inspect the contents of the hold. As well as tuna, the activists discovered a dozen sacks with hundreds of frozen shark fins and tails. Shark finning is one of the practices that would be banned in a marine reserve. It's shockingly wasteful: only the fin is removed for the Asian shark-fin soup market, with the entire shark returned to the ocean, sometimes as a carcass, sometimes alive. We escorted the vessel out of international waters, but this practice will not stop in the Pacific Commons until these waters become Marine Reserves -- you can help by signing our petition.

Shark fins

Shark fins found aboard the Nian Sheng 3

On Sunday, Greenpeace took action against the US purse seiner, Cape Finisterre, in a pocket of international waters between Pacific Island countries known as the Pacific Commons. Activists painted the side of the vessel with the words "Tuna overkill" and held a banner reading 'Marine reserves NOW'. The fishing vessel was asked to leave the area immediately.

A few days ago, Greenpeace confiscated a Fish Aggregation Device (FAD) we found in the Pacific Ocean. Fishing fleets use FADs to lure schools of tuna to a specific spot so they can be quickly caught in huge nets. However, juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tuna as well as other fish are killed as bycatch when caught in the nets.

We also deployed a banner reading 'Marine Reserves Now' near the bow of a Korean purse seine vessel called Olympus, while we asked it to leave the area. The ship is owned by Korea's largest tuna company, Dongwon Industries Co. Ltd, which is suspected of being involved in illegal fishing in 2006.

Greenpeace Pacific campaigner onboard the Esperanza Lagi Toribau said that advances in technology meant large ships (floating factories from countries as far away as the US and Europe) could catch as much fish in two days as the fishers of some small Pacific Island countries catch in a year.

"As tuna catches in other oceans have declined because of overfishing, the floating factory ships are looking to move into the Pacific, making it harder for local fishing fleets to catch tuna which is a vital food source for the region," Toribau said.

Greenpeace's solutions

Greenpeace is calling on the Australian Government to support the Pacific Island nations to make fishing in the region sustainable by turning some of the Pacific's international waters into no-take marine reserves. This will allow tuna stocks and all other marine life to recover from overexploitation.

Greenpeace is also calling for a 50 percent cut to the fishing effort in the Pacific to ensure there is tuna left to catch in the future.

Greenpeace advocates the creation of a network of marine reserves, protecting 40 per cent of the world's oceans, as the long-term solution to overfishing and the recovery of our overexploited oceans.

What you can do

You can help ensure the survival of the Pacific's tuna stocks by demanding that retailers and chefs stop stocking unsustainable tuna products such as bluefin, bigeye and yellowfin, which are now threatened in all oceans.  You can also sign our petition demanding that 40 percent of the world's oceans be set aside as  no-take marine reserves.


To keep our ships at sea we need your financial support -- we don't accept donations from governments or corporations, relying entirely on people like you to keep us afloat.