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.)
Japan is giving Solomon Islands aid to support its fisheries development programmes.
In an agreement signed on Monday, Japan is providing $US1.76 million so the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources can buy equipment to support development of fisheries and the management of coastal resources.
Under the Solomons National Development Scheme, fisheries is recognised as a key sector for food security and economic development.
The aid will also help the country deal with threats from over-fishing and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.
The Marshall Islands fisheries department is pushing two initiatives that could transform the country’s engagement in the multi-billion-dollar commercial tuna fishery in the region.
One initiative, to gain access to the lucrative European Union (EU) market, has long been desired by industry.
other, the fisheries department’s aim to gain a bigger piece of the tuna
revenue pie, is likely to cause industry concern, at least in the short-term.
Gaining access to Europe would require the establishment of the first “competent authority” in the Marshall Islands (RMI) that, once in place, can facilitate fish exports to the European Union, the world’s largest seafood market.
A competent authority is an entity that provides independent verification through inspections of vessels and processing plants, laboratory testing, and catch documentation to confirm that tuna catches for export meet EU requirements. The EU requires seafood exports from the RMI or other third countries to meet compliance requirements through a recognised competent authority.
“The key is to establish national standards that meet international standards,” says Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA) Director Glen Joseph, who is pushing the competent authority process forward.
Majuro has established itself as a hub for the tuna industry in recent years: over 300,000 tons of tuna was transhipped through Majuro in 2018. It was worth close to half a billion dollars at last year’s world market prices.
Industry players have encouraged the Marshall Islands to establish a competent authority to expand export options for the tuna industry, which now exports to markets in the United States, Canada, and Asia.
It will pilot Marshall Islands participation in the entire value chain of tuna from the sale of fishing days to vessels to the delivery of tuna tonnage to processing plants.
The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) has revolutionised island management of and engagement in the purse-seine fishery since it came into play in 2010. Mr Joseph says the VDS is a platform that allows for greater participation by individual PNA members or groups of islands. At the moment, the Marshall Islands, through MIMRA, sells several thousand fishing days annually to fishing companies, sales that generate around $25 million annually.
But Mr Joseph wants to move the Marshall Islands beyond simply selling fishing days to engaging in additional steps in the chain from catch to processing – all of which contribute a piece of the multi-billion-dollar value of the tuna industry in the Pacific.
Both the competent authority and participation in the tuna value chain are “opportunities we can harness and cater for”, Mr Joseph says.
“We can use them as leverage to catch more benefits [for Marshall Islands]. The Vessel Day Scheme itself gives us the confidence and leverage to participate throughout the value chain.”
PNA’s establishment of its brand and marketing arm, Pacifical, is a prime example of how the islands can gain greater benefits, says Mr Joseph. Pacifical has co-branded with global tuna companies to distribute sustainably caught tuna from PNA waters into a range of markets, including Australia and Europe.
“If the competent authority is done right, tuna boats can off-load in Majuro and participate in direct market access [to the EU],” Mr Joseph says.
MIMRA has engaged an expert on competent authority operations and is beginning the steps necessary to establish the entity for the Marshall Islands. Currently, four Pacific nations have competent authorities: Fiji, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea.
While the competent authority has long been promoted by industry because of the obvious export opportunities it opens up, there will likely be less enthusiasm from industry for increased Marshall Islands participation throughout the tuna value chain.
When PNA began full implementation of the VDS for the purse-seine industry 10 years ago, there was strong push back from certain parts of the industry and governments of distant-water fishing nations that did not like the changed management environment, which included the islands gaining a substantially larger slice of the tuna money pie. Revenue for the nine participating PNA islands has risen from $60 million in 2010 to close to $500 million last year.
“Now, vessels are paying us to access a portion of the value chain [fishing days],” Mr Joseph says.
“We want to take an integrated approach to fisheries development.”
MIMRA’s idea is that, instead of deriving revenue from only sale of fishing days, it can generate value – revenue – from the tuna resource at every stage in the process from catch to processing.
MIMRA’s concept for fuller participation is in line with “rights-based management”, which is what the PNA group has brought to the purse-seine fishery and is now developing for the longline industry.
“Some say, ‘You’re dreaming’. But these are our fish, and we want to take them to market. Some people said the VDS was a crazy idea. But look where we are today,” says Mr Joseph.
He pointed out that trading of fishing days among PNA members and pooling days together to give fishing vessels access to multiple zones, which increases the sale value of fishing day, are all working.
“Now, we are looking at trading rights,” he says.
“It’s a trial. We’re putting our neck out to see if it works. If we don’t try, we’ll never know.”
Pacific fisheries ministers have made their strongest commitment yet to ending slavery and poor working conditions on boats operating in the region.
Forum Fisheries Agency member countries have endorsed a rule which establishes minimum conditions for crew on board foreign fishing vessels.
These include things like contracts written in employees’ languages and making sure all crew are treated with dignity and fairness.
The agency’s director general, Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen, said the protections apply to both domestic and foreign fleets.
“Our members themselves have set a deadline that by 1 January 2020 they will make best endeavours to incorporate these minimum conditions into their national laws, their license conditions, their access agreements and that they will report back through our governing structures on how exactly they have incorporated these.”
The region’s fisheries ministers also endorsed a new strategy for the Pacific tuna fishery at the meeting.
They spoke of mitigating and adapting to climate change and improving management of the longline fishery and they decided to adopt a new Strategic Action Plan for the region.
Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen said it would it pave the way for a lot of important work in the region.
“The tuna our major stocks will move from west to east over time most notably after 2050. So it is critical that we start looking at what current fisheries management regimes we have in place and how we adapt and make it flexible and robust in response to that type of change.”
