It said all four species that are economically important in the region – skipjack, South Pacific albacore, yellowfin and bigeye – are being fished sustainably.
In the parlance of the report, “none is being overfished, and overfishing is not occurring”, although there was “no room for complacency” in how fish stocks are managed because all four species continue to decline overall.
The abundance of a species is estimated against a benchmark, called a target reference point (TRP), which is a desirable level of stock needed to maintain the healthy functioning of the species, the environment it lives in, and the sustainability of fishing.
The report card said that numbers of skipjack tuna are above the target reference point (TRP) for that species. TRPs are being developed for the other three species.
The report noted that the value of tuna fishing to the region is increasing, and had passed the target for 2020.
Local employment in the tuna industry was also increasing, and was on target to meet the 2023 target.
Measurements taken of a dead shark … the WWF-SPREP agreement will help Pacific Island nations protect species that are important to economies and the proper functioning of natural environments. Photo: Francisco Blaha.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) have signed a renewed memorandum of understanding (MoU) to further strengthen conservation collaboration in Fiji and the South Pacific region.
The renewed MoU signed by WWF-Pacific’s Interim Director, Dr Benjamin Rawson, and SPREP’s Acting Director-General, Mr Roger Cornforth, will cement WWF and SPREP’s partnership for a further five years and support work programmes of common interest to both parties.
This will include collaborating on initiatives related to ecosystem-based adaptation or nature-based solutions; threatened, endangered and protected migratory species; planning, monitoring and communications for conservation; biodiversity of the deep sea; regional and international policies including multilateral environmental agreements; wetlands and Ramsar; marine spatial planning; and integrated ecosystem management.
Speaking at the signing, Dr Rawson welcomed the partnership as a great contribution to advancing environmental work at the national and regional levels.
“WWF and SPREP have collaborated over the years on issues that are affecting the Pacific, with a focus on communities and biodiversity. Today’s renewed MoU is a testimony to our shared commitment to deliver national, regional and international conservation priorities, and addressing issues including threatened species protection, reduction of bycatch fisheries and community adaptation to climate change,” said Dr Rawson.
The work outlined by the renewed MoU will also further strengthen WWF’s support to its project sites in Fiji’s Great Sea Reef Land and Seascape, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
The Acting Director-General of SPREP, Mr Roger Cornforth, highlighted that SPREP valued the shared partnership with WWF over the last five years.
“Together we have worked to support the conservation priorities of our Pacific members through the Regional Framework for Nature Conservation and Protected Areas in the Pacific Islands Region 2014–2020, including the conservation of turtles in Fiji, of dugong and seagrass in the Solomon Islands, and of sharks and rays throughout the Pacific, which has featured successful listings on CITES, promotion of shark sanctuaries and guidelines for in-water encounters.
“SPREP values the information and analysis that WWF contributes to our Pacific conservation partnership. Reporting such as WWF’s economic analysis of the blue economy in Melanesia adds significant value to the regional conservation effort and shows the value of our close collaboration for our members. We look forward to continuing this partnership, working together to help the regional struggle to halt the decline of biodiversity and best manage the impacts of climate change on our Pacific environment, cultures and livelihoods,” added the Acting Director-General of SPREP.
One such project is the current joint implementation of the Pacific Ecosystem-based Adaptation to Climate Change or PEBACC project in the province of Macuata on Fiji’s largest customary fishing ground (qoliqoli) and only Ramsar-designated wetland area, iQoliqoli Cokovata. An objective of the MoU will be to explore opportunities to expand Ramsar designation to other parts of the Great Sea Reef. Fiji’s Great Sea Reef is the third longest continuous reef system in the Southern Hemisphere.
The partnership will also strengthen continuous collaboration on conservation and management through monitoring and protection of bycatch species such as sea turtles, sharks and rays and sea birds within Fiji and the Western and Central Pacific Ocean region.
South Korea’s Dongwon Industries has achieved Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) status for its tropical yellowfin and skipjack tuna fishery in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).
It is the first fishery owned by a South Korean company to be certified to the sustainability standard. The free-school purse-seine fishery, which produced 162,000 metric tons of tuna in 2017, was certified by assessment body Control Union.
“I would like to offer my congratulations to Dongwon for this historic certification,” said Rupert Howes, the CEO of MSC.
“We hope this achievement will lead to other South Korean fisheries entering into the MSC assessment process to demonstrate their commitment to ocean sustainability and the stewardship of our precious ocean resources.”
