THE important Pacific tuna grouping, PNA has been rocked by serious allegations of mismanagement and illegal operations with its tuna marketing arm, Pacifical.
John Kopia, a former employee of PNA (Parties to the Nauru Agreement) made the allegations after he was removed last March as chief financial controller of the Marshall Islands-based sub-regional organisation.
“Parties to the Nauru Agreement Association which is a joint venture [of] Pacifical is illegal and cannot exist with a profit motive,” Kopia wrote in a lengthy email he sent to member governments of PNA. A copy of his email was also sent to this magazine.
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THERE are two definite frontrunners in the race for the position of Director-General of the Forum Fisheries Agency. Marshall Islands Attorney-General, Dr Filimon Manoni, and Tonga’s Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen were the definite top contenders to replace James Movick of the Federated States of Micronesia whose term ends this year. At the end of the 14th Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in Pasay City, the Philippines last month, Movick confirmed that nominations had been received for Manoni and Tupou-Roosen.
“Traditionally the post of DirectorGeneral has been held by a Pacific Islander with the Deputy DG from either Australia or New Zealand,” Movick said. “Nominations will close early in 2018 and then the Forum Fisheries Ministers will meet to decide on my replacement.
I must say, however, that there are many competent regional people who can take up the role and the process is moving ahead smoothly.” Tonga has started to lobby quietly for Tupou-Roosen who currently heads the FFA Legal Unit in Honiara, Solomon Islands.
AFTER 14 meetings of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, one thing is obvious. The Distant Water Fishing Nations – China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States – continue to bully the owners of tuna stocks in the Pacific.
In fact the small Pacific fisheries nations who own up to 60 per cent of the global tuna were forced yet again into positions in which they made extreme concessions and put the sustainability of stocks at stake. Wez Norris, the outgoing deputy Director General of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) was blunt in his assessment of the 14th WCPFC held at Pasay City in the Philippines last month.
“Every single Pacific Island country gave up something both in terms of opportunities they had for development (and through measures) which come at a cost, but also provide potential for future benefit,” Norris said. “The five big distant-water longline fleets secured an approximately 10 per cent increase in their catch limits...
By NETANI RIKA, Pasay City, the Philippines
AS the self-nominated representative for Small Island Developing States, Fiji has found itself in a position where it may have to fight a lone battle for tuna conservation.
The 14th Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting this year appears no closer to agreeing on uniform conservation measures as national priorities outweigh regional obligations.
Fiji – as a signatory to the Tokelau Agreement on South Pacific Albacore – has agreed to limit its catch to 12,000 tonnes per year, a drop of 2000 tonnes.
“That is our commitment to the region and the need to ensure sustainable fisheries so that all countries can benefit,” said Fiji Fisheries Minister, Commander Semi Koroilavesau.
“Fiji has taken drastic measures to reduce our catch. We’ve accepted the cuts because they are necessary but (other countries) do not agree to cuts.
“We understand their difficulties. Their budgets are based on their fisheries industry which can make up 50 to 60 per cent of annual national budgets.”
In the spirit of the Tuna Commission (WCPFC), Koroilavesau is reluctant to name the offending nations but his reference is to Tuvalu and Kiribati, tuna-rich countries to Fiji’s north.
In 2015 year the Fiji fleet caught 7608 tonnes worth USD30 million.
By comparison over the same period Kiribati took in 149,314 tonnes worth USD233 million.
The total catch in Kiribati’s waters, including that caught by its foreign fleet, came to 641,119 tonnes worth a staggering $911million.
Tuvalu’s fleet caught 5175 tonnes worth USD9 million while the total catch in its waters came to 80,205 tonnes worth USD103 million.
“On the side lines of this and other meetings Fiji has been asking for some consideration so that we can also benefit from tuna fisheries but we can’t force anyone,” Koroilavesau said.
“The tuna that comes into Fiji waters travels from the north so we fully support the closure of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADS) for three months and a cap on the harvests by national fleets.’’
A FAD is a man-made object used to attract ocean going pelagic fish. Over 300 species of fish gather around FADs.
Some countries at the WCPFC have expressed reluctance to adhere to catch limitations and the closure of FADs, among them Kiribati.
Koroilavesau admitted that there was tension within the membership over the issue of FADs and harvesting.
“These issues have been pending for some years and we are hoping for a conclusion and some compromise,” the former navy officer said.
“We need consensus to agree on the basic facts of issues facing the commission.”
Koroilavesau said that despite the strong objections of other nations he remained optimistic.
