Fishy Business

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 We were out in the boat yesterday looking for whales as it’s coming to the end of their season; soon the calfs will be big enough for them to begin returning South to the feeding grounds of the Antarctic. We were lucky enough to get in with one mother and calf but they were not up for playing or interacting in any way. Fair enough, I have days like that and I’m not sure if I’d want some clumsy fools in fins flopping around me when I’m a touch grumpy and exhausted from child care…

As we chugged our way homeward we spotted a strange floating object, at first a disc with a name and number on it, then an ominous looking raft type thing. My first thoughts were that this was the remains of a ship wreck, or maybe a make shift raft used by some unlucky people to escape home. Kian pulled it alongside with the hook, tied it on and we dragged it home. The reality of its purpose we soon discovered, was not so dramatic but just as ominous.
 
 
With large pieces of bamboo lashed together and webbed with strong netting it appears to be a crudely made FAD – Fishing Aggregate Device. These are made to float in the ocean ( the solar powered disc thing we found lights up and indicates where it is) and create a false reef for fish. As the small fish gather, so the big fish follow, and the fishermen return with their nets to scoop them up. The down side of this is there is no discrimination or selectivity at all – everything gets caught in the nets and that could include endangered turtles or sharks.
I’m not sure of the capacity of the one we found but am now aware of the dangers of these devices when used on a large scale. With amazing synchronicity on the same day we found ours lurking in the sea I received an email from GreenPeace regarding a new campaign against the use of FADS. They are used by big fisheries to target tuna but an atrocious amount of ‘by catch’ is discarded in the haul. It’s been quite a few years now since the public was made aware of the plight of dolphins in commercial tuna fishing, and many of us switched to buying ‘dolphin friendly’ tuna. What this meant in reality is not at all what we thought we were buying. Dolphin friendly commercial tuna fishing switched from mainly purse nets to FADs and long lines. Dolphins may now be thrown back to sea, resulting in peace of mind on the supermarket shelf, but suffering of other, equally important, species continues. The ‘by catch’ of both FAD and longline method can be sting rays, turtles, sharks and many more.Green Peace are now focussing on trying to change the practises of big tuna producers John West and Princes. They say “With two months left until their commitments are due, more than three quarters of the tuna Princes sells is still being caught using FADs. John West has until 2016 to phase them out – yet our intelligence is that they plan on re-writing their promise so they can keep using FADs. ”
They show a horrific video showing the use of FADs and their awful effects filmed by brave undercover fishermen, you can see it on: Greenpeace’s website, seems humanity is waging a war on the sea. Contemporary fishermen are utilising so much technology once designed for war. FADs use gps monitors. Monitors transmit info to control rooms of fishing boats regarding how many fish are present and the exact location of the floating fads. A single vessel can then haul as much as 50 tons of sea animals in a few minutes. There we have it, contemporary fishers are factory farmers. The remarkable book ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer, so enlightening and beautifully written, is full of disturbing facts, all well referenced. In looking at factory farming he also looks at commercial fisheries, at fads, long lines, and other large scale fishing methods and unloads some startling facts.
Here they are summarised below:Long lines
Long lines are another weapon of war. Again designed to target Tuna they also take a multitude of species with them. Longlines are suspended by buoys in the water with smaller branching lines bristling in baited hooks. Dozens are deployed by each boat. Modern industrial fishing lines can be as long as 75 miles using 27 million hooks each day.
4.5 million creatures are killed, wasted, as bycatch every year including 3.3million sharks, 1 million marlins, 60,000 turtles, 75,000 albatross, 20,000 dolphins and whales. Foer writes;
“Imagine being served a plate of sushi. But this plate also holds all of. The animals that were killed for your serving of sushi. The plate might have to be five feet across.”Trawling
Trawling, mostly for shrimp, trawls a net along the ocean bottom for several hours. 80-90% of sea animals captured are thrown over as by catch, almost all die.
A personal favourite of mine, sea horses, are one of more than 100 sea animal species killed as by catch in the modern shrimp industry. Shrimp trawling devastates seahorse populations more than any other activity. (Little aside…I know so many marine animals are incredible and don’t have the friendly features of the sea horse but sea horses have such endearing habits worth noting. For a start they are monogamous for life and the males have the babies. They also begin the day beautifully – how I wish I did too! They sleep apart clinging on separate grasses , and they ‘brighten’ their colours as they come together, then do a little dance before beginning the days food hunt. No grumbling about who’s turn to make tea or anything. )
Now 25 of 35 classified species of Sea Horse are threatened with extinction – killed ‘unintentionally’ in seafood production.Purse Seines
Purse Seines is the main technology used for catching Americas most popular seafood, tuna. Net walls are deployed around target schools of fish and then the bottom is pulled together like a giant drawstring purse. Again there is inevitable horrendous by catch. Foer writes eloquently about our common shame in this domination, we share the;
“Shame of indiscriminate killing for no nutritional necessity or political cause or irrational hatred or intractable human conflict”
 
 Tourism in Tonga is still small and relatively undeveloped. Swimming with whales is there best USP, being up until recently the only place you can actually get in the water with whales. It’s such a special place and such a great way to encourage conservation of whales – surely after one whale encounter we all want to be more enlightened as to how to help protect them – that it seems a confusion that Tonga also relies on so much aid from Japan. Japan has the worst reputation for rampant fishing disregarding all protection policies in place, and of course for continued unjustifiable whaling. All the houses in the local village of Hunga have solar panels gifted by the Japenese, and I’m told this is the case throughout Tonga. Aid usually comes with a catch – excuse the pun. Is this aid in return for fishing rights or a pro whaling vote?
 
