Japanese on the Take for Tuna in Tuvalu

Commentary by Paul Watson
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The Pacific island nation of Tuvalu has become a groveling pathetic servant to Japan and it is embarrassing to see such a once proud island peoples in such a state of submission.

The Japanese fishing fleets have invaded the territorial waters of Tuvalu and now the local fishermen cannot catch fish.

In a recent article by Associated Press a Tuvalu fisherman named Tanemuga Tenae lamented that the fishing is bad. "Too many boats! Too many Japanese boats!," he shouts.

"There's a lot less fish than when I started 15 years ago," fisherman Soloseni Penitusi, told the visiting reporter on Funafuti atoll, a strip of sand and coral in the remote mid-Pacific. According to Associated Press, Penitusi was peddling small skipjack tuna from the back of a pickup truck - discards from a big American boat that had swept up hundreds of tons of better tuna.

When asked if the government should stop issuing licenses to foreign fishing boats, Penitusi said, "No, I can't say that. We need that money."

And so Tuvalu is selling out to Japan and other foreign nations as so many other Pacific, Indian and Caribbean island nations are doing.

These small island nations of Oceania are outwardly so proud yet so dependent upon the crumbs tossed to them by the large industrial fishing nations. In exchange for a few hand-outs today, they are selling out their future and diminishing the Pacific of fish.

Yes, the money is needed. Of course it is needed. These small nations do not have the resources nor the means to afford the materialistic lifestyle and the culture of Westernized nations. So they have resurrected the same attitude of cargo culturalization that so impoverished their societies over a century ago.

To even suggest that the islanders live an indigenous life style in a sustainable fishery, without the benefits of modern technology is considered unacceptable, even racist by most people in society. The reason being is that most of us feel so dependent upon technology that the very thought of others being deprived of such comforts is considered selfish. And so such cultures die, convulsing on the spear point of Western cultural values.

But now more than just culture is at stake. The island nations are pawns in the vicious global assault by industrialized fishing nations upon that last of the world's once bountiful numbers of fish species.

In a war between consumption and conservation, the forces of conservation are being severely overwhelmed by the forces of consumption. The great tragedy is that those who rape our oceans make such awesome profits that they can afford the incredible extraction technologies and they can afford to buy off those who don't have such efficient means of stripping the sea of life.

For the sad fact is that the only thing protecting fish and other sealife has been the legal sanctity of territoriality and that is now available to the highest bidder.

And although Europe, Taiwan and America are bidding, Japan is doing the highest bidding.

Tuvalu has not only sold out their fisheries to Japan, they have become indentured to Japan as feudal serfs whose only reason for existing is to now serve their Japanese masters, both to put fish on Japanese plates and to serve as a vote for Japanese schemes to resurrect whaling and to expand their oceanic plundering.

And so Tuvalu just this month for the first time took a seat at the table of the International Whaling Commission Meeting held in Sorrento, Italy. Their membership dues were paid by Japan and they knew just how to vote. Without hesitation or apparent shame they parroted whatever Japan wanted.

Just another island serfdom nation recruited to help kill the whales by Japan, along with other Japanese vassal nations like St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Vanuatu, or Grenada.

There are some nations that still understand ecological values. The Marshall Islands for example have expressed their concern that resources must be protected. But then the Marshall Islands are sort of a colony of the United States and can afford to be seen as more concerned.

But unfortunately, most of the rest of these nations have decided to lie on their backs and spread their legs for foreign coins.

And mere coins are what they are getting. The sale of fishing rights is now funding 20% of the Tuvalu economy but that works out to only one cent per kilogram of fish extracted by foreign fleets. Not only has Tuvalu become a whore of a nation, it has become a cheap whore of a nation.

The Pacific and Indian Oceans are being invaded by an armada of foreign ships in their insatiable quest for tuna, squid, shark fins, toothfish and pretty much anything someone wants to eat in Tokyo, Paris, Taipei or New York.

New licensing deals have allowed for ships from the European Union to join more than 1,000 Asian and American boats already plundering the fish in the Pacific nations' 200-mile wide economic zones - those millions of square miles of sea that are contained in the so-called sovereignty of these scattered bits of sand and coral that presume to call themselves nations.

And so when Tuvalu, (with a population of a mere 8,000 citizens), votes to kill the whales, it's vote by virtue of being a "nation" is equal to the votes of France, the United States or Japan.

Conservation law is being severely undermined by the undemocratic power of national votes where Tuvalu's 8,000 citizens hold the power to negate the votes of nations with tens of million or hundreds of millions of citizens.

Tuvalu is not a nation; it is a small town posing as a nation.

These phony nations like Tuvalu will be the reason that the Pacific will be raped, plundered and stripped of life - because they lack the integrity and the economic self sufficiency to protect their natural treasures, not because of need but because of greed and the desire to turn paradise into a materialistic hell. They can be bought, they are being bought and they can be bought cheap.

And so for less than a penny on the dollar, the islanders are selling off the right to life for the fish of the sea.

And the fish most sought after right now are the tuna.

The massive ships invading the Pacific are the longliners and the purse seiners. The ships' prime target are the yellowfin and skipjack tuna, whose numbers continue to plummet as their sleek, fast powerful bodies are caught, ground up and stuffed into cans for cats and people on land.

A decade ago the cry was to save the dolphins from the tuna nets. Now we must save the tuna from the tuna nets.

In the Pacific there are four species of tuna under constant stress from fishing:

  • The Bigeye averages 40 pounds and is a favorite in Japanese sushi restaurants. It is already considered to be severely over-fished.
  • The Yellowfin averaging 26 pounds is on the decline.
  • The Skipjack is the favorite for canning and although it is the healthier population of the four, more than 3 billion pounds of this fish goes into cans each year as cheap tuna. At an average size of only 7 pounds, that means that more than 719 million of these fish are caught annually. There is no way this can be described as a sustainable fishery.
  • The Albacore considered the prime white tuna averages 20 pounds and has been severely depleted in many areas.

The tuna are crashing and the response to this is to build more boats and catch even more fish. The lust for consumption is winning out over the rational need for conservation.

The sad reality is that these island nations have the legal and political power to protect the tuna and other fish. They could all have a sustainable fishery for centuries to come by simply keeping the big nations out.

If the Japanese want to eat Tuvalu fish they could travel to the island, stay in a hotel and eat the fish in a Tuvalu restaurant. Now that would benefit the Tuvalu economy.

But the present system will see the tuna crash within just a few more years and within a decade the people of Tuvalu will have no more hand-outs from Japan and no more fish. They will be severely impoverished.

But not to worry, the Japanese have a plan. After they kill off the whales in Antarctica, they anticipate large harvests of the oceanic krill that the whales won't be around to eat. They intend to process this krill into a protein base to sell to third world nations.

And thus, the Tuvalu islander will be able to sit down to a meal of coconut, poi and protein krill paste conveniently supplied from a toothpaste type tube or he or she can just buy a Happy Meal, that is if they still have any savings left.