“It’s important that there is support for limits, especially for a country like Fiji which relies on fish which travel through the waters of other sovereign nations before reaching us,” he said.
“If our neighbour agreed to limitations that would lead to an increase in the number of fish which we can harvest.
“A three-month FAD closure – and it looks like Kiribati has agreed to that – will have a huge impact on our stocks and the fisheries industry at home.”
That closure signals a shift in Kiribati’s stance on day one at the 14th WCPFC when Fisheries Minister, Tetabo Nakara highlighted the impact such a limitation would have on his country.
"Access fees from tuna fishing contributes more than 80 per cent toward the total government's annual expenditure that supports, amongst others, crucial funding for our education system, medical care, other basic needs that the government is obligated to deliver as services to its 110,000 inhabitants, as well as salaries of civil servants," he said.
With two days of talks remaining, it’s unclear how many other countries will be willing to make concessions.
FIJI will seek approval to conduct exploratory tuna fishing in Kiribati and Tuvalu waters for the next five years.
The move comes as Fiji notes a decrease in tuna stocks within its 1.3million square kilometre Exclusive Economic Zone.
Fiji’s Fisheries Minister, Commander Semi Koroilavesau, met his Tuvalu and Kiribati counterparts at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission here today (Tuesday).
But there is some resistance from Kiribati towards Fiji’s approach while Tuvalu has been more receptive.
“We have asked for a trial period starting with one boat fishing in Tuvalu and Kiribati waters for 12 months initially,” Koroilavesau said.
“Kiribati wants USD12,000 a day per vessel and we believe that’s too much for a boat which must sail from Fiji to the Northern Pacific before returning to off-load its catch.
“Indications from Tuvalu are a little friendlier but this is work in progress and we’ll just have to see where it goes.”
The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates Fiji's annual marine fisheries to be 36,400 tonnes.
Given the introduction of on-shore processing facilities in Kiribati, Tarawa may be reluctant to open more of its waters to regional and international fishing fleets.
Koroilavesau said there was a possibility of Free Trade Agreements or Preferred Nation Status arrangements to benefit Fiji, Tuvalu and Kiribati.
“Some of those arrangements fall outside the mandate of the Fisheries Ministry but we need to look at how as Pacific island communities we can maximise benefits to regional communities,” he said.
If Fiji’s northern neighbours do not open their EEZs, Fiji will explore the option of accessing high seas pockets beyond Tuvalu and Kiribati in order to catch Albacore Tuna.
Fiji borders Vanuatu to the West, Solomon Islands to the North-west, Tuvalu to the North and the French territory of Wallis and Futuna to the North-east.
Forty per cent of the Fijian EEZ borders international waters.
Koroilavesau said rapidly falling fish stocks were of a major concern to Fiji operators.
“We have some small operators in Suva (the capital) and Lautoka who are heavily reliant on catches from local boats so we need to get out of Fiji waters to access resources.” he said.
“Ideally we would trial one boat for 12 months in Kiribati and Tuvalu national waters and based on catch results look at increasing that to two or three vessels in the following year.
“Fiji is willing to look at what it can do to accommodate our neighbours in terms of business opportunities in return for access to the fisheries.”
Fiji has opted to find creative ways to support its fishing fleet including the distribution of USD1.6 million in fuel rebate to seven companies.
Named the Tuna Support Fund, four cents per litre of imported fuel was transferred to a State account for distribution to selected fishing companies.
The action was taken ostensibly to allow Fiji-owned firms to compete withforeign fishing which received fuel subsidies from their governments.
Fiji Fish Marketing Group Ltd executive chairman Grahame Southwick said the rebate might not solve all their problems.
“This gives us a bit of breathing space. We are happy now; this will take us through to the next critical years as we try and solve other problems,” he said.
With 30 years of experience in the industry, Southwick said the main problem affecting Fiji fisheries was overfishing due to excessive licensing.
“Controls within Fiji waters are quite strong but it can be a little bit better,” Southwick said.
“But it’s the foreign fleet fishing around Fiji on our perimeters, which is not sustainable.
“Too many boats are fishing in the high seas surrounding us preventing fish from coming into Fiji.
“Before the situation can improve, the regional over fishing and the fleet has to be slashed by at least 50 per cent.’’
Southwick estimated this problem would take five to 10 years to resolve.
Enter Koroilavesau and the Fisheries Ministry which now wants to take the Fijian fleet into foreign waters.
Koroilavesau said talks between Fiji, Tuvalu and Kiribati would continue over the next three days and he looked forward to a positive outcome.