Dec 12, 2019 Last Updated 2:30 PM, Dec 11, 2019

By NETANI RIKA in Port Moresby

AS Pacific fishing nations end their first week of discussions on tuna, the question of Target Reference Points loom large on the agenda.

What indicators establish the target fishery state that should be achieved and maintained on average?

It’s a point over which there have been hours of debate, argument and conflict at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission for years – often without an amicable solution.

There a four species of tuna in the Western and Central Pacific – Skipjack, Yellowfin, Bigeye and Albacore.

For each species there are Target Reference Points which are part of a larger Harvest Strategy – the actual management of tuna stocks, fishing methods, conservation measures, scientific research.

But it’s the Target Reference Points where members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission which is currently in its 16th Regular Session are often trapped.

The larger fishing nations – China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia and the United States – attempt to wriggle free of scientific analysis indicating that stocks must be maintained at no less than 26 per cent of critical biomass.

Every year they challenge the science, push the boundaries and try to bully their way to a larger share of the Pacific tuna catch.

And every year the Pacific nations, guardians of 50 per cent of the world’s tuna stock must struggle to control the fishery, maintain a sustainable stock and make a little money.

If the 16th WCPFC Regular Session in Port Moresby can agree to Target Reference Points, it will then face the challenge of coming to an agreement on harvest strategies.

John Maifiti of the Pacific Island Tuna Industry Association is under no illusions about the enormity of the task at hand.

“We acknowledge the progress that has been made so far with the Target Reference Points for skipjack,” Maifiti said.

“Currently they don’t have any interim TRP for albacore and bigeye and this is what we want the commission to come up with and put it in place.’’

Fiji is one of the countries affected heavily by tuna migration and its Fisheries Minister, Commander Semi Koroilavesau, has spent the last three years pushing for specific reference points for albacore.

As chair of the WCPFC’s Albacore Roadmap Working Group, Koroilavesau indicated today that a TRP outcome would be his prime agenda in the next 12 months.

American Samoa, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Samoa and French Polynesia have indicated their support for Fiji’s approach to secure a Target Reference Point on albacore as soon as economically possible.

Maifiti said one of the issues of contention when attempting to agree on Target Reference Points was the difference between scientific advice and actual results shown by fishing fleets.

“At times the science says one thing, but the catch says something else – it doesn’t match up and that is one of our concerns as well,” Maifiti said.

“Even though all the science says that biologically the tuna species are in a healthy state, the next question to ask is, is there enough fish for the fishing vessels to catch and make enough money. I think that’s the issue we have currently.

“It’s very important that we push for this harvest strategy to manage the fisheries.’’

Maifiti has set those harvest strategies as the industry’s immediate priority.

But he warned that the WCPFC had worked very slowly in this area since an initial work plan was agreed in 2014.

“When they reviewed it in 2017, the progress was very low and they shifted it for another four years and there’s a high chance they won’t agree on compliance when the current measures end in two years,” Maifiti said.

“The important thing for the industry is to put in place the management measure for the four key resources – skipjack, bigeye, yellowfin and albacore.’’

Maifiti said the issue of harvest strategy was important for the sustainability and viability of the fisheries.

“It’s important for the fisheries for the commission to come up with a harvest strategy. They are the ones mandated to manage fisheries,” he said.

“Inside the Exclusive Economic Zones and at the national level the Pacific countries already have some strong management measures in place – control harvest measures.

“But on the high seas where the commission is responsible, that’s where we don’t have any management system. There’re no harvest strategies to have harvest control in place to measure fisheries.’’

Maifiti said the Forum Fisheries Agency had pushed for some time for concrete measures but Distant Water Fishing Nations – keep pushing back.

At the moment the industry doesn’t feel the impact of the current stock status because they are highly subsidised from the countries. Like now the cost for them is less than for Pacific fleets.

Early indications are that the European Union will be one of the WCPFC parties which will push back on the albacore measures and reference points.

The arrest warrant against former Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill has been withdrawn by police –  but the matter is still making its way through the courts.

The warrant related to alleged corruption investigations and was issued on 11 October, but O’Neill had challenged the action, saying it was defective.

PNG media report that police this week sought to withdraw the warrant, although O’Neill’s lawyers say this is just a tactic, and that police will just seek a fresh warrant. In response, the State says the former PM’s lawyers are just trying to drag the case out, and there are questions as to whether the whole matter is a case of abuse of power by the government.

The matter has been adjourned to this afternoon.

PNG journo reinstated

Two days after terminating his employment, Papua New Guinea’s EMTV has re-instated News and Current Affairs manager Neville Choi, and he says he will be back at work this morning.

