For tuna and the islands

After running his family’s fishing business for most of his adult life and then spending eight years at the head of the Pacific’s regional fisheries management agency, has James Movick earned the honorary title of ‘Old Man of the Sea’?

To find out, Islands Business publisher Samisoni Pareti had a (virtual) sit down interview with Movick, offering him the opportunity to review his years with the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and share some insights into the difficult issues he grappled with in leading negotiations with powerful nations over the Pacific’s much sought-after resource.

Islands Business: How are you spending your time now that you have successfully completed your two, three-year terms as Director General of the FFA?

James Movick: I am currently providing some consulting services to the Office of the FSM President, assisting to analyse and recommend policy issues primarily in fisheries and regional arrangements. This arrangement allows me to get reacquainted with FSM issues and organisation after eight years away, while providing some degree of public service back to my country for supporting my candidacy and tenure at FFA. In addition, I am still engaged in some regional work stemming from initiatives that I was involved in as FFA DG. In particular I am the Chairman of the Reference Group for the Pacific Fusion Centre that is under consideration by Australia and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. Apart from that, I continue to advocate my firm belief that we must responsibly manage our fisheries and oceanic resources for the benefit of our Pacific peoples in line with the Blue Pacific identity.

IB: How would you describe the six years you were FFA DG?

JM: The six years were challenging and enjoyable. Being at the centre of complex issues and seeking acceptable and effective ways through has always been exciting for me. It was a time for expanding networks and making some very good friends across the region and globally.

I was blessed to have had a great team of staff at FFA, especially the Deputy Director General for most of that time, Mr Wez Norris. Wez and I committed to work closely as a team and we did that through our respective skills, experience and approaches. I was also very fortunate to have governing bodies of officials and ministers who were engaged, committed and very knowledgeable about the issues. They challenged us in our work, analysis and recommendations and made all of us and the region better off for that. 

In all it was hard to believe that six years had flown by so quickly. With hindsight I would say that two three-year terms is really quite short to get significant new initiatives conceived and implemented. I am grateful and humbled therefore to have received the recognition that Wez and I did receive for what others consider to have been a job well done. I wish I could have done more.

IB: What would you identify as the main challenge or challenges you faced at FFA?

JM: My tenure at FFA encompassed an eight year period, the first two as Deputy Director General and the remaining six serving two terms as FFA Director General. In consultation with Director General Dan Sua, my top priority when I started as Deputy Director General in 2010 was to work toward the appropriate realignment of FFA’s role and work to be complementary and supportive of the evolution of focused sub-regional fisheries management groupings, such as the then new PNA Office. The second was to reorganise our economic development functions to better meet the emerging new priorities of market access and national investment development, while my third priority was to more directly link FFA’s interventions to mutually agreed directed outcomes at the national level. We made good progress in all of these.

Addressing these priorities continued after 2012 when I assumed the position of FFA Director General. To these I added priorities of: heightened advocacy of the Zone Rights Based Management legal framework that underpins Pacific Islands Country success in global tuna fisheries management; strengthening and promoting the distinctive and effective FFA regional framework of Monitoring Control and Surveillance; improving FFA governance, administration and accountability; and heightening the visibility and strengthening the role of FFA and PIC regional fisheries within regional and international policymaking consideration. I am pleased with the progress that was made on all of these, and the acknowledgement that was received from FFA members and regional ministers and leaders. All these achievements should properly be credited to the entire FFA staff team and senior national officials who comprise our operational decision makers.

IB: What would you list as some of the highlights of your work at FFA?

JM: The accomplishments of FFA are a function of the hard work and commitment of the FFA secretariat team and FFA members, the support of development partners, and the vision and leadership of fisheries ministers and heads of government. 

During my tenure high-lights of the Agency’s accomplishments include the following:

  • Increased regional understanding and support for the basic Zone Rights-Based Management legal framework that underpins PIC capability and success in oceanic fisheries management and increased financial returns

  • With the MRAG study on regional Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing and the adoption of the regional Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) strategy, establishing clear monitoring frameworks and benchmarks against which progress in the effectiveness of MCS measures and the fight against IUU can be effectively measured in the future 

  • International recognition and emulation of FFA’s Monitoring, Control & Surveillance platforms and frameworks and zone rights based management legal framework

  • Integration of fisheries and political groupings of sub-regional interest into the work programme and culture of FFA secretariat and governing councils

  • Establishing a close and positive working relationship with other Council of Regional Organisations (CROP) CEOs, regional ministers and leaders

  • Adoption by Leaders of fisheries as a standing PILF agenda item.

IB: Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing was a big issue even before you joined. You were quite vocal during your time at FFA about addressing IUU. Now that you’ve completed your term as DG, are you satisfied with the progress of work done?

