September 03, 2009. Western Pacific Ocean, , Australia - Two Taiwanese longline tuna fishing vessels were yesterday caught by Greenpeace in the act of illegally transferring fish in Pacific waters.

Fishing vessels Her Hae and Jia Yu Fa were carrying tuna and shark fins, and were photographed while transferring tuna from one ship to another in a pocket of international waters between Papua New Guinea and the Federated States of Micronesia, an area proposed as a marine reserve. They abandoned their transshipment process and fled the area as the Greenpeace ship Esperanza approached the vicinity.

The Esperanza, campaigning to end the destruction of the world's oceans, peacefully escorted the vessel Jia Yu Fa out of international waters and into the waters of the Federated States of Micronesia where it has license to fish. Greenpeace has reported the Taiwanese vessels' illegal transshipment at sea to relevant authorities.

Pockets of international waters in the Pacific, which are regulated by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), are known to be especially vulnerable to pirate fishing as previous Greenpeace expeditions in the region have demonstrated. The WCPFC has agreed to close two of the pockets to purse seining from January 2010 but the areas will remain vulnerable to overfishing by longline fleets.

"Members of the WCPFC must now shut down all pockets of international waters to all fishing including longlining and ban the transshipment of fish at sea, which currently gives pirate tuna fleets the opportunity to keep plundering the Pacific Ocean," said Josua Turaganivalu, Oceans Campaigner of Greenpeace Australia Pacific on board the Esperanza.

Longliners like Her Hae and Jia Yu Fa are part of a vast Taiwanese fleet of such vessels and mainly target bigeye and yellowfin tuna, destined for luxury sashimi markets. Many also fish exclusively in international waters where little regulation exists. Scientists have warned that both species are already seriously overfished and fishing must be drastically reduced (2). In addition, approximately 35 per cent of longline catch consists of non-target species, including threatened oceanic sharks and turtles (3). Many tuna longline vessels also engage in controversial shark-finning activities.

Pirate fishing by longline fleets is also thought to be significant, and often facilitated by the transfer of fish at sea (4). A recent report estimated pirate fishing in the Pacific makes up an average of 36 per cent of the entire fish catch, which is much higher than the global average of 19 per cent (5).

The Esperanza's "Defending Our Pacific" tour is part of an international campaign for clean and healthy oceans through the creation of a global network of marine reserves and effective enforcement of laws that protect ocean life. Greenpeace is monitoring the pockets of international waters that Pacific Island Countries want closed from all fishing activities in order to protect the declining tuna stocks (6). The WCPFC has already agreed to close two of the areas to tuna purse seining from January 2010 onwards, but the areas are still vulnerable to overfishing.

"Time and tuna are running out. The WCPFC can become a global leader in oceans conservation by agreeing to immediately reduce fishing by half and by closing all four pockets of international waters in the Pacific at its summit in December," said Karli Thomas, Greenpeace New Zealand oceans campaigner, on board the Esperanza. "Unless it takes this action, the fishing industry will simply fish the Pacific to death."

Greenpeace is campaigning for a global network of fully protected marine reserves, covering 40 per cent of our oceans. They are essential to ensure clean and healthy oceans and protect marine life from overfishing and habitat destruction. Healthy oceans can also play a vital role in building resilience against the devastating effects of climate change.