The certification applies to free-school yellowfin and skipjack tuna caught by 12 purse-seine freezer vessels owned by Dongwon. Control Union determined it fulfilled the 28 principles for sustainable fishing set out in the MSC fisheries standard.
This includes strong management and governance, including 100% observer coverage and real-time monitoring via a remote Fisheries Monitoring Centre in Busan, South Korea.
Impact on other species is minimal, with 99% the catch made up of skipjack and yellowfin. The fishery is also required to further demonstrate that it is not having a detrimental impact on manta and mobula rays.
“It’s a great honor to achieve the first MSC fishery certification in Korea. By achieving the most prestigious certification, we are now able to give even further confidence to our customers that our operations are duly carried out in accordance with international regulations and international best practices,” said Myoung Woo Lee, the president and CEO of Dongwon.
Before tuna from the fishery can be sold with the blue MSC label, Dongwon will need to complete a traceability assessment to earn certification to the MSC’s chain-of-custody standard.
Also, like all other tuna fisheries operating in the WCPO, in order to ensure that the fishery can respond to future changes in the health of these tuna stocks, certification is conditional on the adoption of harvest strategies ,including harvest control rules, by all member states of the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission by 2021.
Tuna caught by the fishery is landed in Busan, Masan, and Mokpo in South Korea, Bangkok (Thailand), General Santos City (Philippines), Ho Chi Minh City and Cam Rahn (Vietnam), Manta (Ecuador), and Mazatlan and Manzanillo (Mexico).
Solomon Islands’ incoming representative to the United Nations will take to New York many of the causes he fought for when he headed the Parties to the Nauru Agreement.
Transform Aqorau was chief executive of the PNA for many years, and turned that body into a force that saw Pacific island nations start to earn substantial amounts of money from their tuna fishing resources.
He is now to become Solomon Islands’ permanent representative at the UN, and told Don Wiseman that it’s not his first diplomatic role, having worked for Foreign Affairs many years ago.
(Note: You can listen to a 6-minute interview with Mr Aqorau by clicking on the Radio New Zealand link above.)
In the varied debates about influence in the Pacific, rarely does Japan’s position in the region feature prominently. On the off-chance that Japan’s presence in the Pacific is discussed, its “aid diplomacy” is usuallycharacterised in quid pro quo terms.
Yet a closer examination of Japan’s aid projects demonstrates that such a transactional perception discounts the nature of Japan’s aid contributions to the Pacific.
The Lowy Institute Pacific Aid Map highlights Japan as the sixth largest donor in the region, having provided more than US$1 billion in aid between 2011 and 2017. Japan’s aid program has delivered a wide variety of projects covering the needs of the region, from sectors including infrastructure, health, and education.
It is time to recalibrate our perspective towards Japan’s position in the Pacific. As the focus on the region intensifies, greater consideration must be taken towards how Japan’s engagement can influence, affect, and support the foreign policy goals of other foreign partners such as Australia, New Zealand, the US, and even China.
One useful metric for assessing Japan’s influence in the Pacific can be demonstrated in how it assists its Pacific neighbours in managing their maritime economic resources.
The Pacific Islands nations contain some of the largest and most lucrative exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in the world, with the region responsible for more than half of the global tuna cannery supply. Unsurprisingly, given the size of such a major economic resource and the comparatively underdeveloped capabilities of Pacific nations to optimally harvest their supplies, they are obliged to allow other countries access to surpluses of the allowable catch, under Article 62 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. What this means in practice is that the Pacific Island nations have primarily benefited from bountiful marine resources by selling licenses under the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, which limits the number of vessels and number of days fishing are permitted within Pacific EEZs by foreign nations. This arrangement has also served as a means to prevent undercutting and to ensure sustainable fishing.
For its part, Japan has directed its aid projects to help Pacific countries not only increase their ability to benefit from maritime resources, but also protect them. Various soft loans have promoted the development of fisheries industries, while airport reconstruction extensionprojects, such as one in Micronesia, have sought to develop opportunities for air-freightingtuna. Japan has also sought to assist Pacific countries through technical missions designed to train sustainability enforcement monitors under the Nauru Agreement as well as develop marine conservation projects to address issues of environmental sustainability.
Yet despite agreement on conservation in Pacific EEZs, unsustainable overfishing in international waters ultimately reduces the fisheries that migrate back to these regions. These diminishing resources threaten to critically devalue the licenses which provide hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for Pacific governments and, by extension, provide capacity for development. Unsurprisingly, Pacific countries have struggled to sufficiently advocate their concerns on international forums against major fishing states such as China and the US.
