Apr 13, 2021 Last Updated 11:41 PM, Apr 12, 2021

Foreign fishing nations who benefit immensely from fishing in the Western and Central Pacific region’s US$7.2 billion fishery are not releasing valuable tuna stock data needed to manage and sustain the industry. Forum Fisheries Agency Director General James Movick said the effect of that attitude was that stock owners in the Pacific would reduce the amount of fisheries to be fished.

“In the absence of accurate data we have to employ the precautionary approach and restrict fisheries to lower levels, in order to take into account the greater risk that we may be overfishing,” he said. “In a way, the distant water fishing nations that refuse to honour their agreements to provide operational data to the scientists are shooting themselves in the foot.” Movick’s comments were made in response to concerns raised last month at a tuna stock assessment meeting by Dr Shelton Harley head of the Stock Assessment and Modelling team within the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Oceanic Fisheries Programme.

The annual meeting, hosted by SPC, helps scientists assess the status of bigeye, skipjack, and yellowfin tunas in the Western Central Pacific Ocean. Harley said in early 2014, three scientists from Taiwan came to SPC headquarters in New Caledonia and brought with them important data on Taiwanese fishing.

“It was a very large data set representing over 200,000 longline sets with details of the tuna caught,” he told Islands Business. “The data was based on logsheets of fishing vessels and are similar to the logsheets used by other fleets in the Pacific. “Governments of several major fishing fleets in the region are currently unable to provide this detailed data to organisations like the SPC or the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) because of domestic laws surrounding data confidentiality.

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I t had all the guile and secrecy of a commando raid. And as much impact. This was the demise of Vanuatu Prime Minister Moana Carcasses after 14 months in the top job. He entered parliament on May 15 confident he had the numbers to survive his fourth motion of no confidence. He had reason to be confident as only the day before he had stood shoulder to shoulder with his Deputy Prime Minister Edward Natapei at a press conference and listened as the wily former PM pledged his support and that of the Vanua’aku Pati he leads with its 17 MPs.

Another senior Minister Ralph Regenvanu had also given the unequivocal support of himself and his Groan Mo Jastis Pati with its three MPs. And both Natapei and Regenvanu had been the architects of Carcasses’ ascension to power in March 2013. Jaws then dropped as all the MPs from these two parties plus two others joined the 17 Opposition MPs and, in one fell swoop, the reign of PM Carcasses was over. Natapei abstained from voting for a new PM in an ersatz show of loyalty or shift in power in his own party. But 40 MPs gave their support to the new Prime Minister Joe Natuman in one of the biggest political coups in Vanuatu’s short history.

Natuman, 61, is the first person from the volcanic island of Tanna, renowned for its warrior like men, to be elected Prime Minister. Secretary general of the Vanua’aku Pati, he is the tenth Prime Minister since Independence (although some predecessors have served multiple terms). He graduated from the University of the South Pacific in the 1980s and joined the civil service, rising to the position of First Secretary to the Prime Minister’s Office from 1987 to 1991 during the time of the nation’s first Prime Minister Walter Lini. He then worked as Assistant Registrar at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, until 1995.

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Pacific NGOs up in arms

Greenpeace’s closure in Suva adds to an already growing concern amongst Non-Government Organisations in the region that their services are not appreciated. At last year’s Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in Cairns Australia, delegates decided to limit the attendance of NGO representatives in its closed breakout plenary sessions. This prompted WWF’s Alfred “Bubba” Cook to write to WCPFC’s chief executive Professor Glenn Hurry on behalf of WWF, PEW and Greenpeace in December last year expressing his concern over the way NGOs have been treated at the Cairns meeting. He believes the WCPFC decision contravened the organisation’s founding documents and principles.

“What is more important is that, generally, the WCPFC has increasingly taken steps to become more secretive in their operation,” Cook told Islands Business. “The Compliance Monitoring Review at the Technical and Compliance Committee meeting as well as the breakout sessions in which our participation was limited should have been held in plenary in an open and transparent man ner, not behind closed doors where decisions on our public tuna resources can be made outside the public eye. This is a very disturbing trend that must be corrected and something every person in the South Pacific should be calling to correct.” Cook said the lack of transparency in the meeting process leads directly to a lack of accountability.

“As a result of this increased secrecy, the public is not allowed to know what is going on with their tuna resources and, as a result, cannot become outraged at the action, or lack thereof, decided as part of the process. “With no public pressure to influence the process, some Commission members continue to support weak management steps or the status quo that supports their individual country position, but continues to allow the decline of our important tuna resources in the region,” he said. “Furthermore, excluding observers or otherwise closing attendance of meetings is only part of it. “Another good example of non-transparency is the way that the Commission reports are “sanitised” before they are released to the public. “Names of specific countries are removed from their comments and replaced with generic terms that do not identify the speaker.

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Greenpeace to operate by

Greenpeace’s closure of its Pacific Office in Fiji last month has ignited fears that the global environmental group no longer considers the region a priority. Greenpeace campaigner Duncan Williams has confirmed that the Fiji office has been closed and all Fiji-based employees have been made redundant. He referred all other information to the relocated Greenpeace Pacific Office in Sydney. He also declined to disclose the reasons for the Fiji office closure. However it is understood that the signs were on the wall particularly with Greenpeace having a number of leadership changes in the last four years.

Forum Fisheries Agency Director General James Movick said his concern was that the reduction of Pacific Islanders in the environmental organisation may remove much of the contextual sensitivity and empathy that has made Greenpeace quite an influential player and partner with the Pacific Island Countries. “Let us hope that distance will not result in them becoming just another international NGO with uniform prescriptions for every fisheries issue regardless of the views and interests of the people who are the key players and focus of fisheries management in this region,” Movick said. 

Worldwide Fund for Nature Western Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager Alfred “Bubba” Cook said it was disappointing that Greenpeace would no longer have a presence in Fiji. “I hope that Greenpeace will continue to be able to engage effectively in the region and at the WCPFC meetings regardless of the approach or model that they use because they have been a strong and important voice in the region supporting the sustainability of the resources on which so many Pacific Islands’ people depend,” he said.

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The Pacific is losing one of its most prolific tuna negotiators who has been instrumental in negotiating greater returns for tropical purse seine fishery. Parties to Nauru Agreement (PNA) Chief Executive Officer Dr Transform Aqorau told a PNA meeting in Honiara last month that those series of meeting would be his last and he would not be seeking a renewal of his contract when it expires in January 2015. He will soon join former Papua New Guinea National Fisheries Managing Director Sylvester Pokajam in a growing number of tuna advocates who have helped shape the region’s fisheries but are either being replaced or leaving the industry.

Together in the PNA, and taking on the ten distant water fishing nations, as a group or individually, Pokajam and Aqorau were like good cop/bad cop duo. Pokajam, the strong-arm strategist whilst Dr Aqorau would be the calm and collected negotiator. Yet both would actually be fighting for the same thing - ensuring the sustainable management of tuna so PNA nations could rake in the maximum benefits. Dr Aqorau’s deputy Maurice Brownjohn has also confirmed from the PNA Secretariat in the Marshall Islands that Dr Aqorau would not be renewing his contract in the new year.

The lawyer turned fisheries negotiator has reportedly told his staff that he wanted to focus on projects back in his homeland in Solomon Islands. “There will be a formal advertising and recruit ment process during the year and this is yet to be finalised,” Brownjohn added. A major achievement of the PNA under Dr Aqorau’s stewardship has been the increased earnings PNA member nations had earned from their fisheries. In 2010, skipjack tuna caught in this region of the Pacific was valued at US$1.9 billion, with only $60 million of that going to the eight member PNA nations.

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