There are still pirates out there, whether they be in a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or on the high seas, but they aren’t the swashbuckling kind you see in movies. Today’s pirates aren’t after gold; most are after the Pacific’s treasure – tuna stocks … which are perilously depleting.

Greenpeace International has released an online blacklist of fishing vessels involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, often referred to as “pirate fishing”. It is the first publicly available one-stop, independent record of pirate fishing.

Pirate fishing vessels are a scourge – they damage the environment and rob islanders of their livelihoods and sustenance. In places like the Pacific Ocean, where pirate fishing is rife, these fishing vessels leave the marine environment bruised and battered, undermining food security and attempts at sustainable management.

Earlier this year we freed live catch from a Taiwanese longliner in the Pacific. The catch included an Olive Ridley sea turtle (pictured below), considered a threatened species, as well as several oceanic sharks and a massive blue marlin.

There is also an economic cost. Globally, US$9 billion a year is lost to pirate fishing, and estimates in the Pacific range from US$134 million to US$400 million. Pirate fishing amounts to four times more than Pacific Island states earn in access fees and licenses.

Greenpeace International’s online blacklist is a step towards better regulating pirate fishing. It contains information on those vessels and companies recorded as engaging in IUU activities, but that are yet to be blacklisted by an official body. It includes independent observations from the legal fishing industry, government authorities, and first-hand evidence from Greenpeace and other NGOs.

Lagi Toribau, Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner, says that with little capacity or resources, fisheries authorities, particularly those in developing countries, have nowhere to turn when a vessel enters their waters or ports. The first step in getting the market to reject pirate-caught fish is to ensure that buyers can identify the ships and companies to avoid.

Longer-term solutions to overfishing require an effectively enforced network of marine reserves, protecting 40% of the world’s oceans, with regulated, sustainable fishing conducted elsewhere.

» Watch a video from Greenpeace’s 2008 tour in the Pacific Ocean