Interview with Eco Warrior Pete Bethune, Earthrace Conservation

New Zealander Pete Bethune has had a chequered career! Like many, I became aware of Pete’s ambitious projects when he hit the news headlines when he and his crew aboard the bio-fuel powered catamaran, Earthrace broke the world record for a circumnavigation by a powerboat. The journey was completed in 60 days, 23 hours and 49 minutes, beating the former record by over two weeks.

I first interview him just before he and his crew took Ady Gil (previously Earthrace) to Antarctica as part of Sea Shepherd’s 2010 anti whaling campaign. (F/M 2010 issue 116).

A Japanese whaling ship rammed the Ady Gil sinking her. Pete boarded the whaler, his intention being to issue a citizen’s arrest on her captain. For his trouble Pete was detained in a Japanese prison for around five months.

Since his return to New Zealand on 9 July 2010 he’s been busy setting up Earthrace Conservation. I caught up with him as he prepares his team for a project off the coast of Africa.

Dave Moran (DM): Pete what are the objectives of your new conservation project in Africa?

Pete Bethune (PB): East and West Africa have a growing problem of pirate fishing by foreign vessels. The region is estimated to have over US$1billion stolen annually without quota. As illegal fishing has increased, it has impacted heavily on local populations. It displaces artisanal fishermen who, in many cases, have no other option for employment. It takes away what is the dominant form of animal protein for local populations, in many cases forcing them to target local endangered land wildlife. It also takes away one of the few options the countries have for foreign exchange earnings.

Of course most governments there realize this but funding for enforcement is not easy. When an average income is, say, $5 per day, how can a government, already struggling with civil war, famine, AIDs and drought, fund half a million dollars for vessels and tactical hardware? The short answer is they cannot. The result is rampant and uncontrolled pirate fishing.

In terms of fishery state, it varies from country to country, but in most they are now under enormous pressure. A single trawler may take the equivalent catch of 1000 artisanal fishermen. So it doesn’t take many to severely impact the fishery, and hence, the local population.

If you take Somalia as an example, their fishery was largely cleaned out in the late 90s by a relatively small number of industrial vessels. In a country like Somalia racked by civil war, weapons are relatively easy to come by and some entrepreneurial types put the fishermen and weapons together. It wasn’t long before piracy became their fastest growing industry. Since then, Somalia has descended into one of the most lawless coastlines on earth, and many other countries in Africa face a similar fate if their fishing industries are not saved from foreign poaching…

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captivating interview here

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