Just the other day, I was having a discussion with Karli, one of our onboard Oceans campaigners, about the origin of the phrase “caught red-handed.” One website I found said that it came about as a reference to literally being caught with blood on your hands after the commission of a murder or a poaching session.
Whether or not that’s the true origin of the phrase, it makes an apt introduction to what we witnessed yesterday. We literally caught the Japanese ship Koyu Maru 3 red-handed, hauling in its long-line and catching tuna within Cook Islands waters, where the ship does not have a license to fish.
The Koyu Maru 3 in Cook Islands waters. Image © Paul Hilton/Greenpace
We provided the Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources and the Fisheries Agency of Japan with photographic evidence of the illegal activity, which you can see here, and are now calling for the arrest of the ship’s captain.
The crew of the Koyu Maru 3 hauling in their long-line. Image © Paul Hilton/Greenpace
The crew of the Koyu Maru hauling a tuna onto their ship. Image © Paul Hilton/Greenpace
Greenpeace is also demanding that the Japanese government order Koyu Maru 3, which is owned by Tokyo-based World Tuna Co Ltd., to stop its illegal fishing activities and sail to the nearest port for further investigation.
This is more than an issue of what’s legal and illegal. The Koyu Maru 3 and other pirate fishing vessels are stealing fish from these waters and using it for their own profit, depriving the people of the Cook Islands of a vital source of income. Josh, another Oceans campaigner onboard who is from the region, put it well when he said, “These pirates of the Pacific must be stopped from plundering ocean life and robbing local communities.”
With that in mind, we decided that documenting the plundering of their seas and providing that evidence to Cook Islands officials, and thereby helping empower them to police their own waters, would be more effective than taking action against the vessel ourselves.
Globally, more than $9 billion dollars is lost each year to pirate fishing fleets, who reap their profits in European, American and Asian markets while threatening Pacific fish stocks and depriving coastal communities of much-needed income. A recent report estimated that pirate fishing in the Pacific accounts for an average of 36% of the fish caught there, much higher than the global average of 19%.
Long-liners like the Koyu Maru 3 mainly target bigeye, yellowfin and albacore tuna, as these species fetch top dollar in sashimi markets in Japan and other countries where this delicacy has become popular. Scientists have warned, however, that some Pacific tuna stocks, particularly bigeye and yellowfin tuna, are being fished beyond their limits. Pirate fishing further threatens the stocks and undermines conservation and management attempts in the region. That’s why it’s important that local Pacific islands governments have the resources they need to protect their waters.