Tuna boat crews shirk ocean laws, group says
International tuna-fishing vessels aren't always following the rules of Pacific island nations in whose waters they are fishing, the Greenpeace organization alleged yesterday in Honolulu.
The environmental advocacy group reached that conclusion as its ship Esperanza traveled from the Philippines to Hawaii over the past seven weeks, Greenpeace representatives said at a news conference yesterday. The Esperanza arrived Monday.
The trip passed through the territorial oceans of Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia, with enforcement officers from those two countries aboard, said Lagi Toribau, Greenpeace's lead campaigner for fishing issues for 17 Pacific island nations.
Those officers boarded a total of eight fishing vessels -- four in each country's jurisdiction -- to check compliance with fishing laws, Toribau said.
According to Toribau, the enforcement officers, accompanied by Greenpeace representatives, found that:
» In several cases, the electronic systems intended to allow the two countries to track ships in their waters weren't transmitting properly.
» Several ships had been at sea for months, but had comparatively little fish in their hold, which seems to indicate they had offloaded fish to a transport boat. That could shortchange the countries of payment for a portion of the catch's value, as spelled out in licensing agreements, Toribau said.
The apparent exploiting of "loopholes" between national and international fishing regulations is of particular concern because the Pacific stocks of bigeye and yellowfin tuna face "commercial extinction" within three years, Toribau said.
Greenpeace is urging the recently formed Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to:
» Ban offloading boats at sea.
» Revoke licenses of boats with faulty monitoring systems or caught fishing illegally.
» Require all vessels to report from all fishing grounds, including the high seas (more than 200 miles from the nearest land).
"Pacific fisheries are the last healthy fisheries in the world," Toribau said, with an estimated $2 billion a year value. Greenpeace hopes its efforts will help prevent overfishing as has happened in other areas, and also help Pacific Island countries receive a more equitable share of the profits reaped from their waters, he said.
The Philippines-to-Hawaii voyage was the latest in a series of trips the Esperanza has made over the past year during Greenpeace's "Defending Our Oceans" campaign.