In a remarkable follow up to recent stories of fish pirates and slavery at sea, more than 300 slave fishermen were set free in Indonesia, and a notorious pirate ship was intentionally sunk by its crew to avoid prosecution this past week.
An amazing adventure came to a dramatic end last Monday: The captain of a rogue fishing vessel that had been tailed by activists for more than three months apparently sank his ship off West Africa rather than face arrest with a load of illegally caught fish.
The Law of the Sea Convention recently ruled that flag states would from now on be held responsible for the illegal fishing carried out by their ships. Until now, flag states have not been held responsible for the damages, financial or environmental, wrought by boats fishing illegally. The F/V Thunder, which has changed names more than a dozen times over its decade long career as a toothfish poacher (aka Chilean Sea Bass), was registered in Lagos, Nigeria—except that last week, the Nigerian authorities delisted it, which made it a stateless, officially pirate vessel for the last few days of its life.
Siddharth Chakravarty of the Sea Shepherd Group, said that the captain of the rogue ship Thunder, a Chilean, had told him that it sank because it had suffered a collision, an unlikely story. “We had crew on their boat and they noticed that all the doors had been tied open, which is the opposite of what you do if you’re taking on water after a collision,” he said. “Then the officers had neatly packed bags, so I have no doubt this was a planned, very intentional scuttling designed to remove evidence,” Chakravarty said. “The crew of the Thunder, including the officers, were cheering and chanting from the life rafts as it sank.”
The same trawlers that had enslaved countless migrant fishermen for years carried more than 300 of them to freedom last Saturday, following a dramatic rescue from a remote Indonesian island that many men believed would likely be their final resting place. “I’m so happy, I wanted to go home for so long,” said Aung Aung, 26, who lifted his hair on the left side of his head to show a fat, jagged scar stretching from his lip to the back of his neck — the result of a machete attack by his captain’s son. “I missed home and especially after I was cut … I was afraid I would die there.”
The Burmese men were among hundreds of migrant workers revealed in an Associated Press investigation to have been lured or tricked into leaving their countries to go to Thailand, where they were put on boats and brought to Indonesia. From there, they were forced to catch seafood that was shipped back to Thailand and exported to consumers around the world, including the United States.
Gulf of Mexico fishermen are threatened by a daily wave of foreign illegal fishing vessels and they are calling on Congress to take action. “Illegal fishing is a direct threat to the livelihoods of thousands of hardworking Americans along the Gulf coast and we must do more to protect our coastal economies, our coastal businesses, and our fishermen,” said Congressman David Jolly (FL-13) near Madiera Beach, FL last week.
In NY they call them porgies. In Boston they call them scup. Call them what you will, they are a delicious, abundant and underloved species. Our fishermen friends in Point Judith, RI spoke with NPR about building a better market for scup (closer to Boston), and we could not agree more.
Last week Forbes published an interesting follow up to Oceana’s fish fraud report describing the concept of incorporating language specifically prohibiting seafood fraud into international trade treaties, while Food & Water Watch called on the FDA to declare GMO Salmon Unsafe to Eat.
Before joining the Sea to Table team, Jacob Tupper was a salmon fisherman in Sitka, AK. In a recently discovered video, Jacob describes why the Coho salmon that Sea to Table delivers stands above the rest. Pretty impressive stuff.
All the best,
from the Dimin Family and the Sea to Table team