The Truth About Tuna: Out On The High Seas

Out on the High Seas is the second installment of The Truth About Tuna, Lauren Reid's experiences from the front line of tuna fisheries in the Pacific Ocean that supply the U.S. She is currently sailing on the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior. Read her first update here.

We've been out at sea for a few days, edging steadily towards tuna fishing grounds in the Pacific. There have been lots of meetings, and briefings — and meetings about briefings. The food has been abundant and the coffee flows easily; both into my cup, then all over my jacket as the ship sways back and forth. Seeing as I'm not particularly graceful on land, the ocean swell gives me an excuse to fall all over the place without embarrassment.

What blows my mind is the nonchalant way the dangers of doing basically anything on this boat are rambled off during a breakfast meeting. References to pirates, smashed and/or lost fingers, falling overboard or potentially capsizing, seems to roll off the crew's tongues as easily as one would remark on their favorite flavor of ice cream. After 30 seconds of soul-splitting panic, it only takes one look around to realize there isn't a stronger group of people to keep the Rainbow Warrior perfectly safe.

I haven't seen any sealife yet, but the anticipation of spotting our first fishing vessel is building. We are a 31-person floating island, completely alone. It's hard to wrap my head around the idea that this is where canned tuna comes from. Here. Smack in the middle of the ocean.

The closer we get to the tuna fisheries, the more I understand the types of things we might see out on the tuna boats. They're not very comforting to say the least. It's anyone's guess what will happen once we reach our first vessel, but numerous reports (here, here and here, too) have brought to light a multitude of horrendous, unethical, and unsustainable practices around industrial fishing.[pullquote:right] The crew will soon be on the lookout for bycatch — when fishing vessels unintentionally harm or kill other marine life while fishing for tuna (sharks and sea turtles for example). Bycatch profoundly damages the fragile ecosystems here in the Pacific. It is one thing to read about tuna fishing, to talk and to watch videos about it. But now I'm coming upon the very moment I've been quietly obsessing about since heading from New Orleans to Auckland.

What the hell are we really going to find out there?

It's a surreal feeling, I must say—unequal parts overwhelming and exhilarating. Being at sea is strange enough, then add all the possibilities that might occur in the next few weeks and you can understand why I'm not sleeping as soundly as I would like.