For the past six weeks the crew on the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior have been observing and monitoring the Indian Ocean’s fisheries and its diverse sea life, encountering some of the best and worst of fisheries management.
Since setting sail from Durban in early September, they have performed two weeks of joint surveillance operations with the Mozambican Ministry of Fisheries to inspect foreign fishing vessels that mainly target high-value tuna and endangered sharks.Later in Mauritius, Greenpeace campaigners met with government and industry representatives to discuss the problems of overfishing in a region where tuna populations are at threat from poor regulation, wasteful fishing methods and illegal fishing.
They are now sailing to the Maldives, an area where its pole and line tuna fishing is considered the most sustainable method of tuna fishing anywhere in the world, due in part to its low by-catch levels.
All of these countries, however, manage their fisheries and other oceans activities independently of each other and sometimes with no regulations, giving rise to legal gaps. Even where regional bodies exist, such as the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, fisheries management is failing as short-term economic thinking overshadows sustainability.
International talks are seeking to close these legal gaps and develop an effective regime to protect high seas biodiversity, but these talks have made slow progress due to the alleged lack of scientific information.
To overcome this, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has organised a number of regional workshops over the past year to help identify areas, both within and beyond national jurisdictions, that need protection and to collect scientific information.
One of these workshops was organised in July for the Southern Indian Ocean in Mauritius, looking at sensitive areas in Madagascar, Mauritius, the Maldives, Seychelles and others.
This is the area through which the Rainbow Warrior has been sailing, en route to the Maldives, which plans to designate the majority of its EEZ as a marine reserve. Along the way, the crew has observed rich biodiversity, such as whales, sharks, tunas, swordfish, dolphins and albatross.
But they’ve also seen the many threats posed by unreported and illegal fishing alongside destructive and wasteful fishing practices such as shark finning.
Against this backdrop, the 11th Conference of the Parties of the CBD held this month in Hyderabad, India, has agreed to send information collected in these regional workshops to the United Nations to shape future discussions on high seas marine biodiversity.
Greenpeace believes this is an important step forward towards establishing an effective global regime for oceans because countries will no longer be able to rely on the lack of scientific information as an excuse not to take action.
It will take a few years before such a global regime will be put in place and implemented, however, and in the meantime it is important that action is taken to safeguard valuable fish stocks, such as tuna.
This can be achieved through effective fisheries management and by cutting the number of fishing vessels plundering our oceans, as well as by protecting sensitive marine areas, such as those identified during the Southern Indian Ocean Workshop.
Our oceans are at threat and only by taking unified action will we rescue them, ensure the livelihoods of coastal communities and maintain food security for current and future generations.
Veronica Frank is a Greenpeace International campaigner who attended the CBD conference.