Just after Christmas a large fishing boat appeared in the reef. Obviously this created a lot of discussion and the men in the village called a meeting to plan how they would approach the boat. It is illegal for fishing boats of this size to be on the reef, whether or not the boat got there by an accident. This situation really annoyed the people of Mortlock. Fishing boats are often seen close to the reef, impacting the fish population and more than two becoming wrecks. I was told it was the second of its kind to come this year.
After an animated meeting the men prepared to meet the boat, getting enough fuel and supplies for their very unstable fiber glass banana boats. I decided I wanted to film the encounter and asked to go with the men. It took us about twenty minutes with an outboard motor to get to the ship. When we arrived the men confidently got up on the boat and, like a pirate battle, climbed up on to the ship, taking food and cigarettes. Then, in a more “civilized” fashion, they asked to see the ship's license and tried to communicate with them, requesting them to come back to the island. The men on the ship refused but after about two hours of negotiation it was agreed they would give the community 1000 fish and have a boat come to remove the ship by about 3.00pm the following day.
Meanwhile I filmed the ship continually dragging in net after net of skipjack tuna. I couldn't believe my eyes to see how much fish was pillaged from the sea that afternoon, and although this fish was "supposedly" caught further out from the reef than where the ship was stuck (in the legal place to fish) it is very questionable. “How did they get this close to the reef anyway?” said many of the men, "they have GPS systems and we have seen this kind of thing so many times now". It made me think twice about eating seafood when I saw how much fish was taken. The boys and myself guessed the amount of fish caught could have fed the Takuu community for over one and half years. Just think how many more hours and time it would have taken the fisherman of Takuu to get this much fish, and compare it to one day’s work for this boat .. the thought is quite mind-blowing really.
When the fish was given to the men of Takuu we loaded it in the flotilla of boats. Being incredibly hungry by this stage the men on my boat cut open some of the fish then and there in the middle of the sea. Raw tuna splashed in sea salt and then eaten with crunchy coconut is one of the most beautiful things I've had since being here. It has the quality and freshness of the most expensive sashimi but it is even more desirable being in large chunks freshly slivered from the side of a fish and then rinsed in the salt of the Pacific Ocean.
When we got back, every kid on Nukutoa appeared to be waiting for our arrival and were eager to grab the fish from our boat, putting it directly outside Te Ariki's house (harre) in a neat pile. After some trips back and forth from the boat, over 1000 tuna was piled up in one heap. The sight was amazing and the whole community gathered around, women holding baskets, while a few men distributed a number of fish to each family. This was a careful procedure, ensuring that each person was equally treated given the amount of people in their household. This was a great example of the community's egalitarian nature, and for that reason Zane and I filmed the scene. Zane told me that each of the 1000 tuna would have been worth around $60.00 at the Avondale markets and extra large tuna, some ranging around two meters long would have sold for several hundred. It's an irony that these people have little money and they have just been given back some of their own stolen fish valued in the tens of thousands!