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, Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association, This Report was heard, discussed, but unfortunately not numbered or recorded, that I know of. It is unfinished business!!
Driftnet Fleet Encounter part I
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" ."Walloda" is registered in Cook Islands, HS#0014003, Doc #CI96/10. I am also the owner & manager of US f/v "Miss Angie", Doc #546377 .Both fishing vessels were fishing & traveling together during this report.
In October 2005, we were traveling west to the area of 40%N (lat) x 170%E(Lon). This area is known as the "Emperor Sea-mount". Commonly referred by the US & Canadian Troll fleet as "The Rock". We had some good fishing earlier in the year (July), along with the Japanese bait boats.
On October 8th at 2400 hrs, we started hearing open traffic on vhf radio channel 16. The language was Asian of some sort. possibly Filipino, or Taiwanese. Since VHF Channel 16 is a Hailing & distress channel only, we found this both odd & disrespectful.
October 9th, 0200 hrs, we picked up 2 targets on radar. 1st target was 13 miles North of us. The 2nd target was 11 miles south of us.Both vessels were traveling East.The opposite direction of us. These boats were not big targets like Ships & were traveling approximately 7.8 knots. Too slow for ship traffic.
I must add that our vessel is equipped with a very powerful radar. We can receive targets up to 30 miles away. Driftnet vessels have big superstructures & make good targets on the radar. Unfortunately so do we....I suspect Driftnets!
I, for 1, Have been dealing with this Driftnet Problem for 20 some years. They are cagey, & try not to be seen. I know there tactics. They always stay 9-10 miles away from me know. They won't let me get close anymore. These boats appear to be setting gill net gear west to east across "The Rock"=41%N lat X 172%E Lon, & 40.40%N lat X 172%E Lon.
We continued West threw the night. Just before daylight, another target appeared 14 miles north from us.
We started metering fish down 20-30 fathoms, but the tuna fish would not come up to bite. We turned North to wards the radar targeted vessel.
October 9th 0900 hrs. I tried hailing vessel on VHF Chanel 16. No answer back.
We got within 10 miles of f/v, until He turned North away from us.
Again We Metered Fish marks down 20 fathoms deep, but would not come to the surface were we can catch them.
At 1200 hrs. I sent a e-mail to Natalie Webster, the New manager of the New AAFA (American Albacore Fishing Association) which I was a Proud New member of.
"Morning Natalie, Hope things are good with you.I am taking a final look off shore for the season and ran into a bunch of gill netters. Is there a e-mail address to send information to report these boats? I would love to see them off the ocean. Isn't there some way to get them to stop? My "Off Shore" days are over!
All the best, John-boy"
These Guys are supposed to be Banned!?
October 9th 1400 hrs, after radar target vessel moved off to the Northeast, We changed course back to the Southwest. It wasn't long before we picked up another similar target coming from the west to wards us.
Approximately 40.42%N lat X 170.21%E Lon, we crossed paths, as the vessel passed me staying way to the south, never letting me get too close.
At 1500 hrs, we saw 2 more targets at the positions 40.33%N lat X 170.07%E Lon, & 40.30%N lat X 169.50%E. We were now on the same fishy spot from 2 months ago. I tried hailing ( calling) vessels on VHF #16, but no response. They would call each other, and have many vessels check in, then they went off the air. Nothing but silence.
We metered some fish, but they would not come up to the surface. The little fish we caught were small 10 lb fish , or fish with scratches on them. The meter marks appeared light, or orange, which indicates small fish. As trollers, we would not stay to work the fish in the area as the size is too small.
At 2000 hrs., after heading west a while, we came across another vessel. I could see he was working his way to the east and passed to south of us. We shut down (stopped, drifting). It was now dark & the vessel was pulling his gear to wards us, as we drifted south toward him. We got 2 miles from each other which is the closest in a long time. I could see his profile with his lights on. A high cabin forward, like a whale back design, only boxy. Typical for a driftnet boat. He left us, at 39.50% N lat. X 169.40%E Lon., moving to the east.
At daybreak, October 10th, we woke up in Hot water.65.9%f was almost 2% warmer then the night before. We started heading Northwest for cooler water. We ran across a long liner sunning his gear. We talked to each other on VHF radio # 16, giving directions & speeds,etc. At least He responded & was cautious.
At 0800 hrs I received a e-mail from Natalie, with AAFA telling me She passed on the message to the US Coast Guard. Natalie even passed on a USCG address to me, so I wrote:
"Dear LT. Szeto,
My name is John Harder. U.S. Captain of f/v "Walloda". I am involved in High Seas Trolling for Albacore Tuna. I want to report sitings of 7 High Seas Driftnet Vessels. 2 in the area of 41.30%N X 173.00%E, & 5 in the area of 41.%N X 169.45%E. Drift net boats working openly on VHF# 16. I tried talking with them, but they would not respond. The fleet 0f boats are working east.
