With the red glow of the sun just beginning to peak above the mountains on the far side of the bay, our two boats pulled away from the Esperanza and made the fifteen minute transit to the port of Yeosu, South Korea where a DongWon purse seiner lay waiting in dry-dock. With the workers still asleep on board the vessel and coast guard not yet patrolling the area, we were able to deploy the banner in record time and return safely to the Esperanza within the hour.
The largest action to date for Korea’s newly established Greenpeace office, the results are already starting to roll in, including contact from the officers of DongWon and coverage in Korea’s largest media outlets:
Greepeace Press Release: Dongwon’s Destructive Fishing Starts Here
Greenpeace photo slideshow: Dongwon Banner Hang
Before coming on board the Esperanza I didn’t know much about the fishing industry, only in a broad sense that globally the fishing techniques being utilized are not only rapidly depleting the world’s oceans but are also often indiscriminate in their catch, claiming the lives of dolphins, whales, sea turtles, sharks and other ocean life. Knowing that for the three months I would be on-board the Esperanza, the ship tour would focus on the fishing industry I decided to do my homework by reading the book End of the Line: How Overfishing is Changing the World and What We Eat by Charles Clover. Here I learned that one of the most destructive fishing practices is done to supply the canned tuna market, their fishing fleet mostly comprised of purse seiners like the M/V Granada which we targeted during the action.
Purse seine fishing utilizes a huge net which positioned around the circumference of a school of fish, the bottom is drawn closed and everything trapped within hauled on-board—-sometimes upwards of 400 tons in one haul. It’s destruction is compounded by the use of FADs, Fish Aggregation Devices, which lure schools of fish to swim in its vicinity but unlike the natural tendency for schooling fish to swim near whales or other object, FADs can be monitored and tracked by satellite and hundreds can be deployed by a single fishing vessel. Clover describes a typical scenario:
“A sleek, modern purse seine fleet picks up a signal from one of its FADs that has found the thermocline (where hot water meets cooler water) and begun to congregate tuna. It steams to intercept. It sends out a fast skiff, which drops off the net that duly encircles the shoal of fish around the FAD, and the mothership begins to haul.”
Clover goes on to state that the combination of FADs and purse seine fishing is highly indiscriminate and that in fact, here in the Pacific is the one place in the world where dolphins are often subject to the by-catch because the tuna will swim beneath them. “There was a massive bycatch of dolphins for three decades in the eastern pacific after fishermen began to set their nets on pods of dolphins. In 1986 alone, some 132,000 dolphins were killed as bycatch in the eastern pacific tuna fishery.” While dolphins are far from the only animal caught by purse seiners, it strikes a chord with me as we were lucky enough to spend the morning watching a pod of over fifty dolphins in the Sea of Japan a couple of weeks ago.
Clover concludes End of the Line with this list of action items to improve the health of our oceans:
- Fish less.
- Eat less fish, or eat fish less wastefully caught.
- Know more about what we are eating and reject fish caught unsustainably.
- Favor the most selective, least wasteful fishing methods.
- Give fishermen tradeable rights to fish, accompanied by new responsibilities.
- Create reserves that will cover migration hot spots for the big game fishes, such as tuna and swordfish, on the high seas and 50 percent of the entire area of intensively fished and used places, such as the North Sea.
- Make regional fisheries bodies responsible for the high seas work properly instead of merely monitoring the decline of the populations they are meant to preserve.
- Within out countries’ 200-mile limits, we must organize a quiet democratic revolution, whereby citizens regain overall control of the sea.
There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to reverse the damage done to the oceans and restore habitat to all marine animals. While taking action against Dong Won is a small step in the grand scheme of things, it’s also just the first step of many that Greenpeace Korea will take in the coming months and I’m proud to have been apart of the history that’s building.