Pirate boat busted with bags of shark fins escorted back to Taiwan
Auckland, 22 September 2015 - A Taiwanese fishing vessel caught carrying sacks of illegal shark fins following a Greenpeace bust has just been intercepted by a patrol boat and is being escorted back to Taiwan.
When Greenpeace activists from the Rainbow Warrior boarded Shuen De Ching No. 888 two weeks ago, they discovered a falsified log book and almost 100 kilograms of shark fins.
By law, shark fins may not exceed 5% of the weight of the shark catch, and with just a few shark carcasses in the hold, the vessel was in clear violation of this rule.
Greenpeace reported the boat to the Taiwan Fisheries Agency (TFA) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
The TFA launched an investigation and sent a patrol boat to the area. The patrol discovered a similar list of illegalities, and is now escorting the Shuen De Ching No. 888 back to Taiwan, where the ship faces suspension of its operating license of between one month and one year upon its return.
The journey to port will take about 25 days.
Following the bust, Greenpeace submitted photos of the shark fins found on board to a variety of shark experts around the world. They have just come back with some disturbing findings.
The experts agreed that many of the fins came from the vulnerable silky shark, a species protected by the Pacific Tuna Commission due to their plummeting numbers. Under these rules, any silky sharks pulled up in lines or nets must be released.
Another of the fins identified comes from an endangered species –scalloped hammerhead – which was last year listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Oceans campaigner on board the Rainbow Warrior, Lagi Toribau, says there is now a further twist in the tale.
When they boarded, Greenpeace activists counted 620 fins and 42 tail fins in the holds of Shuen De Ching No. 888, yet only a week later, and the Taiwanese patrol boat found just 110 loose fins.
“This large discrepancy in numbers is a strong indication that following the Greenpeace bust the vessel has illegally transferred its catch onto another boat,” says Toribau.
“If the vessel that received these fins is discovered, we could see even more prosecutions.”
Known as transhipping, transferring catch from one boat to another is only legal in certain circumstances, and the WCPFC must be notified either directly before or after it occurs - certainly not the case with the Shuen De Ching No. 888.
Toribau says everything about the vessel’s operation was crooked.
“Taiwan and the Pacific region shouldn’t stand for this sort of disgusting behaviour,” he says. “Unfortunately the case of the Shuen De Ching No. 888 is nothing new – it’s just the tip of the iceberg. But we must also be grateful that thanks to the hard work of all involved, including the Taiwan Fisheries Agency, there is one less boat out there plundering the Pacific.”
Greenpeace had initially identified the Shuen De Ching No. 888 as a vessel of interest because its name didn’t appear on the WCPFC’s record of fishing vessels, which lists the boats authorised to fish in the region. In the days following the bust it became clear that although the paperwork for the vessel had been submitted by Taiwan, it had yet to be officially entered in the system by the WCPFC.
This delay in paperwork has highlighted a grey area in the system: WCPFC rules state it is up to the flag state – in this case the Taiwan Fisheries Agency – to check their fishing fleets appear on this list before sending them out to fish.
Any vessel that’s not on the record, even if it’s due to an administrative error, is not authorised to fish in the region.
“We do understand that in this case Shuen De Ching No. 888 did not have a license due to administrative errors, but this is something that the TFA should have been picked up far earlier – the boat was technically fishing without a license for almost two months,” says Toribau.
“This case serves to highlight the need for better monitoring and enforcement. We look forward to collaborating more with agencies like the Taiwan Fisheries Agency in order to combat and eliminate pirate fishing operations.”