Chair of Tuna Commission urges members to accept small steps as valuable progress

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By Viola Ulakai, Pacific Media@WCPFC13
Tuna Commission stakeholders need to be open minded as the rigidity of the past has not always served the Commission well, according to Commission Chair Rhea Moss-Christian.

Ms Moss-Christian made her remarks to around 500 delegates gathered in Nadi for 13th Annual Regular Session ot the Tuna Commission which is also known as the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries (WCPFC) .

Ms Moss-Christian said achieving agreement in a multilateral environment is tough and the stakes get higher each year if positions remain entrenched.

The Chair then referred to past disagreement on critical management action that may have left some of the members feeling discouraged.

She encouraged Stakeholders to be willingly flexible on finding ways to move forward, to commit to taking at the very least some small steps this year on the issues to be discussed in this week’s conference.

She advised the gathering that a quick forward movement would obviously be great. But as it is unlikely they should not underestimate the value of incremental progress.

She said this week Pacific nations and their fishing nation counterparts will consider elements of a Harvest Strategy Framework.

This week’s conference will also be reviewing conservation and management measures for tuna stocks to apply beyond 2017.

The Executive Director of the Tuna Commission Mr. Feleti Teo in his remarks said two of the key commercial tuna stocks, namely bigeye tuna and Pacific Bluefin tuna, are being overfished as assessed by the Commission’s own scientists. Therefore, recovery plans are urgently needed to restore those stocks to sustainable levels.

Mr Teo is hoping that the Commission can find a way forward this week to lay the foundation for those recovery plans.

He said the Commission is charged with managing a fishery that is multi-stock, multi-species, multi-fisheries, multi-gear and multi-zones and meaningful negotiations are very difficult in such environment.

In adopting a work plan on harvest strategy management, he believes the Commission is re-directing the conversation in the right direction. He reiterated that though there is much work ahead, a harvest strategy approach to fisheries management represents in his view an important way forward.

The Fiji Minister of Forestry and former Minister of Fisheries Hon. Osea Naiqamu in his welcoming address said this ever-evolving modern world has given stakeholders more tools to assist them in better understanding the work of the Convention.

Other priority areas to be discussed during the conference involved observers’ safety, harvest strategy framework, conservation measures and high sea management

The Honourable Minister of Fisheries Semisi Fakahau led Tonga’s delegation at the official opening event including the CEO of Fisheries Dr Tu’ikolongahau Halafihi.

Big jump in aid to Tonga after US Treaty signing

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Viola Ulukai, Pacific Media@WCPFC13
Tonga will get a boost in aid associated with the longstanding US Pacific Tuna treaty after it joined other Pacific Forum nations in signing a 6-year extension to financial arrangements for the Treaty.
The signing ceremony, which took place in Nadi on Saturday, brought an end to a rift between the Pacific and Washington which had resulted in Washington issuing a formal notice of withdrawal from the treaty.
Minister of Fisheries Hon Semisi Fakahau told Radio Tonga News the amendments to the treaty will result in increase of about 36% of Tonga’s aid share. According to Hon Fakahau, the previous agreement gave Tonga more than 6-hundred thousand US dollars a year but with the new agreement that will rise to 1-million and 10-thousand US dollars.
The Minister said the United States and the Pacific Islands Countries had to review the Treaty several times to accommodate both parties need due to rapid developments in Fisheries Industry, increasing in the number of fishing activities and also the United States wants to increase its number of catches in the region.
As part of the agreement, the United States is also willing to send its fishing boats to conduct surveys on Albacore in Tonga’s water, not only because Tonga wants to know more about this specific species in its water but Albacore is what the United States really want from the Pacific. He said US is paying an amount of money to Tonga for conducting the survey in its water.
At the moment no US boats fish in Tonga’s exclusive economic zone.
There are options in the agreement if the United States wants to increase the number of boats fishing in the Pacific and for this to take place without any tremendous increase in its fees.
The Minister said the Treaty allows the US fishing boats to fish in any of the 17 member countries of FFA, so if tuna migration patterns change due to Climate Change it will not be a problem for US fishing boats.
Hon. Fakahau stressed that the government and the Ministry of Fisheries will split Tonga’s 1-million US dollar share. He says the Ministry will use its portion for its development activities. It involves a plan to return Tu’imatamoana Wharf to the Ministry and a huge amount of funding is needed to help boosting Fisheries development activities in Tonga.
When speaking at the ceremony, the Minister said he was directly involved in the negotiations and it was not as easy as the Director General of FFA told the gathering.
Hon Fakahau thanked everyone who took part in making it as a success and reminded them that what they are doing helps the Pacific stay together and reinforces its strength and regional co-operation. He represented the FFA member countries in thanking Ambassador Judith Cefkin and the government of the United States.
Hon Fakahau said the signing ceremony demonstrates that the United States is taking the lead in the development of fisheries in the Pacific and it’s important for the Pacific because the fisheries resources are what they share among themselves. He says the leadership of the United States has indicated to the Pacific that they can stay together and always work together with the US government in the future and its effect will be a sign of peace in the Pacific.
The Minister reiterated that there is enough Tuna in Tonga’s water but the only problem is that there are not many fishing boats to take Tonga’s share before other fishing vessels fish them when migrating to other waters.
There was a trial exercise held recently by the Ministry in which every fishing boats must off-load 5 tons of Tuna from each trip to the local market. The purpose is for the public to have easy access to fish with low price. According to the Minister, it has been a popular move made by the Ministry. There are 7 fishing boats now with 4 owned by locals and there is a need to increase that number to about 15 or 20 not only to fish the livestock in Tonga’s water on economic purpose but for the public’s consumption in-terms of healthy food.
Tonga is a part of the Tokelau Arrangement, the new Pacific grouping based around albacore. There is a plan in the arrangement to improve management and to increase the fee being imposed on Albacore fishing fleets. New Zealand and Australia are helping in its process.