Choi was sacked for what EMTV management alleged were human resources breaches.

However the action against the respected journalist created a storm of protest from his local and international colleagues and EMTV viewers.

The President of the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), Kora Nou had urged the parties in to quickly meet and resolve the issue, and offered to act as a mediator.

The Pacific Freedom Forum, a media rights watchdog, took a stronger line:  “We stand in solidarity with Neville, who is a well respected and leading Pacific journalist who has mentored and trained journalists across his nation. We also call on PNG Communications Minister Renbo Paita --given his powers over board appointments for EMTV's parent company--  to support a swift and independent mediation between all parties to resolve an escalating issue ,” said PFF Chair Bernadette Carreon of Palau.

“Our concern at this time is that a quality news service cannot be suspended because news workers feel intimidated, unheard and unable to report without fear or favour,  in the current environment,” says Melanesia PFF co-chair Ofani Eremae of the Solomon Islands. 

Senior members of the EMTV newsroom, including  Meriba Tulo- the journalist named to replace him, called for his re-instatement and asked that EMTV’s Acting CEO be sidelined, as they “no longer have confidence in her leadersihip.”

In a statement, newsroom leaders Tulo,  Scott Waide and Sincha Dimara said: “The action to terminate Mr Choi is one that is wrong, and in direct challenge to the separation, and indepdence of the News Media Code of Ethics.”

Their support for Choi meant there was no news bulletin aired on Monday night.

EMTV's coverage of expenditure related to last year's APEC meeting and industrial action by the PNG Defence Force raised the government's ire.

By Nic Maclellan in Funafuti, Tuvalu

Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has again called for a 10-year moratorium on sea-bed mining, at a time that many Pacific island nations are preparing for new frontiers of resource exploitation in the marine environment.

Speaking in Tuvalu this week before the 50th Pacific Islands Forum, Prime Minister Bainimarama called on fellow Forum island states to “support a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining from 2020 to 2030, which would allow for a decade of proper scientific research of our economic zones and territorial waters.”

There is growing pressure from French, Canadian and US corporations to advance the deep-sea mining (DSM) agenda, as well as interest from the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association. Just as energy corporations are looking towards deep-sea oil and gas reserves, companies are developing technology to exploit mineral ore deposits found on the ocean floor, including cobalt crusts, seafloor massive sulphides and ferromanganese nodules.

Fiji’s call for a moratorium comes as community groups across the region are campaigning against potential environmental hazards of deep-sea mining, especially to ecologically sensitive hydrothermal vents. A report from the Guam-based Blue Ocean Law argues: “There is a general failure to incorporate sufficient environmental protections, as well as the norm of free, prior, and informed consent for indigenous peoples, who are most likely to be impacted by DSM. In the 21st century, and under well-established norms of international law, these omissions represent serious violations of international legal obligations.”

Bainimarama’s call comes the same week as major restructuring of the Nautilus Minerals corporation, which has been planning to commence mining off the coast of Papua New Guinea, under a world-first licence issued by the PNG government.

Fiji and oceans policy

In recent years, Fiji has taken a leading role in ocean policy at the United Nations, working with other Forum island countries through the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) group.

In June 2017, Fiji and Sweden co-hosted the high-level UN Conference on the Oceans and Seas in New York. This conference issued a call for action, highlighting action on ocean acidification, plastics, and overfishing. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appointed former Fiji UN Ambassador Peter Thomson as the UN Special Envoy on the Ocean.

This global campaigning is also translating into domestic legislation. Speaking in Tuvalu this week, Prime Minister Bainimarama said: “In addition to playing a leadership role in the global Ocean Pathway, we are also developing a National Oceans Policy, under which Fiji plans to move to a 100 per cent sustainable managed  Exclusive Economic Zone, with 30 per cent of this being earmarked as a marine protected area by no later than 2030.”

Under the Forum’s “Blue Pacific” agenda, island nations are seeking to draw the links between oceans and climate policy. Bainimarama noted that Fiji was working with the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership to develop “a blended and innovative finance structure to support the decarbonisation of domestic marine transportation fleets and facilities in Fiji and across the region. This means replacing inter-island ships with more efficient hybrid ships, thereby reducing fuel costs and emissions.”

Pacific DSM initiatives

Under the provisions of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), many Forum island countries with large EEZs have been in discussions with transnational corporations to partner in deep sea exploration for maritime resources. Under UNCLOS and the authority of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), developing countries can also partner with overseas corporations to licence exploration in “The Area”, international waters that include vast arrays of minerals in Pacific Ocean areas such as the Clarion-Clipperton zone.