It is here that Japan is an invaluable diplomatic partner. Japan has represented Pacific interests at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, transferred some of its unused fishing limits to China in order to reach an agreement, and sponsored draft agreements intended to keep catches of juvenile tuna to below 2002–04 average levels, in an effort to meet conservation goals.
While these projects and negotiations are only a portion of Japan’s aid and diplomatic network, they are indicative of Tokyo’s larger contribution in the Pacific region, too often overlooked and underdiscussed, but critical nonetheless.
Japan has managed to secure 40 of the highly lucrative Nauru Agreement licenses, the second highest number and equal with the United States, behind only China, which has 69. Tokyo has achieved this despite providing far less than Washington or Beijing in total monetary aid to the region.
To its credit, Canberra has recognised the strategic asset of a collaborative Pacific relationship, last year establishing the US-Australia-Japan trilateral Indo-Pacific partnership. However, beyond continuing to accelerate this “steady but slow” relationship with Tokyo, it is also critical that public discussion about Japan’s role in the Pacific matches its increased diplomatic engagement.
It can be easy to overlook Japan’s capability as a regional power in the Pacific. Too much focus on China can lead to an underappreciation of how Tokyo’s extensive relationships could offset Beijing’s position, particularly when considering that much like its network in Asia, Japan’s competitive advantage is “relational rather than material”.
Although Australia is still the dominant donor in the Pacific, wider collaboration with Japan would allow both countries to build on their respective strengths in Pacific development and act as diplomatic force multipliers. Though the donor rankings of aid shown in the Pacific Aid Map are not expected to change significantly in the coming years, it will be interesting to observe where Japan consolidates its aid efforts and if Australia attempts to complement them.
“The ocean is a great, interconnected system, and while we tend to work in sectors, the ocean doesn’t behave in sectors. So, what happens in one area what happens in another area, and we have to manage it accordingly,” Dr Johns says.
He says that, by bringing together all the science that’s happening across SPC, PCOSS makes it easier for information about one area or sector to be informed by science from all the other areas. This allows governments and communities to make better decisions that support communities in integrated ways.
The data and information also needs to be accessible and well-communicated.
“A key part of what we’re doing is making sure we’re translating science in a way that’s understandable to people,” Dr Johns says.
Dr Johns says PCOSS is useful nationally, to help individual countries manage their maritime zones, and internationally, because it can “provide a voice for the Pacific”.
The establishment of PCCOS (pronounced pea-coss) was announced at the Pacific Community’s 70th anniversary celebrations in 2017. SPC’s Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems division was given the job of setting it up. It worked with two other parts of SPC, the Geoscience, Energy and Maritime Division and the Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability Programme, to get the centre up and running.
The 49th CRGA meeting was held at the SPC headquarters in Noumea, New Caledonia.
In a communiqué on the outcomes of the meeting, the ministers noted that all stocks were continuing to decline and that there were gaps in tuna management, particularly on the high seas and in the longline fishery.
This was despite progress on meeting targets of the regional roadmap for sustainable fisheries. Progress had been driven largely by the purse-seine fishery, they said.
The ministers also “welcomed the priority that the FFA is placing on work to respond to the threat of climate change, which they say “is the single greatest threat to the security of Pacific Island countries”. They called for greater investment in research into the impact on tuna of climate change.
The ministers discussed improvements in minimum working conditions for crews working on foreign vessels that are licensed to fish in FFA members’ waters. They would extend these conditions to cover domestic fleets.
All smiles … Francisco Blaha and a Solomon Islander at work on a pole-and-line vessel in 2010. Francisco is this year’s SeaWeb Seafood Champion for advocacy. We profile him here. (Photo: Francisco Blaha)
Francisco “brings a unique perspective and has the credibility of very different but complementary groups in fisheries”, SeaWeb said when it announced the 2019 winners earlier this month. It noted that some of his ideas had been adopted by big players in the fishing industry.
Francisco sees his award as recognition
of his ability to work with three groups that were often at odds with each
other: governments, industry, and non-government organisations (NGOs). He says
the SeaWeb awards brings together many people trying to do the right thing.
“This is a good thing, with all the bad
news that fisheries get,” Francisco says.
“There are no superpowers attached to the award, to the disappointment of my daughter.”
