'Not Here, Not Anywhere': The Global Outrage Over Monster Fishing Trawlers

Capable of sucking up 7,000 tons of fish in 1,800-foot long nets, giant ships kill off small fishermen.
Greenpeace activists protest the FV Margiris as it attempts to leave port from Holland in 2012. (Photo: Olaf Kraak/Getty Images)
Oct 6, 2013· 2 MIN READ
A six-time grantee of the National Geographic Expeditions Council, Jon writes about all things ocean.

‘Monster’ as an adjective is almost always linked to all things American, suggesting big, giant, super-sized. Think trucks, burgers, box stores and even energy drinks.

But out there on the world’s ocean, floats a fleet of so-called "Monster Trawlers," which have absolutely no affiliation with the U.S. of A. In fact, most are registered in the distinctly petite nation of Holland.

These giant boats are responsible for leaving behind a wake of dead fisheries from Europe to Africa and across the South Pacific, raising concerns among marine conservationists, charter boat operators, and recreational fishermen around the world. They're so gross that even the head of the EU Fisheries Commission calls the fleet—organized under the banner of Pelagic Freezer Trawler Association—“obese.”

Netherlands-based Farah Obaidullah has worked as a Greenpeace campaigner for eight years, focusing on the plight of small fishermen around the globe. She recently oversaw an action in Valparaiso, Chile, where fishermen and activists protested the broaching of nearby waters by the biggest of the so-called monster trawlers from Europe—ships that are literally sucking fish from the Pacific Ocean using sophisticated sonar and 1,800-foot-long nets.

“It saddens me that we have reached a point where average small-scale fisherman can no longer make a decent living,” says Obaidullah.

“What I am witnessing is growing global opposition to the way decision-makers assist the worst offenders on our waters by subsidizing damaging activities, offering access to the most remote parts of our oceans and not having sufficient regulations in place,” she says. “The victims are those who depend on healthy oceans for food and income, including you and me. The oceans belong to all of us.”

Greenpeace admits the Chilean protest got a little out of hand though, and disassociated itself when local fishermen started a fuel-fire on the water near the giant ship’s hull.

A week after the Chilean protests, fishermen in the West African nation of Mauritania called for the mega trawlers to be banned from nearby Atlantic Ocean fisheries. They cited the example of the Annelies Ilena, which had been fishing Mauritanian waters a few weeks ago and caught 7,000 tons of fish in a single day—enough to feed 291,000 Africans for an entire year.

The biggest of the boats, the one protested in Chile, is the FV Margiris, capable of storing 6,000 tons of fish at one time. It has been circling the globe, fishing and freezing its catch as it goes along and increasingly dragging sizable protests in its wake. Serviced by smaller boats that carry its catches to the nearest ports, the big ship very rarely needs to anchor or dock.

Initially registered in Australia and named after local hero Abel Tasman, the ship was chased from the country in 2012 by protestors and then by the legislature, which passed laws forbidding all monster ships from Australian waters. The country specifically told the newly-named Margiris not to come back. The ship was next sighted off the coast of New Zealand, before pulling into a small port in Chile in September.

Among the multitude of problems with the big boats is that they deplete not just local fisheries but fishing grounds for hundreds of miles. They put millions of small fishermen’s livelihoods at risk. They leave behind literally tons of dead or dying fish scooped up as bycatch. They lay waste to endangered animals, including turtles, sea rays, manta rays and sharks.

By constantly staying away from ports, the big ships pay virtually no taxes on either their operation or on what they catch.

Greenpeace is leading the charge to get the monster ships off the high seas. “Not here, not anywhere” is becoming a global cry.

“While Australia's ban is a victory for our oceans, the problem doesn't end there,” says Obaidullah. “Fish stocks around the world are in serious trouble because there are simply too many boats chasing too few fish and not enough regulations to control them, particularly in international waters. Governments can and must change this by reducing their bloated fleets, starting with the monster boats.”