Please put a stop to this madness!! We are having the worst season ever! Our fish stocks are gone! The US "off shore" Albacore fleet is Extinct, non existent because someone has allowed this Drift netting to go on for years! Hope you can help.
Sincerely, John Harder"
We continued traveling Northwest to get into cooler water. We traveled all that day & threw the night.
At daybreak, October 11th approximately 41.15%N X 167.30%E we hit a strong water edge. We started catching small fish & seeing schools of fish around. We were having a productive day. We worked the school to the North, until we passed by a flag marker buoy made out of bamboo. Once we passed the flag, the tuna fish stopped biting. I just wanted to pull it up, but then thought better not.
At 1000 hrs. we got a target coming to wards us from the west. He worked up to 11 miles of us, then changed course to the north. He traveled 10 miles north, then turned east to avoid us. We milled around the area catching a few small & metering fish inside his net 20 fathoms deep. We monitored his marker buoy drifting to the Southeast.
After 5-6 hrs of fooling around, here comes the same vessel from the east. We went 8-9 miles upwind of the flag marker, then shut down (stopped) for the night.
The driftnet vessel was having a hard time pulling & was moving slow. He was pulling his gear against the current which causes the net to pile up together in a big nasty ball. We drifted up to 4 miles away, and could see He was a big 200 ft. schooner with aft cabin like a big long liner. The driftnet vessel tuned out his lights as he passed within 1/2 a mile from our stern.
We watched, as this Driftnet vessel worked all threw the night, then drifted close to us till morning.
Daybreak, October 12th we were at 41.15%N lat X 168.05%E, and our driftnet friend was 14 miles to the east of us. He was moving east slowly. We decided to tail Him, since we had to go east to meet up with our partner boat "Miss Angie" the next day.
At 1800 hrs., while heading east, we came across a big bird school. This would be an indication of fish normally. As we got close, the crew shouted out "Turn Off, Turn the boat! Gill net in the water!"
Sure enough, I had to turn hard over to avoid running over a giant wad of net. Our fishing lures went flying into the air, as they ripped down the tag lines, or popped off. At least I didn't get it in the propeller. This must have come from the Driftnet vessel ahead of us, just tossed overboard. I wish I could have grabbed it, but it was too big & the weather was getting sloppy. There was a lot of Ocean life around too. We saw a sperm whale & lots of dolphins around the area. I felt sad & sorry for them. I sent another e-mail to Natalie Webster with AAFA, and the USCG updating them on our new siting. We shut down & Prayed.
At 1800 hrs. I wrote to AAFA: "Good Day to you Natalie, Just thought I would give you a little update....Big pile of net in possition 41:26%N X 168:07%E..big 200 ft. Driftnet vessel...Guess there's not much consideration around here. By for now, John-boy."
October 13th, at daybreak, We met up with our partner boat "Miss Angie", & started traveling west again. The weather got worse, 30 knots of wind with 4 ft swells. We just traveled to the west wondering why bother anymore, were finished.
At daybreak, October 14th we were at 41.20%N lat X 167.45%E. We started moving North along a good water edge. The weather got better & the sky cleared.
Approximately 15.30 hrs. A USCG plain flew by "Miss Angie", our partner boat.
It was a whisper jet out of Juno AK. A small quiet plain just right for the job. My heart soured! This was a perfect day to Identify IUU vessels. No fog in the area. I pointed & waved into the East. The direction of the Driftnet fleet.
I then wrote to American Albacore Fishing Association (AAFA) : Hi Natalie, Wow, the Coast Gaurd went by few minutes ago. Nice quiet plane. So cool. We wish them luck. Nice and clear where were at. Please let me know what they find 1st thing! Thanks for all you do, John-boy
For the next few days, we continued West to 41.45%N lat X 163.15%E without seeing another vessel. We had a memorial service for our Grandfather of the Fleet "Sleepy"
"Pops", "Stephinooooo", "White Water", "Sleepy", "Captain America", Steve had many alias's. We lost "Pops", Captain of the f/v "America", earlier that year. We went back to were He left us & payed tribute. Stephino Loved the off shore fishery. He was the one who kept us all together. "God bless Sleepy". He will be missed, but not forgotten!
October 18th we returned to the area of 41.45%N lat X 168.30&E Lon. There were no boats in the area at all. Only a few small fish caught on our jigs.
On October 19th, we went threw the area of 40.20%N lat X 170.14% E Lon where there was heavy driftnet activity earlier. Not a boat around. They all split. We continued moving East.
Why would these vessels vacate the area if they were not hiding something?
October 20th, our position was 40.31%N lat X 172.50%E Lon. We saw a small tanker coming real close to another boat. They came together, then stopped briefly, before changing course to 2 different directions. The small tanker went on a Westerly heading, while the fishing vessel went Northeast.
