Tokelau’s tuna success – testament to Pacific solidarity’s multimillion dollar effect

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Team Tokelau at the 13th WCPFC headed by Mr Feleti Tulafono with consultant Lesley Gould. Photo F. Tauafiafi

Booming revenue from fishing license fees is prompting Tokelau the world’s fifth smallest country – to share its success with its neighbours.

Tokelau may have just 12 square kilometers of land on which 1300 of her people live, but her 320,000 sq. km of exclusive economic zone is blessed with an abundance of tuna and a smart management strategy is churning out millions of dollars for its government and citizens.

But instead of consolidating its booming fishery by looking inwards, Mr Feleti Tulafono and his two advisors currently attending the 13th Tuna Commission meeting in Fiji, say they want to extend and share Tokelau’s boon with cousin Samoa who is not so well endowed with fishery resources; and further out in solidarity to the Pacific family that together own some 15.5million sq. km of ocean.

The Tokelau take on Pacific solidarity, an inclusive communal way of sharing, was highlighted at the renewal of the US Tuna Treaty that was signed last Sunday ahead of the Tuna Commission meeting.

The Treaty signing was the endpoint of a lot of hard work over the last five to six years according to Mr Stan Crothers, one of Tokelau’s fisheries advisors.

“It should be considered a great success for all countries in terms of increasing their fisheries revenue.”

It will yield an estimated US$70m annually for Pacific countries; while the US fishing fleet becomes the only foreign fishing nation to gain an exclusive allocation of fishing days to the Pacific fishery.

The successful outcome, “is a fantastic example of Pacific solidarity,” Mr Crothers told Pacific Guardians.

“This is all the countries of the FFA [Forum Fisheries Agency] coming together, working hard together even though they have different sets of interests, to negotiate, with the biggest economy in the world and win – for the benefit of everyone.”

There is no question that solidarity was the pillar for success, showcasing it as a model of how the Pacific can benefit if they work together he added.

But solidarity needs wisdom to ensure the details, the terms and conditions are well defined and framed so that today’s bounty is harvested without being blind to how the future is impacted.

As Mr Crothers explained, “We’ve been very careful in negotiating this Treaty within the boundaries of sustainable management. That the [US] Treaty is part of the overall management regime in the Pacific. Specifically, it contributes to the sustainable management of the Purse Seine fishery and in that respect, yes, it certainly makes a big contribution.”

For Tokelau, its fishery generates 99 per cent of the country’s revenue, with the Purse Seine fishery, which is at the heart of the US Tuna Treaty, generating 90 per cent of the total income estimated “for 2016 at US$13.5million,” said Mr Crothers.

“This is the money that funds its teachers, doctors, support communities, hospitals, schools, its solar power project, this is really important for our development.”

But it wasn’t always this good for Tokelau – its fishery boom only started six years ago, with the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) central to success – specifically, the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS).

According to Mr Crothers, prior to 2010, Tokelau’s average return from its fisheries was less than US$1million.

That all changed in 2010 when the Tokelau General Fono (its legislative assembly) approved a new fisheries policy that ushered in a new era.

“As a result of that decision, we negotiated to become part of the PNA Vessel Day Scheme, and negotiated new access agreements with companies from Korea, from the European Union, Taiwan and others.

“The net result is we’ve gone from earning US$1m in 2010 to US$13.5m in 2016.

“For a small community of around 1200 people this is a significant amount of money and makes a significant difference to the lives of the people of Tokelau.”

Since 2016, Tokelau has taken a series of large steps forward in managing its EEZ.

“We’ve made good progress in that time. Now what are the next steps in that progression you may ask? Well there are two area we’re working on right now: (i) Building capability and capacity to allow Tokelau to take greater management responsibility of its EEZ, (ii) we are just in the process of implementing the VDS for our Longline Fishery. We’ve implemented it for our Purse Seine fishery with very good results and now we’re embarking on the same exercise with our Longline Fishery.

Central to that development is Tokelau reaching out in solidarity to close neighbor Samoa. Since Tokelau does not have ports or processing factories and its 25 licensed longline vessels fishing in its EEZ are catching a lot of fish, “a significant amount of that Longline fish is now being landed in Samoa, supporting the processing plant in Apia.

“This is a great example where Tokelau and also Samoa are benefitting. People are employed; facilities and supporting services are utilized. So it’s a win-win.

“That is a success story based on Tokelau’s tuna fishery the majority of people don’t know. A story of how Tokelau is adding value to Samoa’s economy.

“More importantly, we in the Pacific have made a lot of progress over the last 10 years. And what I’m very pleased about are fisheries officials across the region working together to generate more opportunities for the people of the Pacific. That’s Pacific solidarity at work.

“So watch this space because there is plenty more to come.”