DRIFTNET CAMPAIGN MISSION
To end driftnetting worldwide.
Driftnetting is the most destructive form of fishing ever devised. 40-mile-long nets are laid in a straight line, 50 feet deep. Laid perpendicular to fish and marine animal migrations, they float like invisible unbreakable spider webs, catching everything which cannot swim through a mesh size as small as 4″. Driftnets can strip-mine the life out of an area in only a few seasons, leaving a lifeless watery desert. Greenpeace Foundation created the fight to ban them, a fight still in progress to save whales, seals, dolphins, seabirds, turtles, and hundreds of other species – including the overfished “target” fish species.
The United Nations passed a moratorium on deep-sea driftnet fishing in 1992, nine years after Greenpeace Foundation introduced the issue to the world by mounting the world’s first at-sea campaign against the technology. Greenpeace Foundation’s current Advisory Board members played a significant personal role in obtaining this U.N. moratorium.
However, the UN moratorium does not cover the 200-mile EEZ’s of coastal nations, often the most densely populated by ocean life. Since nearly all pelagic species migrate into these EEZ’s, this amounts to a huge loophole which is allowing hundreds of driftnet boats to continue the destructive practices which have been banned on the high seas.
Moreover, on the high sea themselves, “pirate” driftnetters take advantage of gaps in enforcement and oversight to “strip mine” the life from remote regions such as the Indian Ocean, which is a designated as a Sperm whale sanctuary. Among the vast amounts of other life being devastated – dolphins, seals, turtles, seabirds, and hundreds of other species – this is probably the largest kill of sperm whales and beaked whales in the world today.
It is “conventional wisdom” among many conservationists today that driftnetting is no longer a danger, but that’s far from the case. It has gone underground and is being done far from prying eyes on the high seas as opportunity permits. Worse, as the declining “net energy” available to human societies has started a permenent decline, oversight will become more difficult, and far-seas fisheries will have a huge incentive to turn to the “smash & grab” of driftnetting.
Greenpeace Foundation is a founding member of the international DriftNetwork, a coalition of non-governmental organizations, scientists, and lay people around the world who investigate and expose the existence of bilateral driftnetting contracts between nations, and the activities of “pirate” driftnet vessels, in order to Shut Them Down… and prevent a huge new driftnet commerce from developing as the global economy begins its inexorable slowdown.
Prior to 1983, the existence of large driftnet fleets was unknown to the public at large, and even to most fisheries biologists.
Driftnets are enormous “gillnets” made of monofilament fishing line, of varying mesh size. The nets are laid out in an invisible wall at the ocean’s surface, from the surface to 30-50 feet deep and often in excess of 40 miles long. Like an enormous spiderweb, nothing which comes into contact with the nets survives. Fleets lay their nets end to end, catching everything which swims in the upper 50 feet of the seas.
The technology is extremely cheap, but produces enormous “bycatch” of “non-target species”. Often more than 90% of the weight of a catch is discarded, even though this “bycatch” may consist of threatened or endangered species.
The chief driftnetting nations have been Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. Ironically, small driftnets were initially promoted by the UNFAO to poor nations for subsistence fishing. It was not long before the technique was adapted by Asian fishing nations to “strip mine” the seas with enormously long nets. (Notably, Japan banned the use of this technology in its own waters while using it in the waters of other nations).
Greenpeace Foundation first began calling for a global banning of the technology in 1981, based on reports of carnage in the Bering Sea salmon fishery, then conducted by Japan in U.S. waters.
In 1982, Don White (then president of Greenpeace Foundation) secured an agreement from Sakutaro Fujiya, head of Japan’s Salmon Fisheries Cooperative, to meet in Japan to discuss ways to ameliorate the high kills of seabirds and Dall’s porpoise in the Bering Sea fishery. Two days before White’s plane was to leave for Japan, Fujiya called off the meeting and broke off talks.
In response, White planned an expedition to document the Bering Sea kill and create an internationally-televised documentary on the destructiveness of driftnets. Securing primary funding from Ted Turner, Greenpeace Foundation chartered the vessel Rainbow Warrior (from Greenpeace International) and jointly crewed it for the expedition.
In the summer of 1983, the campaign encountered the Japanese driftnet vessel Yahiko Maru in U.S. waters of the Bering sea, and documented the kill of Dall’s porpoise and seabirds. The crew then deployed zodiacs and gave chase to prevent the setting of the Yahiko Maru’s nets. For the first time in history, human intervention stopped a driftnet from being deployed. As an inherently destructive technology, this is the only way to prevent a massive bycatch: don’t let them go into the water in the first place.
WTBS, under contract with and oversight from Greenpeace Foundation, subsequently produced the internationally-aired special “From No Man’s Land a Porpoise Cries”, the first documentary of driftnet destruction and a wake-up call to people and fisheries of the world. By 1984, Japan was denied entry into U.S. waters of the Bering Sea.
In 1986, Greenpeace Foundation provided excerpts of these exclusive images to Greenpeace International campaigner Alan Reichman, who used them to convince Australia to ban Taiwanese driftnet fleets from its EEZ
The end of legal deep-sea driftnetting had to wait until 1988 for its final catalyst. The organization Earthtrust conducted the definitive voyage to document the world’s largest and most destructive fishery. It consolidated those images, and that data, over the next three years into a coordinated international push for a global moratorium, culminating in a unanimous United Nations vote in 1991. The Coordinator of that international effort was Sue White, now the President of Greenpeace Foundation.
For the definitive (and extensive) briefing document on Driftnets by Earthtrust, click this link.
With its historic – and current – expertise, Greenpeace Foundation is working to get the word out: the issue isn’t over yet. Pelagic driftnet fleets have been the worst destroyers of living wildlife biomass in human history, second, perhaps, only to the burning of tropical rainforests. The victories to date against this wasteful technology have been, therefore, the largest-scale environmental victories in history. Greenpeace Foundation started this campaign, and its current president coordinated the greatest international victory against driftnets.
Despite the victories to date, driftnets are a cheap and seductive technology that is readily available to the unscrupulous, and the only answer to the threat they pose is vigilance.