Overfishing is an increasingly detrimental problem in the Pacific Ocean, and agencies like Greenpeace argue that not enough is done under the law to regulate the industry. Illegal fishing activities further threaten endangered marine life and diminishing fish populations.
Greenpeace patrol ship the Rainbow Warrior apprehended a Taiwanese tuna longliner, Shuen De Ching No. 888, fishing without permission near Papua New Guinea this week. The captain of the ship allowed Greenpeace team members to board the ship. There were immediate red flags raised by inaccurate records and the captain's apparent lack of fishing knowledge or experience.
The team found the ship's hidden cargo in a freezer that the crew attempted to hide. It held sacks containing 75 kilograms of shark fins, coming from at least 42 sharks. Under the law, shark fins may not exceed 5% of the weight of the shark catch, and the ship had only three carcasses reported on board.
The ship is one of many instances of the illegal and unregulated fishing that has led to animal welfare violations and the drastic decline in shark and tuna populations. Oftentimes sharks' fins are sliced off while they're still alive, and their bodies are thrown overboard. Over 100 million sharks are killed each year, largely a result of the fin trade.
Taiwan's Fishery Agency was informed that the ship was fishing illegally, which they did not respond to. Later, the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission confirmed that the agency submitted the fishing authorisation paperwork after the fact.
Greenpeace says that Taiwan's Fishery Agency appears to be using Greenpeace information to cover up illegal activities and avoid responsibility. Greenpeace is demanding that the Taiwanese Government order the vessel to stop and return to port for an investigation.
Greenpeace New Zealand oceans campaigner Karli Thomas calls for increased regulation to protect seafood populations and bycatch, the unintended results of longline fishing.
"The longline industry is chronically unregulated and poorly monitored," said Thomas. "Overfishing is the norm, and illegal fishing adds further pressure to tuna stocks that are already in trouble."
In fact, Bluefin tuna stocks have declined over 96% compared to unfished levels and 90 percent of Bluefin catch are juveniles who have yet to reproduce.
Longline fishing also results in unintended harm to marine life that gets caught on the 170 kilometer long lines. On average 300,000 sea turtles and 160,000 sea birds die on longlines each year.
There are already over 3,500 authorized fishing vessels in the Pacific, and local fisheries in Samoa, Tonga and other Pacific Island nations are barred from the industry. In fact, only 20% of the world's tuna is caught by Pacific Island fleets, while 70% of it comes from the Pacific.
Thomas calls for more transparency in the fishing industry to decrease occurrences of illegal fishing vessels. Shipping boats often transfer their catch at sea to a larger reefer which acts as a mothership in a process called transshipping, which decreases accurate records and transparency.
"If fishing boats have nothing to hide they should have no problem landing or transferring their catches in port, where the fish can be accounted for properly," said Thomas. "It's time for fisheries to clean up, step up and be responsible. If they don't, there will be no tuna left."