Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Commercial Fishing in Kiribati

On my way back from Orlando I picked up a travelogue of an American who spent two years living in Kiribati. The book is The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost. Most Micronesians would probably find it offensive, but for the many ex-pats living in Micronesia it should be a fun read. While Saipan is nowhere near as remote or undeveloped as Tarawa in Kiribati, I felt like I knew where this guy was coming from.

One of the passages in the book was about commercial tuna fishing. In the lead up to the passage he is complaining about the food and how they have fish for every meal. He preferred eating tuna to some of the other types of fish, but one day the tuna disappeared from the local fish stands.
I biked the entire length of South Tarawa searching for a tuna. But there was nothing. Just the dreaded salt fish and a few sharks. It was as if giant nets had suddenly appeared to enmesh every tuna in the greater Tarawa area. It was like that because that's what had actually happened. The Korean fishing fleet had gathered in Tarawa Lagoon to offload their catch onto huge mother ships. Emptied of fish, the trawlers immediately set forth to empty the seas around Maiana and Abaiang, the fishing grounds that supplied Tarawa. I could see them from the house, giant fishing machines with industrial silhouettes that I had last seen in New Jersey, and I could only imagine the effect of their wakes on inshore canoes. That the government of Kiribati allowed this was deplorable. There are two million square miles of ocean in Kiribati's exclusive economic zone in which the trawlers can fish, and yet they were permitted to work the twenty square miles of water upon which half of the nation's population depends for sustenance, betraying again the ineptitude and petty corruption of Kiribati's leaders. The fish sellers were glum. Each day they appeared with a few reef or lagoon fish, all that their husbands and brothers and fathers could catch now that the deepwater fish, the fish that could be consumed with a strong likelihood of maintaining one's stomach intact, had been netted, destined for the canneries of Korea. Usually, we could weather these periodic convergences of idiocy and bad luck, but during these same tuna-less weeks an event of cataclysmic proportions occurred, an event that tested our very will to live. The beer ran out.
Interesting, huh?

I've got the book in my office if anyone wants to borrow it. I also just finished Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman if anyone wants to read that one, too.


KelliOnSaipan said...

Sadly, it sounds like a Saipan prophecy.

g00$e said...

Don't need to read the book, I've seen Taiwanese and Ukrainian (!$!) trawlers and long liners in action throughout FSM. American fleets in Hawaii before that.

Amazing that while all other island nations in the region are implementing conservation measures CNMI is considering an arrangement allowing commercial longliners to operate in the Northern Island area.