FFA Pacific nations at forefront of fisheries management: maximize returns and food security

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Managing the Pacific’s tuna stock is important in terms of the global marine ecosystem and for Pacific people and their economies. It points to Pacific solidarity as the guide for technological methodology and innovations to maximize commerce while protecting the cultural integrity and health of its vast 19.3million square kilometers of ocean real estate.

A view from Malololelei of Samoa’s bustling capital Apia facing the Pacific Ocean and its riches. Photo Pacific Guardians.

The Pacific is blessed with the largest and most valuable oceanic fishery on the planet. Alone, it yields close to 60 per cent (3.5m metric tons) of the globe’s entire annual tuna harvest (4.99m metric tons) in 2014. According to the latest FFA Economic indicators report, the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) share of the global catch of albacore, bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tunas increased from 50% in 2006 to 58% in 2014. In 2015 the total WCPO catch of these species was 2.7 million tonnes, 57% of global production of 4.7 million tonnes. The total WCPO catch in 2015 was down 7% on the 2014 record catch of 2.9 million tonnes driven by a decline in the catch from the purse seine fishery as intense El Nino conditions prevailed over most of the year.

But with the resource blessing comes two great responsibilities for the 17 Pacific countries and one territory that together own 19.3million square kilometers of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the Western Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).

All of them form a collective under an agency they established in 1979, the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), to help members manage their fishery resources with the goals: sustainability, value, employment, and food security.

RESPONSIBILITY 1: ECONOMIC – PRUDENT COMMERCIAL MANAGEMENT, PROTECTION AND SUSTAINABILITY.

One of the key challenges FFA members face at the national and regional levels, is to maximize their share of economic benefits flowing from the exploitation of the tuna resource.

Plans and policies are constantly formulated to maximize commercial opportunities within the FFA members fishery with the latest figures showing a ‘dock value’ of US$3.1billion (2014 figures). These also include exploring the potential to take slices from different levels of the supply chain right down to the retail end – where tuna products from the Pacific fishery were valued at US$22.7billion in 2014 (more than 50 per cent of the global value US$44.2billion, 2014).

Pacific leaders have prioritized this area of focus since 2010 when they were presented the ‘Future of Fisheries’ study predicting the “region’s tuna catch in 2024 will be worth double what it is in 2014.”

However, the study pointed out that if nothing is done, Pacific countries will not gain much from that two-fold increase, “Although tuna fisheries are seen as an important opportunity for economic development, we are still in the situation of allowing two-thirds of our tuna to be harvested by foreign fishing boats; and nearly 90 per cent is taken out of the region for processing. Larger and more developed countries are taking our fish to create their profits, exports and jobs.”

The study detailed one of the ways to ensure Pacific countries get their fair share (of profits, exports, jobs) would be, “by increasing value rather than volume, by eliminating oversupply and targeting higher value products and markets. In line with increased value and profitability, there will be scope to increase access fees for countries that wish to continue licensing foreign vessels.”

In 2015, FFA members adopted the Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Pacific Fisheries to express their shared goals and strategies revolving around two broad goals:

  1. taking control of the fishery, and
  2. leveraging that control to maximize the economic benefits generated from the fishery to national economies.

At the same time, they also tasked regional agencies to extract further gains in revenue by reduce/eliminating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in the fishery.

In March 2016, a report, the first of its kind, to quantify IUU in the Pacific fishery was released.

It revealed that 306,440tonnes of tuna were lost annually to illegal fishing. A volume of tuna that equates to US$616million per annum.

However, the report explicitly pointed out the US$616million ‘Ex-vessel’ value is not a good indicator of actual loss to FFA members.

“This is because the full value of the catch is not returned to coastal states under normal circumstances (only a proportion of total revenue is, typically through access fees) and because of their nature, some risks may not necessarily result in direct losses,” it stated.

A better measure “is likely to be the economic rent lost as a result of IUU activity.”

Tokelauans, owners of 518,000 sq kms of ocean do not see the US$152.67m robbery taking place in their waters. Photo Pacific Guardians (Nukunonu Atoll, March 2017).

Therefore, it estimated the rent loss to FFA members, and a more accurate cost of IUU activity in the region “is around US$152.67million”.

For the 15 FFA Pacific small island countries and territory, that sum of money would make a significant difference to the lives and well-being of their people.