Maybe this was the small tanker who was going around filling 50 Chinese fishing vessels back in June. We tried ordering fuel threw Clipper Oil company. They hooked us up with a fuel boat coming out of Russia. The time came for us to rondavue at 42%N lat X 153% E Lon., but the tanker was too busy fueling 50 Chinese vessels & we had to wait. That's when we new the driftnet boats were coming. We bailed out of there heading for the coast. Just like we always do. Nothing we can do to stop them. We can't catch a fish around them, so we just turn Her east, and head for home.
In this case "Miss Angie" & "Walloda" turned south & headed for Fiji Islands. We had no payload. We might as well take the fish home & give it to family & friends. To people who will appreciate the fish.
On October 21 we left for Fiji. Not knowing if we would have funds to make It back.
ETA, Suva Fiji : November 15th.
I must further note, in my past years experience, long liners do not work in this area. They stay South of 40 %N lat. Long line vessels fish in warmer water. There ideal SST is 66%f - 74% f. The long line fleet try to communicate with us on VHF #16, or switch to a working channel. We exchange information, give headings & gear positioning, etc. Long liners do not set north & south of each other. They normally work a certain Latitude, or temperature curb that runs east & west. They work side by each. They give each other lots of space to fish.
Driftnet vessels tend to stack up on the same Longitude. Having 3-4 nets running east & west on the same Longitude, just different Latitudes. just like these vessels. I once ran threw 7 driftnets in one night going due North. This was during a fuel charter set up by WFOA & ARRF back in 1991. After 10 years of Drift netting in the North Pacific, from 1981 - 1991, the stocks of albacore tuna were damaged then too. 2005 & 1991 fishing seasons were identical. DEPLETED.
Normally, Driftnet boats haul there fish at night. They run from us when we try to get close. These boats were working the same SST that We Trollers work. 60%f - 65% f. This water is too cold for long liners.
These Driftnet vessels, and others, have been robbing our albacore tuna fish stocks for years now. Not allowing any fish to migrate threw to the east. I have been fishing this very spot for approximately 10+ years now, and no long line vessels ever fished with us. Only the Glorious Japanese Pole Fleet share these fishing grounds with us. They are truly the best that I have ever seen!
Please take away these driftnets, let our ocean life heal Herself. Then we can come back and use the sustainable tuna method of Troll & Pole fishing. If the driftnets would troll, like us, we could all catch fish today! No hook & line vessel can stand a chance against the Driftnets. I truly believe all but 1 of these vessels are driftnet boats after tuna. Any long liner, or pole fishing boat would be crazy to fish next to a driftnet vessel. We just do Not mix!
I Thank the USCG, and especially Natalie Webster from AAFA for helping me expose these boats. I do not think this is the answer. The USCG has there job to do and should not have to include being patrolling fishing boats. This problem comes from the source. The source is the fish buyer, or receiver. Fisheries need to be managed, protected, and enforced were fish are landed! Not so mutch as were fish are caught. All boats should be accounted for, and matched up with their fishery that also is accounted for. All fish buyers should have the fish verified from each vessel fishing. For without total compliance, we have nothing! We all must abide together.
Fish buyers, & Canneries know were there fish comes from. They probably own most of these IUU driftnet boats. I wish they would stop hiding behind loopholes in the law to try and justify their actions. For example : United Nations Vs. Communist, or USA not recognizing "The Law Of The Sea". This is so sad. There used to be a clause in the "Law of the Sea" stating that No one fishery can impose, or threaten another. This makes sense. Why it was taken out, or amended, I have no idea.
Just the bare fact that all people who know of the driftnet fishery being conducted, and not reporting it, is a wrongful act. Fish Canneries and fish receivers, NMFS, Fish brokers, fish transshippers or carriers, fuel companies, Government agencies all know of this fishery being active, but do not report it, or take actions to stop it. We could have placed sanctions on participating nations years ago!
We have such high tech means at our fingertips, for example transponders, satellite imagery, enmarsats with tracking codes, etc. We should have this as mandatory for fishing. If we wanted to stop this madness, we could do it in a heartbeat. But they don't want to.
It is like saying " Here John-boy, you get this nice POP Gun to hunt with. And over here, You get this big machine gun to use. Now you all go hunt turkeys"
I am not allowed to fish with long driftnets as these vessels do, nor do I want to. I want to fish using sustainable tuna methods.
I have a permit to fish this area & method. Driftnet vessels do not!
How can they be allowed to deplete the ocean? Everyone knows that Driftnets are the most Non sustainable method of all.
Please help me rid this fishery once and for all!
"BAN" ALL High Seas Driftnets.
Get rid of the word "Moratorium" and replace it with "Ban"
Sincerely, John Harder
Captain of f/v "WALLODA"
Owner of f/v "Miss Angie"