JM: The fight against IUU fishing is a never-ending one. I am satisfied with what we did during my term. This includes adoption of the regional MCS strategy, commencement of the regional information management framework for fisheries information integration and sharing, new regional air surveillance, enhanced support from the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre and regional MCS frameworks, and introduction of academically-certified professional training for fisheries enforcement officers. Very importantly, with the MRAG study on regional IUU and the adoption of the regional MCS strategy, we have established clear monitoring frameworks and benchmarks against which progress in the effectiveness of MCS measures and the fight against IUU can be effectively measured in the future. This is very important at both national and regional level to ensure accountability that we are actually making progress in the fight against IUU.

IB: Is there anything that remains to be done on IUU?

JM: Electronic reporting and monitoring, assessment and incorporation of cost effective new surveillance, communications, AI technology and drone technology. Embedding the air surveillance capability. Linking FFA fisheries IUU systems to also support and be informed by broader regional maritime and trans-national crime security systems such as the Boe Declaration and PFC. Most of all, working with countries to ensure that they are effectively and efficiently implementing their MCS obligations and needs at the national and local level.

IB: What about the Tokelau Arrangement? Am I right in thinking that this would be one of your legacies as DG of FFA, a real, significant attempt to save the South Pacific albacore tuna? What has this achieved, what are the obstacles, and what needs to happen in order to make this Arrangement effective?

JM: Since at least 2004, when I was the founding and first Chair of the Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association (PITIA), I have been encouraging the countries who share the southern albacore longline fishery to adopt a collective approach, similar to the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) for the purse seine fishery, in order to assert their collective coastal states rights under the United Nations Law of the Sea (UN LOS) and Fish Stocks Agreements and gain better leverage to manage their shared highly migratory resource including on the adjacent high seas. During my tenure I was able to work with those FFA members to establish the Tokelau Agreement in 2012/13. 
Subsequent effort to forge an agreed allocation of fishing catch amongst the parties has been extremely challenging as single national interests have too often trumped collective regional consensus.

IB: Another major challenge during your time was the US Multilateral Treaty. What’s your thoughts on this, now that you have left the FFA? Is this the kind of arrangement FFA members should continue to pursue collectively you think? Or because of the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS), is such multilateral arrangements on fisheries is no longer relevant?

JM: The future of the US treaty in its current form is still not entirely clear. As you know changes were made in the last US treaty amendment to make the Treaty more flexible to take better account of difference in condition and interests of both the PICs as well the US fleet. The PNA VDS has certainly changed the dynamic between and within the two parties, and PNA member and PNA Office support was critical to concluding this last treaty negotiation. 

With the revised treaty we are seeing changes in the operations of US boats which has resulted in a reduction in the uptake of days by the US fleet. Whether that is a trend is not yet clear. It is also still premature to reach any conclusions on the prospects for growth in US fishing in the non PNA member EEZs apart from Cook Islands. On the other hand, even some of the PNA member countries may face diminished leverage and benefits if there is no collective US treaty. What is clear is that there is a wide range of interests in the treaty amongst the PICs, and those interests can be quite sharp given the widely diverse financial implications for all members. On top of that, because the US Treaty is the principal modality of US government engagement with many of the PICs, its negotiation and renewal could be expected to result in diplomatic pressure being applied on the PICs by the US and its supporters, which may not be appreciated. In that regard, in my meetings with US diplomats I have urged that the US broaden its relationship with PICs across a range of sectors and modalities rather than be so heavily dependent on and susceptible to the treaty. There is even strong doubt as to whether the bulk of the US fleet will see continued advantage in the treaty.

IB: At one time during your stint, the Pew Trust was involved in an initiative to launch its own fisheries vessel surveillance system, using high tech systems with a UK company. What is you view about such private sector initiatives?

JM: The interest of outside groups in improved monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) in the region is to be welcomed. But these groups need to understand and accept that the success of the region in its oceanic fisheries management and enforcement is primarily due to the collective strength and adherence to common frameworks that they have been developed to suit their context. Our external friends are encouraged to work with those regional frameworks. Initially many external groups thought that the region was devoid of effective surveillance capabilities but they soon realized that the FFA Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) is in place and is world leading in many attributes. Even more importantly, that surveillance capability is integrally linked into an effective regional system to ensure compliance, cross-border enforcement, uniform national enforcement and competency and effective fisheries management and legal frameworks. 