Hope for Tonga’s struggling tuna industry as Pacific makes albacore one its top priorities.

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By Viola Ulakai, Pacific Media@WCPFC13

Albacore tuna will be one of the top priorities for Pacific nations as they prepare to meet global fishing powers at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries commission in Nadi next week.
That will be good news for Tonga’s struggling tuna fleet which has shrunk from 27 boats to just 5 over the past 15 years as increasing numbers of foreign vessels enter the fishery.
With albacore stocks declining and new Chinese boats receiving fuel subsidies from their government that Pacific nations cannot afford, the Pacific Tuna Industry Association told journalists in Nadi the industry in some countries like Tonga has collapsed.
Wez Norris Deputy Director General of the Forum Fisheries Agency told journalists putting albacore on a sustainable footing is one of the priorities for Pacific nations.
While albacore stocks are declining, the problem is not about a risk of extinction but about profitability.
Mr Norris says albacore stocks are biologically sustainable but because of their life history characteristics really high stocks are needed to support an economically viable longline fishery.
He says because albacore has been depleted below those really high levels, the catch rates have declined very dramatically.

That makes it very difficult to run an economically viable business particularly for those countries that have domestic fleets.
Mr Norris says domestic fleets generally have higher cost structures than their distant water competitors, and they don’t have access to some of the subsidies that their distant water competitors receive.

In the past few years’ catches have been down but Mr Norris says this year has been better

Actuality//Norris//6:30 I think Tonga’s catches actually increased this year in the albacore fishery though so that is a good sign. Unfortunately, from our perspective, it has increased because of the changes in externalities rather than because we have got the management right yet. So fuel prices are lower and product prices are higher than they were say last year and the year before. So that is great that it has introduced some economic viability but it doesn’t change the fact that we need to reform the fishery to build the stock back up to those levels that support the catch rates. 28:27
There is also concern about subsidies as some, like fuel subsidies, are illegal under the WTO rules.
Pacific nations are working at the WTO to challenge the use of fuel subsidies but Mr Norris said in his personal view subsidies are only a problem if the Pacific Islands haven’t got management of the fishery right.
If the management rules are in place with appropriate limits on catch and effort and if those limits are controlled by Pacific nations, then he believes subsidies are not a problem.
In that case he says subsidies are actually an advantage because they make vessels more economically viable and Pacific countries can charge them more to fish.
But at the moment Tonga and other countries do not control catch limits.
The limits that are in place are not appropriate and they are not held by the Pacific Island countries as they are held by the flag states and so that is what provides the unfair competitive advantage to those vessels compared to domestic fleets. Whereas in the albacore fishery if it is the country that owns the limits then it is the national government who decides who gets to use that limit which domestic fleets would be given with the first chance.
Mr. Norris says domestic boats would get preference as they create other benefits such as employing nationals as crew, buying local fuel and landing their catch at local processing plants.……ends