Pacific solidarity needed to get climate change embedded in Tropical Tuna Measure

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Frozen tuna being transhipped near Madang. Photo credit: Francisco Blaha.
Frozen tuna being transhipped near Madang. Photo: Francisco Blaha.
Ronald Toito'ona

Honiara – As discussions on a new Tropical Tuna Measure (TTM) loom, Pacific island countries need to push more to get the international community to consider the impacts of climate change on the regional tuna fishery. It needs to take account of both high seas and in-zone allocations so that the measure can be more beneficial to the region.

Climate change has been come to be seen as one of the building blocks of the TTM, based on advice from the Scientific Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) that it is likely to result in increasing fish migration between zones to the east and the high seas. 

Therefore, it is up to the members of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) member countries to lead the development of new measure – and it is apparent that there will be a lot of push and pull factors coming from some developed countries.

The TTM, conservation and management measure 2018-01, is one of the most important rules governing tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

In a media conference to wrap up the 17th Tuna Commission meeting last December, the Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC), Mr Eugene Pangelinan, said, “As we move towards developing a new Tropical Tuna Measure or successor, our experiences in the past will dictate our behaviour in the future.

“The outcomes of what will be a Tropical Tuna Measure for 2022 onwards will be based on a lot of factors. I’m concerned that issues like climate change just might fall down through the cracks as we negotiate that Tropical Tuna Measure.”

A challenge for Pacific small island developing states

According to Mr Pangelinan, the discussions on pushing for the effects of climate change on the tuna fisheries to be part of the TTM was going to be a challenge for the small island developing states (SIDS) of the Pacific.

This is due to the fact that the developed countries will also push for their own priorities to be considered. 

“The way we see it, as we prepare for this process in 2021, I think some developed CCMs are starting to take a very strong position on their priorities, such as profits and profits for their vessels and ensuring that their vessels have a place in this fishery to retain what has been very beneficial to them,” Mr Pangelinan said. (CCMs are the members, cooperating non-members and participating territories that make up the WCPFC.)

The FFC chair said FFA had a “totally different” view, and anticipated that these kinds of issues might become watered down as people would be more focused on what members were trying to achieve through the objectives that would be agreed on in early 2021.

“So, it will be quite a challenge to bring in elements of climate change, crew and labour standards, and so forth,” Mr Pangelinan said. 

Besides these areas of most concern, he said that considering the impacts of COVID-19 in the discussions, “as we start carving out or drafting new measures, it’s going to be very difficult. I will say, we’re going to just be really ready and prepared as we have these discussions, and keep those in the back of our minds that they’re equally important to our people.”

“It is also important to also have leadership directives, from our highest levels of government that these are priorities as well,” Mr Pangelinan said.

Climate negotiations as everybody’s business

The FFA Director-General, Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen, told regional journalists after WCPFC17 that the fight for getting what’s beneficial to the Pacific island countries out of the new Tropical Tuna Measure was “everybody’s business” and could not be done by the FFA alone.

Dr Tupou-Roosen said it was a positive that Pacific leaders and ministers had highlighted the importance of climate change as the single greatest threat to their people. 

“Whilst we’re faced with the immediate challenge and impacts of COVID-19 staying very much in front, on top of mind is what we do in the climate change space,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.

“And so we will see that start to play out as well, in the discussions around the Tropical Tuna Measure, in terms of the high seas allocation, given the scientists telling us that there will be substantial amount of fish within our waters that will migrate to the high seas, due to climate change.

“This will be part of the conversation next year [2021] in that context.” 

Four maps showing movement of two species of tuna, skipjack and yellowfin, from western Pacific Ocean eastwards as a result of changes in the ocean with climate change. Source Pacific Community policy brief 2019
Projected distributions of skipjack and yellowfin tuna biomass in the Pacific Ocean in 2005, and in 2050 under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario. Source: SPC.

She said climate change was also linked to concerns about maritime boundaries. Discussion about this issue needed the support of all members and the regional community.

“Overall, climate change is a piece of work that cannot be done alone by the FFA and not just the secretariat and the members,” she said. 

“But this is a work that needs to be done with our partners within the regional architecture we have the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme as a lead in environmental issues, and as the lead in our preparation before the COP meeting at the end of 2021, and how we ensure that there are entry points into that conversation on our fisheries matters.

“Because we all recognise that we are not the cause of these issues related to climate change and global warming: it is the large gas emitters. The conversation is not happening in our in our fishery space.”.

Dr Tupou-Roosen said that the island states cooperating as a region in debates was important “to ensure that we can influence the debate, ensure that it has flow-on positive benefits and fight for our fisheries work.”

Mechanisms such as compensation could be used to the region’s advantage in the fishing space. However, Dr Tupou-Roosen hoped that the talks would be very successful once the upcoming COP meeting was held face to face.

Author: Ronald Toito'ona

Ronald F. Toito'ona is a communications specialist and freelance journalist from Solomon Islands. He has a special interest in reporting on fisheries and climate change issues in the Pacific region.