It seems a horrible hypocrisy if it is, but perhaps the only option for a nation that has no export trade and is largely undeveloped.A similar problem has emerged in a micro way here on Fofoa. As guests sit in the luxury of the beach house deck, watching the sun set over the azure seas they may hear a small engine. They may look down and see a man and wife with a tatty old boat casting nets. Another beautiful postcard image of a simple peaceful life? Perhaps not. They run the nets right across the lagoon and on returning at dawn take everything it has ensnared. Small pretty coral fish no good for eating make up the majority of the haul, plus some larger Snapper or Trevelly that may feed the family. If a turtle is unlucky enough to have swum that way, too bad. Killing turtles is illegal but the Tongans take everything. There must surely be a strong argument for protecting this special marine ecosystem and turtle breeding ground, but there is always a strong argument for tradition and feeding mouths too. 
 

 
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demonstrating coconut husking, LappeIt is not for us to sit in judgement but to encourage finding another way.  We recently went for an evening to another nearby island, Lappe. They have a very neat and pretty village with a real sense of a strong community. They show an enterprising spirit that Hunga (our nearby Tongan village) does not and host regular feasts and cultural tours there for us ‘palangis’ (White people/tourists). They put the money made back into village improvements or vital supplies. 

Whilst there we watched a man fishing off the jetty and pulling in quite sizeable fish on his single line. We bought a giant Trevally off him that made a delicious and guilt free meal. I know Karyn would like to approach the Hunga village leader, (similar to the English mayor but with more power on community decisions)  to stop this netting in the lagoon but she knows it will raise tensions. The Tongans, understandably, do not like to be told what to do by palangis so it will need carefull explanation and education to make her point heard. In the meantime the lagoon nets continue to get accidentally unhooked…

One of our guests recently was a keen spearo – a freediver with a passion for spear fishing. Kian and I were pleased to join him, intrigued by the fishing method and keen to practise our free dive technique and learn from someone more experienced. Nervously bobbing around in the big ocean we held his homemade lure for him, a string of shiny fish shaped foils, and waited for an interested fish. Soon enough a big fish rose from the darkness and began to circle. We alerted Chris and in a flash he dove down with his spear gun and took the shot. I was surpsied how excillerating this sport was, and yet still a bit disturbing.  The spear had struck right in the middle but the power of the fish was immense. It dragged the spear and float down with it and swam far out to sea before tiring and enabling the float to pop up once more. Chris took another shot and the fish was slowly hauled to the surface. It was so much bigger than we expected, with huge impressive teeth and jaws, and displayed precision engineering in its body form and flexible fins. This beautiful and noble fish was a  56kg Dog Toothed Tuna. On returning to Happy Api Boris gutted and filleted it, with kids and cats excitedly watching and waiting a turn on the carcass. 
 
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The whole fish made a huge amount of tuna steaks; 13 people ate well that night,and the rest went into the freezer to continue to feed us for many days to come. This was a great illustration to me of a way of killing a fish that I am happy to be a part of. Whether I could actually pull the trigger and kill the thing myself is another question, and a dilemma I am still grappling with, but for now, rightly or wrongly, I choose to keep fish in my diet. Spear fishing like this seems a fair sport and it is a way of sustainable fishing that can be highly selective and so produces no disgard or waste. I know we can’t all pop out to sea with our spear guns whenever we have a bit of a fishy craving but there must be a middle way. Buying fish from local day boats, from single line fishing or even farmed fish must be better than buying into supporting long lines or FADS.
The reality of long lines was again bought home here when the sad news came through of a dying whale in Vavau waters. The whale had been caught and entangled in the longlines treacherous hooks and, despite many whale guides and volunteers trying to help, was unable to be saved. The lines had cut in too deep and infection had already set in. I was not there to hear the sad call of the dying whale but still the sound haunts me.Would better labels enable us to make wiser decisions on what we buy? How would that work? Long lists of numbers of species killed per serving? Pictures of dying whales or sharks? Tobacco packets are getting a lot more hardcore with their gruesome images of damaged body parts, so should food labelling get hardcore too?
It seems one way forward is to stop buying tinned tuna. Even out here where fresh fish should be so easily available tinned tuna, along with pilchard and mackerel, line the shop shelves. Everyone continues to buy it as it makes for such easy, child friendly food and instant dinners. Since reading about long lines I have stopped, though I still wish I had it in stock as a quick solution on uninspired cooking days. I believe that taking responsibility for our own actions, being conscious and careful about the way we shop and eat may be a good step forward in solving some of the worlds commercial food production problems. My own small spend may not have much of an impact but acting consciously stops me sinking in the overwhelming sea of problems we face. If we can’t jump on a Green Peace boat just yet we can share awareness, change our own habits, and sign any petitions out there. The power of online communities like Green Peace or Avaaz continues to grow. Here on Fofoa we are surrounded by the beautiful blue lagoon and immerse ourselves in its wonderful diverse under water world every day; a constant reminder of the world that is worth protecting.Whether for whales or dolphins, because we are sickened by the greed and waste of commercial fishing or just because we have swum in the sea once and marvelled at its wondrous diversity, it seems wrong to still buy tinned tuna. I’m impressed by the decision of 12 yr old Jack to opt out of eating all fish unless he knows who caught it. I’ll do the same with tuna, and can wait for another spearo to come out, or become a better one myself.
 
 

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