SeaWeb is a project of the Ocean Foundation. It has presented awards in four categories since 2006 to recognise individuals and companies for outstanding leadership in promoting the production of environmentally responsible seafood.
It comes in part because he works for
himself, and does not have to follow any company line, he told Tuna Pacific
after winning the award.
“I guess people appreciate that I don’t
pretend to be anyone or anything I’m not: I’m just a dyslexic fisher that got
lucky with access to education and work for himself,” Francisco says.
“I have never had to use a suit and ties,
even when I was working with the UN [United Nations] in Rome. Whatever I got was on my own terms. I don’t
‘sell’ anything for anyone. If I don’t like something, I just don’t accept the
job, and I’m vocal on why I disagree with it.
“I dislike profoundly ingratitude and pretentiousness.”
Francisco discovers a love of the ocean
Anyone who has read Francisco’s popular blog – he says it had 25,000 individual readers in 2018 – knows that he began his fishing life working on boats taking squid, hake and toothfish in southern Argentina. But they may not know that he has an earlier association with the sea.
Francisco grew up far from the ocean, in
the traditional lands of the Guaraní people around the border of Paraguay and
Argentina, with his local mother and European father.
“My family crossed the Atlantic on board
a cruising ship from Germany all the way to Argentina when I was six years old.
I like to think that trip marked my life,” Francisco said.
It wasn’t the only thing that influenced
him to take up a life on the sea.
“I guess some people grow by action: they
decide they want similar things to their parents and other people around them.
Others, like me, grow by reaction, by going the opposite way. As anything to do
with the ocean was outside my family’s influence, I went that way,” Francisco says.
By joining the Argentinian navy as a
cadet, Francisco was able to go to high school. He learned a lot about “the
ocean, and rowing and swimming” – and then a second-hand 1976 National
Geographic fell into his hands.
“It had an article about the trip of the Hokule’a,
the Hawaiian double-hulled canoe that went from Honolulu to Papeete. I started
learning, reading history, and fantasising about the South Pacific,” he says.
Francisco loved the ocean, but not the military life – he admits to having a strong anti-authority streak – and when he was released from the navy after the Falklands War, he decided to go fishing for a few years, and worked as technician on board fishing and research vessels while he gained a Masters in fisheries science.
His experience of working during this time taught him that he had no desire to work in a job “where you spend half your time navigating political storms” of bureaucracies and grooming political connections to get jobs and promotions.
“So, I decided to come to the Pacific and
go to all those places I had read about in the article on the Hokule’a
as teenager. Two weeks after graduation, I got in a sailing boat that was going
to Tahiti via Cape Horn … no plans, no contacts, just hopes and a smile.”
He spent almost two years heading west, fishing
and doing odd jobs in Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, before landing in New Zealand in
1995. He fell in love with the country, and has set up his life there.
An introduction to fisheries compliance
Francisco worked for New Zealand fishing
companies such as Sanford and Simunovich Fisheries. It was here that he was introduced
to a level of fisheries compliance he had not experienced. To his surprise, he
enjoyed the work.
Having decided it would be useful to have
a degree from an English-speaking university, he earned a Masters in food science,
then started doing domestic consulting work.
“I found international fisheries
consulting work mostly by chance,” Francisco says. “I didn’t know such a job
existed. But if fit me well: I know fishing, I have a good practical and
academic background, and I love travelling and spending time with fisheries
people. I also have a total lack of embarrassment about trying new languages,
and that helped, too.”
Apart from a two-year stint with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Rome, he has worked for himself for the past 25 years.
A familiar face in the Pacific – and around the world
Francisco is now a familiar face in the
Western and Central Pacific Ocean, where he holds contracts with governments,
charitable and non-government organisations, and international bodies. Most of
his work these days is with monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) to
combat illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. This involves him in
the development of port state measures (PSM) and catch documentation schemes
He does a lot of work with the Pacific Islands Fisheries Forum Agency (FFA), from high-level development of procedures such as the Port State Measures Framework to training compliance officers to the use of new hook-type scales to monitor transhipment volumes.
“The Guaraní I grew up with have a
culture that has a surprising affinity with the cultures of the Pacific, so the
customs that are the basis of Pacific life are not too foreign to me. When I
started collaborating with the FFA over 10 years ago, I found an organisation
whose values are akin to mine,” Francisco says.
“FFA is at the edge of the best practices
in fisheries worldwide. I love working for them. In fact, I consider many of
the staff as part of my extended family now.”
