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Officials for the Pacific’s leading forum for high-level fisheries dialogue, the Forum Fisheries Committee head to Tokelau this month for an in-depth look at current and future developments in the sector. The 89th meeting of the annual FFA governing council of officials have a full agenda, including key outcomes from a recent regional meeting on Monitoring Control and Surveillance, or MCS, aimed at stopping rogue fishing in the region. Effectively using and pooling national resources to fight Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is a major issue for Pacific nations keen to ensure effective scientific data coverage for sound conservation management and the best economic gains from the offshore fishing and onshore processing sector, says the FFA. As part of ensuring members are able to share progress and build on common ground, the Agency’s Conference Centre hosted a record series of back-to-back meetings including the 17th session of the MCS working group on 24-29 March. The outcomes are part of this month’s FFC and will feed into the July ministers’ meeting as Pacific nations juggle their national priorities for offshore fisheries against a backdrop of regional commitments and agreements. “Offshore fisheries and the impacts on national economies and development is a fast-changing and complex field, and calls for management that is dynamic and well resourced,” says FFA Director-General James Movick. “For developing Pacific nations, especially small island nations such as Tokelau, the benefits of a regional approach to prevent, detect and eliminate IUU fishing in our region are clear.”
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The ink had hardly dried when controvesy erupted on the historic tuna fishing agreement sealed in Hawaii last month by 17 Pacific Island nations and the United States. Just days after hailing the US$90 million deal in return for 8300 days of fishing in the Pacific in 2015 for US tuna association as an ‘historic agreement,’ the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency had to go on the defensive one week later in support of one of its members, Kiribati.
Media reports accused the island republic of reducing fishing days of US tuna boats in favour of European and Asian-owned boats. “Contrary to news headlines in recent days reporting widespread ‘shock’ at the news and ‘shattered regionalism’ for Pacific Fisheries, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency Deputy Director-General Wez Norris says Kiribati made its revised position clear in plenary sessions during the negotiations in Honolulu earlier this month,” the FFA said in a statement released on October 14. “Kiribati advised the negotiating session that due to changing circumstances it was no longer able to contribute the number of days it had in the past to the Treaty,” says Norris, adding, “the allocation of days is the sovereign prerogative of each Pacific Island Country and one that all governments undertake with much care and consideration for their national circumstances.”.
“The Pacific Island parties accepted that sovereign decision and used the time available in the negotiation session to identify alternative ways to provide a valuable and attractive offer to the US,” he says. “The ability to work together to deliver this package reflects the strength of regional collaboration and solidarity that has been the basis of Pacific fisheries management and development over the last 35 plus years and bodes well for the future”.
“Undoubtedly, the revised package will require a change in operations for at least part of the US industry and they made it clear at the session that this would come at cost to them; but at the end of the day, the deal was agreed to by all parties and will be the basis of cooperation in 2015.”
The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) continue to set the pace in fisheries management in the western Pacific and the group’s latest decisions are upsetting tuna fishing countries long used to controlling the multi-billion dollar industry. PNA ministers’ decision in midJune to raise fishing day fees by 33 percent—from US$6,000 to US$8,000—produced immediate concern from the United States tuna fishing industry that has for nearly 30 years enjoyed preferential access to PNA waters, where over 50 percent of the world’s supply of skipjack tuna is caught. The decision, made during the annual meeting of PNA ministers in Majuro, is part of PNA’s ongoing strategy to produce a larger share of revenue for the island. During the past four years under PNA’s “vessel day scheme” (VDS), the eight members have increased their revenues from US$60 million a year to about $250 million. The new price increase, which goes into effect next January, could bump revenues to a new record of over US$350 million.
“We are surprised and disappointed that this is being raised as an issue for 2015, since we had understood that the interim agreement settled this matter for 2015,” said Brian Hallman, the executive director of the American Tunaboat Association. Last year, after several years of arduous negotiations, the U.S. government and industry leaders agreed to increase their annual payment from US$21 million to US$63 million a year. But the way this funding is shared among all Forum island nations, it works out to less than the existing minimum day fee of US$6,000.
While the financial package was agreed a year ago, the treaty is still not in final form, and a negotiating session is scheduled in July in New Zealand. PNA’s new financial requirements dim hopes that the treaty will be concluded at the upcoming talks. “While it is understandable that the PNA countries wish to maximize their licensing revenue, context and timing are important,” said Hallman. “For the past year, the price of tuna to the fishermen has been significantly lower than previously, and some vessels are experiencing real economic problems right now.”