From: Rob Taylor -Reuters
Published September 25, 2007 07:33 AM

European fishing pirates hit Pacific: Greenpeace

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Illegal fishing vessels linked to large European fishing firms have begun plundering endangered ocean stocks in the Western and Central Pacific, environment watchdog Greenpeace said on Tuesday.

Surveillance of fishing fleets near the tiny Pacific nations of Kiribati and the Cook Islands showed European owned or operated vessels had expanded their range from the Indian and Atlantic Oceans -- mainly in search of tuna.

"Most of the cases documented show clear links to tuna being sold in European markets," Greenpeace said in a new report on what it said were "European sharks" biting the Pacific.

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With a global tuna shortage, large European firms named by Greenpeace as Albacora, Calvopesca and Conservas Garavilla, were sending fishing boats into the western Pacific under flags from Venezuela, Panama, Ecuador and the Netherlands Antilles.

"All Pacific island nations negotiating fishing agreements with the European Union need to be fully aware of the track record of Spanish and Dutch-owned vessels in the region, including their pirate fishing operations," Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner Lagi Toribau said.

"Instead of cutting back the amount of fishing, both legal and illegal fishing fleets are expanding," the report said.

Spain-based Calvopesca and Albacora's interests include refrigerated tuna fishing boats, transportation, storage, distribution and sale into European supermarkets. The companies

say on their web sites that their fishing operations comply with international laws.

But Greenpeace said seven of 11 fishing incidents this year were linked to European firms and Ecuadorian company Nirsa, which also sells fish to European stores.

Some were licensed only for fishing in the Eastern Pacific, while others were caught in exclusive fishing zones near Kiribati and French Polynesia, Greenpeace said.

Up to 300,000 tones of tuna were being stolen from the Western and Central Pacific each year. Experts have called for big reductions in catches of big-eyed and yellowfin tuna.

Southern bluefin tuna catches are also unsustainable with an even chance that all fish capable of laying eggs will be gone by 2030 if current catch levels continue, according to a 2006 report by Australian, New Zealand, South Korean and Japanese officials.

Greenpeace said small Pacific island nations should form a common negotiating block to better enforce conservation and surveillance measures with the EU and other fishing nations.

"The high-seas pockets in the region should be closed to all fishing activities as no-take marine reserves ... in order to halt rampant pirate fishing, and to enhance stock and biodiversity protection in the region," Toribau said.

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