"Driftnet Fleet Encounter" Part II (revised)
My Report to US Congress, the United Nations, & presented to The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in Ponepei, 2005

 This report was documented in Fiji Islands on the 18th of November, 2005. I sent copies to the US Congress, United Nations, & hand delivered to the WCPFC in Ponepei, Micronesia on December 5th, 2005. Thanks to the Cook Islands Delegation and Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association, this report was heard and discussed but unfortunately not numbered or recorded that I know of.

It is unfinished business!!

Driftnet Fleet Encounter Part II: violation of “Freedom of the High Seas”

To Whom It May Concern, I, John Harder, swear that all I say is true, so help me God!

My name is John Harder. I am the Captain & manager of the commercial Tuna Troll f/v "Walloda" registered in Cook Islands, HS#0014003, Doc #CI96/10.I am also the owner & manager of US f/v "Miss Angie", Doc #546377.

I John Harder, high seas sustainable Albacore Tuna Troll fisherman, declare that I was led to believe that High Seas Driftnet fishing was BANNED. Upon the decision of the United Nations, in 1991, high seas driftnets were illegal, outlawed and to be eliminated by 1993. That would mean to me that all Albacore Tuna taken from the high seas would be by the “Hook and Line” method of fishing. The harvesting of young Albacore Tuna 10-20 lbs. would be done by Pole and Line (bait boat) vessels, or Troll (jig) vessels conducted on the Ocean surface. The harvesting of larger albacore tuna, 25 lbs. and over will be done by Long Line fishing vessels conducted below the Ocean surface. This ruling, by the United Nations, put an end to the 20 year old battle over harvesting Albacore Tuna resources on the high seas between “hook and Line” fishermen and “driftnet” fishermen.

I am under the impression that all who are involved with this fishery new of this ruling and would uphold this law. I trusted my association, Western Fishboat Owners Association (WFOA), American Fishermen's Research Foundation (AFRF), & National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) with all my knowledge and fishing information submitted in voluntary & mandatory log books to help benefit our “Hook & Line” fishery only. Let all my fishing logs and records be open to the public, and used as proof.

As of the summer of 2003 to the present time of 2005, someone has been stealing our Albacore Tuna resources and depleting the stocks on the high seas. After 2003, Albacore troll fishermen saw and caught less and less until now. I declare that as of now, 2005, there is not enough albacore tuna to make “Trolling”, on the high seas, profitable. The 11-20 lbs. albacore stocks are missing or severely damaged by the driftnet fishery. I ask that all records of albacore tuna, weighing 11-20 lbs, landed to the canneries for the past 3 years be brought forward to be validated.

In 2003 a fleet of “driftnet” vessels was detected by the “Troll” fleet fishing in the area of 40%N x 163%E. We (Troll fleet) reported this to the proper authorities, but nothing was done. The US Coast Guard was in the area, but the drift net fleet still persisted to fish. In 2004, only a few “Troll” vessels stayed in the Convention Area, but found only a few schools of fish. The albacore stocks on the high seas were not healthy enough to warrant the fishing effort. Now in 2005, while still detecting driftnet activity, trollers only found one small run of fish. This run of fish was too small, in size, to harvest. Fish size was of the 8-10 lbs class and considered stocks for next year, yet the “driftnet” fleet was still targeting them.

Now that I am bankrupt, or going broke, and little to no stocks for the future, I am DEAD in the water! Somebody stole our fish in the middle of the night. Will someone please catch them and bring them to justice? If not, why was I lead to believe We, as an "Existing Fishery", would be protected? Why would I invest all I have to catch albacore tuna using a sustainable method such as “Trolling” when un-sustainable “driftnets” are targeting the same species, or resources? I had great faith in my fishing association, American Fishermen's Research Foundation (AFRF), US State department, NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the United Nations that I was going to be protected. It was all in vain! I will always have trust in God, and know He will always be Just!

I testify that in the year 2002 our Albacore Tuna stocks in the Convention Area and on the high seas of the Pacific were healthy as ever. Both my fishing vessels were averaging 150+ tons per season (North Pacific and South Pacific counted as separate seasons. Two seasons annually). We just experienced eight years of good fishing with no driftnet activity in the Pacific. At the present time our market in Canada is paying $3,100.00 USD per ton.