Papua New Guinea’s fisheries sector is losing out because climate change is driving fish away from its waters, PNG’s Fishing Industry Association says.
Association president Sylvester Pokajam, who’s the former managing director of the National Fisheries Authority, said shifting climatic conditions in the western Pacific were pushing certain fish species away from PNG.
The sector is struggling for revenue as a result, Mr Pokajam said.
On the bright side, more fishing vessels are flying the PNG Flag, he said.
Mr Pokajam also praised fishing companies who had established canneries in PNG, providing employment for local people.
PNG-based operations are processing nearly half of the fish caught in the country’s waters, a large portion of which is tuna, he said.
The association recently applied to have its purse seine skipjack and yellowfin tuna fishery assessed for certification by the Marine Stewardship Council.
The fishery includes onshore processing plants supported by PNG-flagged vessels and locally-based foreign fishing vessels.
Marshall Islands fisheries Minister Dennis Momotaro and Forum Fisheries Agency Director General Dr. Manu Tupou-Roosen signed an agreement for aerial surveillance following the opening of the new MIMRA headquarters.
Photo: RNZI/Kelly Lorennij
Pacific fisheries ministers want to see negotiations to end harmful fisheries subsidies.
Meeting this week in Pohnpei, the ministers and senior government officials say the subsidies can be a constraint on the ability of small island states to develop their own fisheries.
Of the distant water nations, China is known to give significant subsidies to its crews.
This week’s meeting of the Forum Fisheries Committee also affirmed that climate change is the single greatest threat to the security of the region, and it issued a directive for work to be done on adaptation responses.
Among other decisions the ministers also backed enhanced human rights protections for crews.
The Forum Fisheries Agency director general, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, said the meeting’s outputs are bold and far-reaching.
She said the agency secretariat will collaborate with its partners to deliver outcomes.
Coastal fisheries are vitally important in the Pacific with most people dependent on them for food and income, but they’re under threat.
While populations have been growing fish stocks have dramatically declined in all the valuable commercial coastal fisheries.
An advisor with the Locally Managed Marine Area Network, Hugh Govan, says this is of great concern given that it is healthy, locally available food and without it there will be negative impacts on health and incomes and an increased dependency on imported food.
This week the council of the Forum Fisheries Agency is to meet in the Federated States of Micronesia and Mr Govan says the Coastal Fisheries Working Group, of which he is part, is appealing to them to focus on the threatened coastal fishery.
He told Don Wiseman they want help fostering transparency and greater investment in coastal fisheries management.
Economic and climate resilience were key focus points of a meeting between the New Zealand and Cook Island government last week.
The 2019 Joint Ministerial Forum was held on Aitutaki and included Cook Island Prime Minister Henry Puna, his deputy Mark Brown and ministers Vaine Mokoroa and Robert Tapaitau.
The New Zealand delegation included deputy prime minister Winston Peters, cabinet minister Stuart Nash and foreign affairs undersecretary Fletcher Tabuteau.
Mr Tabuteau said the meeting focussed on a range of issues including infrastructure development, security, fisheries, the Pacific Islands Forum, climate change and health.
He said it was important for New Zealand to facilitate positive long-term outcomes in these areas.
“And actually part of the Pacific Reset conversation around the is how do we productively spend money now around resilience, sustainability , economic transformation so that in 10 years from now were not just spending another dollar on aid or recovery or things like that.”
Mr Tabuteau said there was also an emphasis on improving health support for Cook Islanders.
“How can we do more for you in terms of what do we do in New Zealand, and how can we extend that to the Cooks in a systematic way?”
It was the seventh time the meeting had been held between New Zealand the Cook Islands.
President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands Hilda Heine, and President of the Federated States of Micronesia David Panuelo, US President Donal Trump and President of the Republic of Palau Tommy E. Remengesau. Photo: Faceook/ US Embassy Kolonia.
Pacific analysts say a meeting between US President Donald Trump and the Freely Associated States has ignored climate change.
The historic event on Tuesday with Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia renewed Washington’s ties to the states.
But a joint-statement released later made no specific mention of climate change, a key issue for Pacific Island states.
Amy Searight from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said the US had instead focused on security cooperation.
“Overall there’s not been a huge change in approach. For the Trump administration, the real challenge is climate change, the number one priority obviously for the Pacific Island nations. And the Trump administration is doing nothing on climate change so that’s a big mismatch in priority.”
Pacific analyst Tess Newton Cain, of TNC consulting, said the comments coming out of Tuesday meeting paled compared with the attention Pacific leaders have given the issue at summits like the Pacific Islands Forum.
“There was no reference to whether there had been any discussion between the Pacific leaders and President Trump about the US rejoining the Paris agreement, which we might have expected them to talk about.”
Instead, issues leaders of at least two of the three Pacific nations at Tuesday’s meeting honed in on was China’s growing influence in the region.
Last week, Palau President Tommy Remengesau said in an opinion piece that China was threatening the Pacific with expansionism and militarisation.
And on Tuesday, Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine told the US defence secretary that China was placing economic pressure on her country.
“There’s growing concern that China is to some degree perhaps meddling in the political processes of these countries, trying to tip the scales for elections or other kinds of things,” said Dr Searight.
According to Palau-based journalist Bernadette Carreon, Pacific leaders were also using global fears over China as leverage with other vying partners.
She said Mr Remengesau’s opinion piece was uncharacteristically bullish in tone and may help extract concessions from the US, especially leading into the renegotiations of the Compacts of Free Association due to start soon.
“It’s like they’re dangling a carrot – it’s China.”