With tuna stocks in trouble and too many fishing boats chasing what’s left, reports of new vessels are a cause for alarm. The global fishing fleet is estimated to be two and a half times the size needed to sustainably fish our oceans, yet last month Albacora leased yet another ship, adding to their already bloated tuna fleet that includes some of the world’s biggest tuna fishing vessels. We can only hope it doesn’t take the same attitude to fisheries rules as its thieving sister ship Albacora Uno. Now Echebastar is unleashing a brand new US$39 million, 90 meter, purse seiner on the Indian Ocean, a new monster boat.
The Indian Ocean is one of the least regulated tuna frontiers, there isn’t even a reliable estimate of how much fishing capacity is out there. French company Sapmer is on some sort of a vessel-building binge, and the number of long liners plying these waters is almost too horrifying to think about. But fishing capacity is about much more than just the number of ships, it‘s about their size, power and technology, and Echebastar and Albacora’s fleets are among the world’s biggest users of devastating Fish Aggregating Devices. FADs, used to boost tuna catches, are responsible for the needless waste of sharks, baby tuna, turtles and other ocean life ‘accidentally’ caught in the nets. Using FADs compounds the damage done to tuna stocks and our oceans in horrific ways.
Last year a whistleblower helped Greenpeace release video evidence of two of Echebastar’s older vessels, Alakrana and Elai Alai, catching and trashing masses of ocean creatures caught as FAD bycatch. Shocking footage documented a trapped whale shark, a ship’s deck littered with dead sharks, and fish dumping.
Conservationists also battle the downstream impacts of FADs, laboriously untangling the abandoned ocean junk when it washes onto coral reefs. After Greenpeace released the whistleblower video, we were contacted by an NGO in Seychelles that had struggled to clear FADs owned by Alakrana and Demiku (another ship featured in the video) from a local reef. The tuna industry’s use of FADs is effectively relegating our oceans to the status of a trash dump.
Despite using FADs for around 80% of its tuna hauls, Echebastar is trying to get a sustainability tick for the small part of its catch taken without FADs. In a blatant case of “hey, look over there!” the company wants to distract attention from its devastating dirty tuna hauls, by pointing to the 20% it catches in cleaner free-school fishing. We don’t buy it. Neither should the Marine Stewardship Council, currently being asked to label it “sustainable”. And neither should tuna brands wanting to offer their customers a more ocean-friendly can of tuna.
The newest Echebastar vessel is apparently equipped with a new system to separate non-target species that, “allows bycatch to be returned to the sea without much human interaction”. You don’t need to be cynical to wonder if “without much human interaction” really means “away from the prying eyes of observers and disillusioned crew”. The system also risks compromising the collection of vital bycatch data, crucial to effective management of the fishery and its impacts.
They’re right to worry about bad publicity. Last year’s video isn’t the first time whistleblowers have passed Greenpeace information about the impacts of FAD fishing, and recently a fishing captain wrote to industry publication Atuna blasting the use of FADs.
I quote: “What I’m witnessing now is TRULY ALARMING. Since the implementation of the FAD fishing system with satellite buoys, I have seen a progressive and fast decline in the tuna stocks, especially those species that usually are the target of this fishery, not only in quantity but also in individual size of the fish.”
It’s not just environmentalists and scientists worried about the devastation being wrought by FADs, tuna industry veterans are also sounding the alarm. Luckily it’s getting easier for fishing industry employees to raise their concerns, Greenpeace’s secure whistleblower site lets people submit information about illegal or destructive fishing. We should not be surprised when people in the industry speak out, their futures depend on healthy tuna stocks and healthy oceans.
I’m giving the last word to the fishing captain, because I couldn’t agree more – including his need to shout:
“IT IS URGENT TO STOP THE USE OF FADS AND REGULATE THE FISHERY.”
Karli Thomas is senior oceans campaigner with Greenpeace Aotearoa New Zealand. She has spent many months at sea in fishing grounds, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific Ocean and as far south as Antarctic waters. Karli coordinates Greenpeace’s pirate fishing blacklist and works on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
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