 As of now, these thieves have stolen $2,000,000.00 USD from my income! Why doesn’t anyone do something? Is it that nobody knows, or nobody cares?

If my catch rate is sustainable and our Albacore Tuna resources are healthy, then the catch rate of the driftnet vessels must be 3-5 times higher. This would be 20-30 thousand tons of illegal albacore tuna on the world market. This can’t be hard to trace, if an investigation was conducted. This much fish floods the market and deflates the actual market value. This fish will be cheap!

A man once told me to make a wise decision; I must seek knowledge from those who are experienced in the field… If I have a tooth ache, go see a dentist. If my car is having problems, I should talk to a mechanic. If the drain is plugged up, call a plumber… I should NOT buy a car from my best friend’s friend, or call a plumber to fix my car… If you want to know how the Albacore stocks are doing, observe the fisherman. Do not ask a scientist or college student as their information is only speculation based on insufficient & incomplete data that can be easily swayed, or biases! I have been trying to pass this on, but no one wants to listen.

I can give you a fish, and you can feed your family well for today, or I can teach you how to fish and you can feed your family today and tomorrow, and so your family can teach their family on and on to eternity.

Hook & Line is a sustainable method of fishing. Fish don’t feed all of the time.

Driftnets are an unsustainable method.  They kill or maimed everything that swims into it.

The fact that we have had this knowledge for the past 20 years and the problem still exists today is proof that we cannot use our wisdom wisely for the good of all people. Instead our wisdom falls into the hands of evil (money, power, greed).

The Battle for harvesting Albacore Tuna resources: Trollers vs. Driftnets in the Pacific.

This is clearly a violation of the United Nations’ “Law of the Sea” under the “Codes of Conduct” as discrimination between fisheries.

National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), along with NOAA, did an extensive survey for the United Nation’s evaluation of high seas Driftnet vessels in the North Pacific in 1991. I, John Harder, was undergoing a fuel subsidy charter as captain of f/v Miss Angie for American Fishermen's Research Foundation (AFRF) at the time. I was to evaluate Albacore Fish stocks west of 180% (dateline) for the period of 30 days in the month of May. We were experiencing very similar fishing as we did this year of 2005. What little fish we did land were small, averaging less than 11 lbs. Many fish we caught were scratched (marked) by driftnets. Our fishing effort proved none profitable for using the “Troll” method.

During this time, I got the chance to talk to an NMFS observer on board one of the high seas driftnet vessels shortly after the United Nations declared Driftnets to be banned. The observer was commenting on how efficient the method of fishing was and boasting how many tons were being landed. This led me to believe that he was pro- driftnet/gillnet. It turned out that he had much gillnetting experience off the Colombia River on the West Coast. As I had gillnet experience too, we talked about nets. He was explaining ways to modify the cork & led lines to help sink the driftnets below the surface to avoid navigational hazards and detection. By modifying the web to a light monofilament that was super strong, etc. I was appalled! I asked the observer about the “Ban” on driftnets and he replied that they would be given 2 years to pull out, then they would stay away for a while, but then they would be back. The observer mentioned something to the effect of 10 years off, then 10 years on. This broke my heart. I had just purchased a fishing vessel for the sole purpose of this Albacore Tuna fishery and the thought of NMFS allowing driftnets to take over our fishery was beyond me. I wondered if NMFS was making a deal with the US canneries, who these driftnet vessels fish for, to allow this to continue. Did the United Nations know about this? Did the United Nations even know that there is and has been an international Albacore Troll Fleet as an “existing fishery”? All these questions ran through my head as I hunted for Albacore Tuna in vain that year.

In 1995, after 2 years of the disappearance of the driftnet fleet in the North Pacific, our catch rate, as trollers, went up and we started prospering again. As a loyal albacore supplier since 1988, to Samoa Packing, “Chicken of the Sea”, I was good friends with fleet manager, Dennis Chamberlain. I was telling Dennis how grateful I was for having the driftnets stopped in the Pacific. He told me of the big 300 ton fishing vessels that had just finished being built. He asked me what he was going to do with them, if not driftnet. I asked Dennis if he could put poles on them and they could troll with us. He just laughed and shook his head “no”.