Nauru has long been a champion of DSM – at last year’s Forum leaders’ meeting, Nauru President Baron Waqa hosted a side even with ISA Secretary General Michael Lodge and Samantha Smith, the former Head of Environment and Social Responsibility with the deep-sea mining corporation DeepGreen.

This new frontier has drawn in regional organisations, to address legal, technical and regulatory issues around DSM. Boundary limitation is a vital concern as Pacific nations seek to increase potential revenues from fisheries and seabed mining in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). From 2010-16, the European Union funded the Pacific Community (SPC) to develop model DSM legislation for Forum member states, with many civil society groups concerned this work was promoting rather than regulating DSM.

The SPC Maritime Boundaries Division has also been engaged in technical work to clarify borders between independent island states as well as with colonial powers like France and the United States (for example, Vanuatu and France have been involved in a decades-long dispute over Matthew and Hunter islands).

There are tensions between the administering powers and territorial governments over the control of seabed minerals in the remaining colonies in the region. With an EEZ of nearly 5 million square kilometres, ocean-floor resources could be vitally important for the newest Forum member, French Polynesia. However, as the French government moved to amend French Polynesia’s autonomy statue earlier this year, France’s constitutional court ruled that rare earths can be classified as “strategic metals”, which come under the control of the French State rather than the Government of French Polynesia.   

Independence leaders have long argued against the French State’s control of strategic metals, with former Senator for French Polynesia Richard Ariihau Tuheiava telling the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation in 2017: “We have continually emphasised the critical nature of the resource question as a core issue for our future development. Whether or not these resources are considered in Paris to be ‘strategic’ is irrelevant to the applicability of international legal decisions which place the ownership of natural resources with the people of the non-self-governing territories.”

Collapse of PNG initiative

Early initiatives to begin sea-bed mining in the Pacific have not come to fruition. This week’s set-back to a major project in Papua New Guinea provides a salutary warning about the complexity and potential costs of DSM.

Under a licence issued by the PNG government, Nautilus Minerals has long planned to mine seabed minerals beneath PNG’s Bismarck Sea. However, with widespread community resistance, falling share prices and the loss of a specialised support vessel, Nautilus constantly pushed out the date for commencement of mining.

In February this year, Nautilus filed for court protection from its creditors under the Canadian Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), and the Canadian-based company was later delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange. This week, major shareholders MB Holding and Metalloinvest have moved to take control of company assets at the expense of major creditors and smaller shareholders (The PNG Government holds 15 per cent equity in Nautilus’ PNG subsidiary and the Solwara 1 project through the company Eda Kopa).

The looming collapse of the Solwara seabed mining initiative has been welcomed by civil society groups in Papua New Guinea, which have been campaigning against potential adverse impacts on ocean ecology.

Jonathan Mesulam of PNG’s Alliance of Solwara Warriors stated: “We rejoiced when the company filed for protection from creditors in Canada. Our opposition and our court action have helped push it to that point. Communities across Papua New Guinea want to see the nightmare of deep-sea mining removed from PNG waters. We will re-double our efforts to ensure that the new Nautilus will never operate at Solwara 1.”

Fiji’s call for a moratorium on DSM will be debated in the corridors at this week’s Pacific Islands Forum, but there’s a way to go before all Forum member countries are willing to delay action on the supposed ocean El Dorado.

Papua New Guinea has been advised to tweak its macroeconomic policy and throw more weight behind agriculture, as it has the potential to enable more diversified and inclusive development.  

The World Bank makes this recommendation  in its latest newsletter Pacific Possible. It warns of rising economic uncertainty and fragile growth in PNG and recommends that authorities focus on structural transformation of the economy, especially in the agriculture sector, to help absorb any shocks.  

"Around 87 per cent of Papua New Guineans live in rural areas, and 75 per cent of these are engaged in a variety of subsistence and cash income agriculture activities. Staple products are the main source of subsistence, provide food energy and protein, and are a source of food security for rural villagers when income-earning opportunities are limited," the reports states.

"While most rural villagers combine these traditional subsistence and cash income activities, there is a small but increasing number producing value-added products such as high-value coconut products and spices."

Agriculture is one of the priority sectors in the government’s Medium-Term Development Plan for 2018–22 (MTDP III.

"To utilise the potential of agriculture as a source of income and job creation, the authorities should consider a proposed set of policy options and responses for securing sustainable rural livelihoods in food and agriculture," the World Bank says.

The resource-rich nation of over eight million people is home to a number of multi-billion dollar minerals projects and is vulnerable to substantial commodity price shocks, natural disasters and uncertainty in the performance of new and existing minerals projects. 

Its agricultural sector includes fresh food and export products like coffee, cocoa, palm oil, and copra and copra oil. 

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