Greenpeace vs ‘pirates of the Pacific'

Greenpeace campaigners painting sign on unmarked purse seiner found fishing in a closed area. [photo: Alex Hofford / Greenpeace]

Greenpeace ship, The Esperanza that departed from American Samoa in Sept. to travel across the Pacific on a new campaign to protect dwindling fish stocks, has intercepted and photographed a fishing boat illegally taking tuna from an area of ocean, which is supposed to be closed.

The area designated as pocket # 1 is bounded by Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Palau, and Federated States of Micronesia. In the Greenpeace Blog "Pirates of the Pacific' blogger JulietteH posted a report, datelined Nov. 25.

 "The ship we came across today had no markings, and therefore no state to which it is flagged but most of the crew including the Captain were Filipinos. It was purse seining illegally in high seas pocket one, close to Indonesia. We filmed it bringing its haul of tuna on board and illegally transshipping its catch (transferring it to another boat)," JulietteH blogged.

She explained that transhipping at sea is one of the main ways pirate fishers are able to avoid detection and launder their catch. Fishing vessels can remain at sea for months at a time resupplying, refueling and even changing their crew. Transferring their catch at sea allows pirate fishers to launder their illegal fish by mixing it with legally caught fish.

The blog detailed The Esperanza's effort: "After receiving no reply to radio calls to both ships, Greenpeace activists in inflatable boats approached the ships to intervene in the transshipment, paint ‘Pirate' on the side of the fishing vessel, and eventually went on board the fishing vessel to talk with the Captain."

While the blog does not write about the results of the visit, there is a video produced by Greenpeace Australia that shows the unmarked purse seiner unloading its catch into the transshipping vessel. The video also shows Greenpeace inflatables intercepting the purse seiner and painting ‘pirate?' on the side of the ship.

Ending the video is Lagi Toribau, leader of the Greenpeace expedition aboard the Esperanza standing on the deck of the illegal fishing boat saying that the actions of the vessel are "unaccepable and a total disregard for the management measures put in place to restore the Pacific tuna population from potential collapse."

In the blog JulietteH calls for fishing nations to reign in vessels that break the law and support Pacific efforts to clamp down on illegal and unsustainable fishing. "This means closing the high seas pockets to all industrial fishing and strong measures to ensure those who break the rules don't do so again," she writes.

Greenpeace says, the high seas pockets have long been a playground for pirate fishermen making it difficult for surrounding Pacific Island countries to manage their shared fish stocks. Since 2008, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (the international body responsible for governing the overall management of the Pacific tuna fisheries) closed high seas pockets 1 and 2 to purse seine fishing (see map).

Greenpeace is currently engaged in its "Defending Our Pacific" expedition, a campaign to stop the unsustainable fishing of Pacific tuna by ending the use of destructive fishing practices, an end to illegal fishing and the creation of marine reserves in the Pacific Commons.


The Pacific Commons are marine reserves and proposed marine reserves in the Pacific ocean.

Area 1 is called the West Oceania Marine Reserve (WOMAR)

Area 2 is called the Greater Oceania Marine Reserve (GOMAR)

These two areas were closed off to purse seining for Tuna from January 2010 onwards, as per a decision by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries  Commission late in 2008.

Area 3 and Area 4 are are not yet officially protected and Greenpeace is calling on the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to stop all fishing activities under its jurisdiction in these areas.

According to Greenpeace, all these areas are key breeding and feeding grounds for tuna. They also contain unique ecosystems, including biologically rich undersea mountains, corals and endangered leatherback turtles.

As 2011 comes to a close, three Parties to the Nauru Agreement  (PNA) countries have taken the step of closing their waters to foreign fishing vessels in order to maintain sustainable tuna fishing limits, according to a PNA media release.  Closing their fishing waters are: Solomon Islands, Nauru and Tuvalu. (See details of closings in related article in this issue.)

Click to read blog and see videos and photos


  • It is estimated between 21-46% of all fish caught in the Pacific is taken by pirate fishing ships.
  • Greenpeace is campaigning for a global network of marine reserves covering 40% of the world's oceans and for a more sustainable fishing industry.
  • Effective January 2011, an additional agreement by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) closed additional areas of high seas to purse seine fishing, protecting 4.5 million square kilometers of the Pacific. That's an area approximately half the size of Europe.
  • Illegal fishing is estimated to cost the Pacific region around $1.7 billion per year.
Boundaries of the Pacific Commons and its designated areas. [photo: courtesy Greenpeace]


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