In the years to follow, the 3 major US canneries, Chicken of the Sea, Star-Kist Tuna, and Bumble Bee Tuna, bought less & less Albacore Tuna from the Troll fleet, stating that they were under contract with Asian countries and were no longer interested in purchasing fish caught by the sustainable “jig” boats. Meanwhile large freezer ships anchored in American Samoa waiting to unload albacore tuna caught in the Indian Ocean. This surplus of fish kept the world market price low. The troll fleet, no longer with a major outlet for their albacore tuna, turned to alternate marketing such as small private labels of their own and, with the help of Canadian processors, developed a high grade fresh frozen loin market that helped raise the market value.

In the mean time, a Northern Committee was formed, and treaties were made mainly pertaining to the salmon species. The US Coast Guard was to seize any driftnet vessel having salmon on board in international waters. If the Coast Guard were to find tuna or squid on board, they were to contact the IUU driftnet vessel’s “flag state”, to make arrangements to hand over, or release the vessel to.

This management measure of enforcement discriminates between the salmon fishery and the tuna fishery. Is the salmon more special than the tuna? It also discriminates against the squid fishery, as fishers that use the “jig” method of fishing will be hindered by fishers using the driftnet fishery. It could be also said about the long line swordfish fishery, operating out of Hawaii, is hindered by the IUU driftnets as well.

A moratorium on high seas driftnets, targeting any species that has a sustainable or otherwise fishery already in place that will suffer from driftnets, is a violation of international law “Law of the Sea” and the “Codes of Conduct”. This method of fishing should be discouraged, not encouraged. All agencies aware of this conflict should speak out.

 In the spring of 2003, while unloading our South Pacific season to Samoa Packing, “Chicken of the Sea”, the new fleet manager, Mr. Sue, tried to introduce me to the new owner of “Chicken of the Sea”. Mr. Sue informed me that Mr. Edmund Gann had sold his share to Thai Union and that this new sole owner had driftnet boats. I tried to talk to the new owner, but he would not confront me. In the summer of 2003, the Albacore Tuna Troll fleet had just finished loading the second freezer ship of the season when the albacore production dropped off drastically. As trollers expanded the coverage of the Convention Area, driftnet vessels were discovered to the west of the fishing grounds. Many of the trollers vacated the area and moved east towards the West Coast. I got a message from John Sylvester, manager of Marine Chartering, asking me if we wanted to order another freezer ship. I told him that our production dropped and not many boats were interested. He was surprised to hear this and said there had been reports of good production coming from our competitors. They had filled a freezer ship and are ordering another freezer ship. I asked, “what competitors” and he replied, “the driftnet fleet”. I assumed he was supplying the driftnet fleet with the freezer ships and asked him “How could you do such a thing?” He replied that he was not involved and that a bigger fish broker from Japan was doing the transshipping. John apologized for our misfortune and that was the end of our transshipping days.

In 2004 I reported the tragedy to NMFS officer Mr. Gordon in Pago Pago, American Samoa. I explained of the driftnet fleet taking over our fishing grounds. Mr. Gordon asked “who are they?” I told him to ask “Chicken of the Sea” cannery. He said he would have a word with them. Mr. Gordon later returned to tell me that “They” wanted me off the ocean and that “they were going to “kill me”. He went on to say that there is nothing he could do about it. I told him that I was going to try to report this to the United Nations. He bid me “good luck”. That was the last time I spoke to my long time friend Mr. Gordon. I was now threatened by the driftnet fleet threw the NMFS. Even after reporting in my fishing log books and submitting pictures of our driftnet scratched fish, nothing was going to be done to stop this discrimination.

This is not the 1st time driftnet vessels discriminated against trollers. Driftnet vessels, targeting on squid, salmon & shark, took over the North Pacific albacore "troll" fishing grounds starting around 1980 -1991. The driftnet fleet followed the trollers down to the South Pacific in 1990 where they continued to exploit the albacore tuna stocks. I am sure that damage is done to the Ocean’s resources in other parts of the world as well.

The fact that this fishery has existed for so long without recognition shows how deeply rooted the corruption goes. I can no longer make a living as a sustainable high seas albacore troll fisherman. Warehouse stores, in my own country of USA, like Costco have albacore tuna stacked up in the aisles for dirt cheap prices. The cans of tuna do not have a “product of” on their labels. Instead, the labels read “distributed by …” The tuna could be from anyone and anywhere.