My first time on board a tuna long liner

I understand the idea of sacrificing mind and body for a set time with promise of a relatively large lump sum at the end. But these workers are not even guaranteed that.

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My first time on board a tuna long liner

My first visit to a long lining tuna fishing vessel happened yesterday morning. Nine of us piled into a small boat, a driver and crew member included, and sped away from the Rainbow Warrior to visit and document the long liner. 

Their captain enthusiastically motioned for us to come closer as we battled against the ship's bow wave to get close enough to nimbly hop aboard one at a time in rhythm to the rise and fall of the waves.

The crew was a mixture of Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, and Fijian. Several of our party chatted with the Chinese captain on the bridge, going over the ship's documents and reconciling travel and catch records. 

The rest of us fanned out across the ship observing and documenting anything suspicious and speaking with crew who we shared languages with. They were setting out their long line when we arrived and the work operations did not cease. 

I talked to a Fijian man who also spoke English. He would throw a buoy connected to the line off the stern every minute or so when a special alarm sang out. He had been fishing for 8 months, on three-month contracts. He said his pay is 30 Fijian dollars a day ($14 USD), and that it's low considering they start before sunrise and work late into the night/early morning. The other Fijian on board was missing one of his thumbs from an accident aboard a past fishing ship when a fishing line got tangled around it and took it off.

This ship was only built a few years ago, but I wouldn't have guessed it was less than 15 years old. There were large amounts of rust on every railing and bulkhead above deck. The floors and walkways were wooden and slick with water and a tattered red flag flew behind the engine exhaust stack up top. Articles of clothing hung on lines and clamps through out the ship. Still, I thought it had much character and the look of a true work ship that doesn't get the TLC it needs. 

Their fish holds below deck was almost full, 100 tons out of its 112 ton capacity.

Many of the crew wanted to take selfies with us and one in particular stood out to me as very young, though it can be hard to judge ages. The ship itself was a rust bucket and the work seems exhausting and never ending, but the mood of the crew was casual and there weren't any obvious signs of distress or subterfuge. 

We left after about an hour and parted ways with smiles, handshakes, and waves of goodbye.

I have worked in industrial agriculture in the US, done 100+ hour weeks sometimes for months on end in isolating conditions, sleeping in a pitched tent among many or few, and for pay that seemed meager (though more than these fishermen are getting). 

I came away from the visit with a dominant sense of empathy, and also sadness more than any other emotions. 

I understand the idea of sacrificing mind and body for a set time with promise of a relatively large lump sum at the end. But these workers are not even guaranteed that. 

From what we hear, if fisherman break a contract for any reason - for which there are truly frightening and valid reasons, fear for their life being one of them - they lose the pay the company holds till the end of their contract, which can be a big percentage. And they could be stranded in whichever port they're in with no ticket home. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s this idea of using everything up (ships, tuna, people) as fast as possible to make money as fast as possible. This isn’t good for any of us – the people working on the ships, the people who eat tuna, the Pacific island nations or the oceans themselves, which we all rely on in one way or another. 

- Russell 

Russel