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South Pacific Albacore Tuna crisis: collective action of the Pacific Islands is the way forward

James Movick, Director General of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency There has been a lot of press coverage in the past few months about the crisis in the southern albacore tuna longline fishery. Long liners laid off left, right and centre; world albacore prices are low; and many of the small, locally based fishing businesses that have been so carefully cultivated over the last two decades are going to the wall.

Too often the standard reaction in the region is to blame foreigners and external factors for all of our woes. The recent reactions to the current downturn in the southern albacore long line crisis are no exception. Certainly, subsidies of one foreign fleet in particular does not help our current dire situation and neither does the increase in catch of albacore in other oceans and on the South Pacific high seas. However, to resolve a problem we must start with an objective analysis of the facts and the fact here is that the cures for the current ills of this particular fishery lie largely within our own hands. Why do I say this? Because we, Pacific Island Countries, control the waters where the majority of South Pacific albacore is caught. According to the available catch statistics, two thirds of the catch of this tuna (66%) comes from the Exclusive Economic Zones of South Pacific Island nations and territories. And the rest of the catch is taken on the high seas adjacent to our EEZs, where the International Law of the Sea and the WCPFC Convention require particular attention to be paid to potential impacts on small island countries. We need to exercise this control, and we need to exercise it collectively, if we are to have any effect on a fishery that spans a quarter of the southern hemisphere. We know it can be done. The Pacific island countries that are parties to the Nauru Agreement have already effectively controlled the skipjack purse-seine fishery where 60% of the fishery is in their EEZs. 

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