Written by Dean our communications officer (from Aotearoa/ New Zealand) on board the Esperanza.
When I was in the Solomon Islands an old man came up to me with a bag made out of an old yellow sack strapped around his neck. "I have a carving, very cheap for you," he said.
“Here we go…” I thought, "How am I gonna get rid of this guy?" I told him I had no money on me but I’d be around in the afternoon. I don’t know why I said that because I’d already bought Honiara out of carvings.
Anyway, he turned up later and pulled a stone carving out of the sack. It was a figure of a man's body with a frigate bird's head, holding a spear in one hand and a fish in the other. It was Kezoko, god of the sea and fishing from his tribal area.
The old man’s name was Sali and he emphasised it was a very special price and that it took him 6 weeks to make. I thought, “What the hell… but I don’t know how I’ll get that one home. It's the heaviest one yet.”
And as soon as I accepted he was hugely relieved and grabbed my hands with both of his and started crying. “Thank you so much for saving our tunas. I am worried for our children and the next childrens. I want them to have tunas too,” he said looking deep into my eyes.
I realised he wanted to give me his carving for free but he was too poor and couldn’t. We held hands and looked into each others' eyes for ages. It was a really emotional moment, his carving meant so much more and would be one of the treasures of my life.
I’m told that when Kezoko takes aim with his spear he always hits his target.
After days of not finding any fishing boats, I put Kezoko up on the bridge. The next day we found a huge mothership accepting catches from other boats, a fish aggregation device and two pirate fishing vessels. The following day we came across a fleet of Taiwanese longliners. I'm thinking that maybe Kezoko would like a few days holiday in the wardrobe because we all need some sleep.
Image: © Greenpeace/ Lisa Vickers
Today we caught an illegal tuna purse seiner (Queen Evelyn 168) in the Pacific Commons between Papua New Guinea and the Federated States of Micronesia. This Philippines-flagged vessel was close to the transfer of tuna between her sister vessel and a refrigerated mothership. It is likely that a transfer of fish at sea involving an illegal vessel was about to occur, but upon our arrival the vessels immediately separated and fled.
Transfers of fish at sea are known to facilitate pirate fishing around the world and now we have seen it with our own eyes in the Pacific. For years tuna have disappeared unreported on motherships like this.
One of our volunteer activists from Fiji boarded the mothership and has written about her experience.
My name is Ana and I am a Fijian volunteer. I am the assistant cook on board the Esperanza . Today, I was an activist for the second time since I have been on the ship. Early this morning at about 5.30am I was woken up by a phone call from the bridge, telling me that they had spotted a fishing boat and that I must get ready because the boat was launching at 6.00am. Little did I know that the real action would not start until about 11.00am, so back to the galley I went to help prepare lunch. That's just the way it goes sometimes. The helicopter came back and we began to chase a reefer (a vessel that takes the tuna catch away from fishing vessels so they can keep catching more fish without coming to port) out here in international waters.
I was on standby from 5.30am but it wasn't until 11.00am that we we finally got close to the reefer. Being on standby for that long really starts to get to you, The tension and the adrenaline really puts you on the line.
Boats were launched and we took off towards the reefer, radio contact was done already and Lagi our campaign leader came with us. When we arrived at the reefer some of our crew were welcomed on board. The captain and crew were very helpful and even our photographers were allowed on the reefer, which was really nice of the captain. I stayed in the inflatable for a while and bobbed alongside the ship for about 2 hours and then finally the radio contact was made asking me, my wantok Danny (from Papua New Guinea) and Sakyo (a Japanese activist) to also board the ship.
We managed to get on the boat without any mishap and I am still surprised that I actually climbed up that ladder because I am afraid of heights. But with the encouragement from my fellow crew on board the African Queen I managed to climbed up that ladder with shaky knees! Thank you Helena for your patience and encouragement from the rest of the team. We were invited to go down to the cooler which was half full with tuna of various sizes. We climbed down the ladder to document the cargo of tuna in there.
