Skipjack, seiners, and the sea – Week 3: Signs of life

This article continues from a previous post.

Come together, right now... under me

Come together, right now... under me

So another week has passed, and life aboard the Esperanza goes on relatively unchanged.  The air is muggy and heavy, tempered only by an ephemeral breeze, weak to the point of being almost imaginary.  The furious equatorial sun rises above the bow and slices the bridge open in the morning, spends the day beating its chest high in the sky, and finally tires itself out, slipping astern, red and exhausted beneath the indigo sea.

We still press on eastward, slowly gobbling up the massive distance between us and our final port, keeping watch for the purse seiners that ply these waters.  We also have daily watches that consist of various crew members staring at the sea, searching desperately for fish aggregating devices (FADs) — small rafts or buoys used by skipjack seiners that draw many different kinds of fish together, causing the bycatch problems that brought us out to the middle of the Pacific Ocean in the first place.

The problem is, we haven’t been able to find any of these things.  At least, not until a few days ago.

Ghost ship

Ghost ship

On Wednesday night, a blip appeared on the Esperanza radar screen.  It was over twenty miles out, moving quickly, and in completely the wrong direction, so direct confrontation was out of the question.  Still, we were able to raise the ship on the radio.  A short conversation confirmed that we had indeed found a purse seine vessel.  It was steaming northwest, off to find FADs that it had deposited earlier.

Since we were not going to be able to intercept it, we elected to use some subterfuge.  Without disclosing who we were, we mined the seiner’s radio operator for information.  A cordial discussion yielded some excellent direction about where we could go to “find some fish,” and where a “private vessel” such as ourselves could reasonably expect to find “productive fishing grounds.”

We cross-referenced the information we got from the seiner with our charts.  Everything was matching up — climactic anomalies, plankton blooms, underwater topography — and it all highlighted one particular area as a potential magnet for neighborhood skipjack poachers.  Luckily, this target zone was directly on our course, about a week away at full steam.

What're you looking at?

Aww.. you say such nice things

At present, we’re only about three days away.  The crew is energetic, and standard watches on the bridge have been augmented with volunteer labor by officers and deckhands that are eager to see some action.  We’ve seen increased signs of life as well in recent days, with pods of spinner dolphins cavorting off the bow and innumerable birds circling off the foredeck.  Flying fish continue to provide a beautiful distraction, especially when entire shoals of the delicate little creatures rise from the waves in unison, hundreds of  glimmering pairs of wings stretched akimbo, tiny shining bodies gliding effortlessly into the air as the ship splits the water just behind them.

More next week.  At the risk of being overconfident, I’m quite certain that I’ll have something more substantial to report by the time next Monday rolls around.

This article continues in a subsequent post.

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Sushi Hound
Nov 30, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Hang in there. Your blog really conveys both the spirit & daily grind of your & Greenpeace’s laudable commitment to the oceans. Thank you all.


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