Home, soul and family in the Pacific
Francisco has his fingers in many other
pies, too. Among other projects, he is an adviser for the Marshall Islands
Marine Resource Authority (under a contract with the NZ Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and Trade), “dealing with an amazing variety of stuff, from strategy
advice, procurement for boarding boats, intelligence analysis of vessels
arriving at port, inspections—and 100 other things.”
He is working with FAO on the implementation of port state measures and social responsibility and the use of blockchain technology to make the chain of fish production more transparent. And he is collaborating with OceanMind on remote intelligence analysis of fishing vessels.
A one-off project he had fun with was developing a colouring book to help train subsistence fishers of countries that belong to the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation forum on best practice in fishing.
Francisco’s work isn’t restricted to this region. In his CV, he lists 58 countries he’s worked with around the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.
However, while he works around the world,
his work in the Pacific has special meaning for him.
“The Pacific has been home for half my
life. It has given me a second run in life, and family, friends, meaningful
work, and an oceanic playground to surf, do open-water swims, spearfish,
paddle, navigate by wayfinding … My soul is at home in the Pacific. And the
Pacific fishing problems are my fishing problems – I live off fishing in this
ocean for most of my year.”
A passion for fairness
For someone who holds little regard for
rank, the challenging world of compliance may seem like an odd choice of
“The fact that I am here today in New
Zealand with this job is a function of my past, and relates to my appreciation
of the concept of fairness and equal opportunities. I’m coming into it from the
perspective of it being fair for all sides. It does not relate to enforcing
rules,” Francisco says.
“For me, the fisheries ‘crisis’ is not a
biological crisis, but one of politics, transparency, and fairness.
“Right now, the system is not fair. When
I broke my knee on board back in Argentina, when I had exams at university, there
was a ‘system’ set up by the fishers’ union to look after me. When I see the
conditions and pay that many of the crews today have, it just upsets me!
“I have the same posture on gender and
diversity. I don’t participate any more on panels and conferences unless the
organisers can prove that there is more diversity than at the last one. This is
not some ‘new age’ thing I’m trying to pose for; it’s just that is not fair,
and that is enough for me.
“I grew up in a country with not much of
a culture of compliance, and while I felt that many of the rules were
dumb, at least I expected they should have applied equally to everyone and
not just to some. The equality of the rule of law in New Zealand is a rare
He says he had found a niche that suits him,
working “in the middle” between regulators with whom he shares insights into
fishing; industry, which he can help be more cost-effective; and the fishers, for
whom he is a voice for decent working conditions and wages.
He is proud of being trusted by all.
“People respect that you understand their
job because you have done it yourself. For example, when you go on board, crew
immediately know if you spent time fishing by the way you move on board, the
fact that you know how to operate the instruments and the bridge—and that you
can call them on technical issues when they are trying to derail the
conversation when you find a compliance problem.
“It’s the same at factories. And in boardrooms. When people know you know your stuff, that is good for everyone to improve the industry.”
Fishing is the people – men and women
Francisco likes to point out that he
doesn’t work with fish any more.
“I work with the people who work with
fish. I love working with fishermen and fisheries inspectors, factory people. I
have gained a much wider perspective by working on the ground than being in
classrooms,” Francisco says.
“In a fishing boat, you don’t have to
like the guy next to you, but you should be able to trust him. Everyone on
board has a job, and you have to do your job right. If you don’t, people die;
it’s as simple as that.
“Fishing also makes you very aware
of your overall insignificance. When you are in storm at sea and there are 20 metre
waves outside and 80 knot wind gusts, nothing really matters a lot other than
staying alive. And when you see those seas and what nature can be, it is a
profound life experience … or at least it is for me.”
He would like to see more women working
in all fields of the fishing industry.
“It still is an unfair playing field out
there,” Francisco says.
“But I would say to women that it is
getting better, mostly because other women before you started opening the way.
Now it’s your turn. Many men are also changing and walking along with you, and
you’ll be surprised how many good people are out there for each of the idiots
you will still find along your path.”
Francisco says that he has been shaped by
fishers and fisheries; that they allowed him to educate himself, help his
family, make friends, and work in places he’d never heard of.
“I love fisheries, and fisheries are
people, for good and for bad, and they cannot and should not be separated. My
favourite Māori proverb or whakataukī
is something I appreciate more as I get older. It goes: He aha te mea nui o
te ao. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
“What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.”