On the other hand the PICs cannot afford to be complacent in the fight against IUU fishing. Technology continues to evolve, presenting new threats and opportunities, while resources for this sector are still relatively scarce. Many of the new external groups; private sector, NGO and philanthropic, are much better resourced than FFA and individual PICs, especially with technological expertise. The region needs to work with these groups and other cooperating partners to improve our technological capability in all forms of aerial surveillance, electronic monitoring and reporting, artificial intelligence and traceability systems. 
However my strong advice and caution to PICs is that we must collectively take the leadership to demand and establish common frameworks within which these new technologies and initiatives will be linked and mandated, in order to preserve regional ownership and control. Some of the current initiatives in this area appear to be rather more institutionally competitive and headline oriented than controlled and directed from and for the PIC collective.

IB: Can I seek your views on the relationships and dynamics between the FFA and partner organisations like:

a. Parties of the Nauru Agreement

JM: The fact is that from that outset in 2010 the FFA secretariat has remained committed to our role to support and supplement the capability of our PNA members to secure improved benefits within their particular fishery. The establishment of the PNA Office as well as other sub-regional fisheries-of-common- interest (such as the Tokelau Agreement parties and VDS sub-pooling arrangements), are a natural evolution of the fundamental PIC legal framework of zone rights based management that firmly underpins the establishment of the FFA. 

b: Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC)

JM: The principal initiative to establish the WCPFC came from the FFA member countries. No doubt most of the fisheries management measures and tools established by the Commission do benefit FFA members. While tuna conservation is better in the WCPFC than under any other tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (t-RFMO), that sustainability cannot be taken for granted given frequent aberrant self-interest and unprincipled behaviour on the part of a number of distant water fishing nations. 

The capability to secure measures that appropriately take into account PIC management frameworks, especially zone rights based management and coastal states sovereignty and sovereign rights, as well as genuinely recognize special and principled recognition of the rights and needs of SIDS and territories, are even more challenging now. The decision-making rule of consensus or two chamber voting, simply engenders falling back on lowest common denominator measures rather than best practice, and fosters gridlock and blackmail. 

c. CROPS, namely the SPC, PIFS and SPREP, remembering one time FFA and SPC had some issues over work jurisdictions and mandates

JM: Over the past 6 years the relationship between FFA and its CROP partners (namely the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Secretariat for the Pacific Commission, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Program (SPREP) and University of the South Pacific, but also the Pacific Power Association (PPA), South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) and Pacific Aviation Safety Office (PASO) has gone from strength to strength. In the past two years in particular the professional and personal relationship between the CEOs of the CROP organisations has been at the closest and most dynamic that I have seen. It was with genuine personal regret that I left this august group. 

By the time I commenced at FFA in 2010 the relationship between FFA and SPC, especially its Oceans Fishery Program and its GEM maritime boundary team, was very close and cooperative. This relationship is formalised in an MOU and operationalized each year in an annual colloquium. 

The adoption of the “Blue Pacific” identity driver at the 2017 Pacific Islands Leaders Forum provided a favourable context to re-set the FFA-PIFS relationship and the support of PIF Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor was very much appreciated in the Leaders’ decision to include fisheries as a standing item on the annual Forum agenda. That close working relationship continued until my departure from FFA and I am optimistic that it will continue to grow to the benefit of the region. 

FFA’s relationship with SPREP has been less defined than with SPC, PIFS and USP. The possibility for divergence and conflict over resource management principles between FFA managers and stakeholders and those of SPREP and associated groups should be recognised and actively addressed. For example, efforts by various parties seeking to list specific peak migratory species under CITES etc can undermine sound multi-species management of oceanic fisheries resources in the WCPFC. 

IB: We never got to ask you of your thoughts about your successor. Dr Manu Tupou Roosen. She worked under you as your Legal Counsel, what was your reaction when she got the nod to be the next DG?

JM: Dr Manu Tupou Roosen secured her appointment from amongst a field of highly competent candidates and I have no doubt that she will be an excellent Director General of FFA. Her legal expertise, her intelligence, her passion for the work of the Agency and her personable manner and networks will all stand her in good stead. I was pleased that with her appointment the on-going work of the Agency will be least disrupted in the short to medium term while her familiarity and expertise will better enable her to craft new and creative ways to move the Agency and region ahead as her tenure proceeds. I wish her all the very best in her leadership of FFA and have full confidence that she will do an exemplary job.

IB: What’s next for Mr James Movick, any interest in entering national politics for example?

JM: Whatever happens in my future I am fairly certain that it will not include being a political candidate. My role has always been more about running programs and providing technical support and advice, and I prefer it that way. 

Having blood ties to Micronesia, Polynesia, Melanesia and colonial Europeans, the regional perspective is also quite natural for me. I am therefore grateful to the PIC representatives and the Government of Australia for asking me to Chair the Reference Group for establishment of the Pacific Fusion Centre which seeks to better coordinate and integrate regional analysis and information sharing for broader regional security in support of the Boe Declaration. 

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