NZ gives $5million to Asian nations as new illegal fishing threat grows

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Feleti Teo, Executive Director WCPFC and Matua Shane Jones, NZ’s Pacific Ambassador for Economic Development seal the deal with a traditional Maori Hongi.

The New Zealand government will fund a $5,000,000 project over five years to help Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam improve the management and protection of their tuna fisheries.

It comes as Pacific nations highlighted the growing number of ‘blue boats’, small wooden fishing boats mainly from Vietnam that have been caught fishing illegally in Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and even as far away as Australia and New Caledonia.

The New Zealand project was formally signed by NZ’s Pacific Economic Ambassador Matua Shane Jones and the Executive Director of the Pacific Tuna Comission (WCPFC) Feleti Teo Fiji on Wednesday, 7 December.

With the blue boat issue a hot topic during the WCPFC, the project signing was cause for some raised Pacific eye-brows.

WHY THE NZ PROJECT IS IMPORTANT TO PACIFIC COUNTRIES

However, the New Zealand project is “very, very important” to Pacific Forum countries according to Mr James Movick, head of the Pacific’s Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) tasked with advising Pacific leaders and facilitate regional co-operation and co-ordination on fisheries policies.

It’s very important “to us as we get a better view of what’s happening there, better reporting compliance which will be very important to us,” Mr Movick told Pacific Editors covering the 13th Tuna Commission meeting currently convening in Fiji.

The project targets data collection on the three most important commercial tuna species for the Pacific: skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye. These species range widely across the Pacific during their lifetimes and are worth much more than the marine species that are being lost to blue boats.

Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam “comprise 15 to 20 per cent of the (tuna) catch in the Western Central Pacific region at the present time, so it’s important that we have a clearer picture of what is happening in there.

“But our hope is that they will actually comply [with regional obligations],” he said.

The project aims to provide a ‘clearer picture’ in this Asian pocket of the Pacific fishery by improving the monitoring of tuna catch and landings through port state controls, and by building capacity in the three participating countries to capture and provide better data.

With improved systems and capability, the project is confident of achieving its principal goal of collecting improved data on which stock assessments are based; and lead to better fisheries management and compliance with regional obligations, for the long term sustainability of the Pacific’s tuna stocks and fishery.

But time is of the essence.

Hence Mr Movick is calling out the three Asian countries for more urgency as the Tuna Commission grapples with finding solutions to the many significant issues threatening the fishery and tuna resource. Especially the illegal practices and lack of adherence by members to regional obligations they have signed onto.

“We would strongly urge those [three] countries to use the New Zealand funding wisely. Not just to spend it, but use it to give us the quality of data the [Tuna] Commission needs,” Mr Movick emphasized.

“They have been receiving assistance already for the past few years through various mechanisms, under the Tuna Commission. And yet we are still not getting the level of data cooperation, that I think, should already be in place.”

THE TYPES OF DATA NEEDED

There are two critical types of data (operational and historical) the Pacific is hoping the east Asian countries will provide the Tuna Commission as a result of the New Zealand project.

Operational data is “critically important” according to Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) CEO, Mr Ludwig Kumoru who was also chair of the Tuna Commission’s Scientific Committee that review tuna stock assessments and issues recommendations regarding sustainability of the tuna resource.

“Operational data underpins the decision making of management. It tells us where the fish was caught, how much fish was caught, and the type of fish. And that is the basis of ‘Stock Assessment’,” he told reporters at the media briefing yesterday afternoon.

“This is the data that scientists need to analyse and base estimates on how much fish is left in the ocean.

“It is also this data that is not forthcoming from some of the fishing nations. But we can understand this situation because in their fisheries, there is a lot of fishing, mostly unregulated, so its difficult to get all this data.”

But even though there have been improvements made by Indonesia and the Philippines the current quality of data “is not at a level where we can have a lot of confidence…compared to data provided by Pacific nations.”

On historical data that date back to the 1950s, Mr Kumoru acknowledges the positive role of Japan and Taiwan in providing this type of data.

“It helps build an understanding of what the fishing stock was like before there was heavy fishing.”