Being in the cooler, I got a close look at all the fish and it made me really sad because the smallest tuna that I could see was the size of my palm. No wonder there is a decline in the tuna stock because these foreigners took whatever size of tuna that they could get their hands on. I was filled with rage when I came out of the cooler I had to sit down for a while to get my emotions back together. In order for the Pacific to have tuna stocks for our children tomorrow we need to act now.Images © Greenpeace/Paul Hilton
So i have to apologize for not posting recently. Sadly, my time on the Esperanza has come to a close, for now. I am back in Washington DC and watching the rest of the tour from here. As the Esperanza continues to defend the Pacific, I will do my best to keep you all informed. Let me know if there are questions you have about what I post and I'll do my best to get answers from the crew. Stand by everyone, this fight is far from over!
At 8:30 this morning, I stood on the deck of the Esperanza staring out at a ship in the distance. We had spotted a fishing vessel in international waters and had sent a team to see if they were actually fishing. As the information came in, we learned that it was a purse seiner from the U.S. and it just started to pull in the net. Purse seine vessels surround schools of fish with curtain-like nets to catch tuna. A rope along the bottom of the net is pulled like a drawstring and the whole catch is hauled onboard. A purse seine net can be over one hundred meters long and catch up to 3000 tons of fish in one trip.
We launched the boats immediately and set off towards the U.S. vessel, Cape Finisterre, to give them the same message we had given the Korean fishing vessel, Olympus just a few days earlier. It’s time for international commercial fishing vessels to stop overfishing the Pacific Commons. As we approached, I could see the net being pulled in and loaded on the deck of the ship, it looked massive.
Henry and I, both from activists from the U.S., deployed a banner demanding “Pacific Marine Reserves Now!” as Lagi, our oceans campaigner from Fiji delivered the message via radio to the U.S. purse seiner Captain. The Cape Finisterre continued to pull in their net and reload their skiff (a small boat used to set and retrieve the net when fishing with a purse seine) and seemed to go about their business. We learned over the radio that the vessel would not be leaving the Pacific Commons. Alain, our boat driver moved the boat closer to the Cape Finisterre and Henry and I painted the side of the vessel with the words “Tuna overkill.”
I looked at the hull of the Cape Finisterre with mixed emotions. I was embarrassed because every country that fishes in this region has the scientific data that shows that bigeye and yellowfin tuna are in trouble and they chose to ignore the warnings - including the U.S.. And I felt proud to be here with Greenpeace taking action against overfishing in the Pacific Commons. It’s time for the Cape Finisterre and other ships like it know that the world is watching. We will not let their destruction the tuna population of the Pacific Commons go unreported.
This morning I woke up still pretty sore from spending a whole day in the RHIBS on the open ocean Wednesday. I glanced over at the alarm clock and realized I had more than an hour before I had to get up for breakfast. I looked out the porthole of my cabin and I could see the sky starting to turn bright pink. I could tell it was going to be a beautiful sunrise. I decided to stay in bed a little longer and my mind drifted back to our day of action on the South Pacific.
I thought about how fast the Koren purse seiner was moving next to our boats (doing almost 13 knots), about the fishermen watching us from the deck, the salt water spray that was pelting me in the face but my mind kept flashing back to the flying fish that were escorting us to the Korean purse seiner.
We launched the boats from the Esperanza with almost a 30 minute ride ahead of us. About half way through, a flying fish shot out of the water, flew for what seemed like forever and then shot back into the water. A few seconds later, a few more flying fish came up for a flight and dove back into the ocean. This continued for a while with varying size to the groups that joined us on our trip to the fishing vessel.
It felt good to have a few of the locals accompany us that morning. Being in the middle of the ocean, you can go for hours and sometimes days without any visible sealife. That morning, the flying fish were a nice reminder that we aren't just fighting for the tuna. That we are fighting for the health of this ocean and all of the things that live in the delicate balance of these eco-systems.
Flying fish are found in all the major oceans, mainly in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. Their pectoral fins are unusually large and what allows them to take flight above the water. The fish usually fly out of the water to escape from predators such as tunas, swordfish, mahi mahi and other larger fish.