It would increase investments in human capital, along with small but strategic infrastructure projects, which would yield substantial economic returns by enhancing productivity. At the same, would help its fisheries agency better manage and control their fisheries.

But while the fight against IUU is ongoing, many Pacific countries are already reaping increased fisheries revenues.

In the Federated States of Micronesia, fiscal year 2015, fishing license fees contributed to 65 per cent of government revenues excluding grants. This is seen to climb to 74 per cent in fiscal year 2016 highlighting the need for sustainable management of the FSM’s fisheries.

From 2008 to 2015, revenues from fishing license as a percentage of GDP has increased in a number of countries: FSM (from 6.3 to 13.6); Kiribati (19.6 to 61.4); and Tuvalu (from 20.9 to 35.9)

This increased revenue has enabled them to: (i) improve fiscal positions, (ii) increase savings in public trust funds, (iii) increase government expenditure—particularly investments in human capital, (iv) for a normal size cannery in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, over a thousand workers when properly trained, can fill all of the positions including managers, engineers, accountants, cleaners, mechanics, and (v) jobs keep people at home which enables maintenance and continuation of their languages, traditional, and cultural ways of life.

RESPONSIBILITY 2: GLOBAL SECURITY.

According to the Pews Charitable Trust, “Ecologically, tuna are a vital part of marine systems. Their importance in food webs as predators and prey
is difficult to monetize; however, tuna are known to play a fundamental role in open ocean ecosystems. And that makes maintaining their health critically important to human communities, [in other parts of the globe,] that rely on them for food and economic well-being, particularly at a time of global ocean change.”

But there is also another, equally important dimension to the security issue where global fisheries and network extends beyond environmental and economic harm.

For not only are the oceans rife with illicit fishing practices that threaten the marine ecosystems, regional and global food security; human welfare concerns and labor rights abuses; the industry is also a conduit for human trafficking, drugs and other illicit activities.

NTSA, PNA SAMPLES OF SUCCESS THROUGH SOLIDARITY

It is at this illegal junction that an innovative multilateral approach by the FFA through the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement (NTSA), is setting a new standard for combatting IUU fishing and its broader affiliated harmful activities.

It is a legal agreement that acts as a platform for cooperation between Parties on monitoring, control and surveillance of fishing; together with procedures for prosecuting and penalising illegal fishing vessels. Another component that targets ‘Persons of Interest’ is being developed.

Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen with the PNG participants at the recent NTSA workshop in Honiara, Solomon Islands, March 2017. Photo: FFA Media.

According to the head of the legal team behind the NTSA, “The way it’s set-up with its objective of combatting IUU fishing, enhancing active participation on surveillance and enforcement with the broader objective above that, that we can achieve our fisheries management objectives and maximize the social and economic benefits for our people.

“There is every possibility that this NTSA framework can be used in any scenario that we will be seeking to capture IUU offenders,” Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen told Pacific Guardians at FFA headquarters earlier this month.

But the potential of the NTSA extends beyond the boundaries of the fishing sector because of a unique legal capability that’s being built in.

A legal capability that allows fisheries data and intelligence to be shared for broader law enforcement purposes, and vice versa. “A legal capability consistent with our Leaders’ call in 2016 to end transnational crimes such as ‘human trafficking and illicit trade’,” said Dr Tupou-Roosen.

“The unique feature of the NTSA is that we are able to share with those broader law enforcement agencies any information that we think is critical to them like human trafficking through our own inspection of fishing vessels; Illicit trade, any of those transnational crimes.

“So there is a real ability through the NTSA to assist the region in broader law enforcement effort. And it is not just one way, that we share with them, but also the other way, in how they share back with us any information they find in their line of work that would be relevant for fisheries purposes.”

It is not hard to look past the NTSA’s unique foundational frame because it is based on the Pacific’s ‘communal’ cultural mores – identified as solidarity in the Western context. A characteristic reaping success for the eight Pacific member Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA). Their innovative licensing regime, Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) which also includes Tokelau, has increased fishing license revenues by more than 400 per cent between 2011 and 2015.

Success that’s facilitated through two important facts: PNA members EEZs cover a substantial proportion of waters in which skipjack tuna are fished globally; and their ‘Pacific communal’ agreement to enforce the VDS as a regional regulatory arrangement.

It is this evidence, of Pacific communal actions to effect positive outcomes that provides confidence to extend the NTSA’s multinational framework beyond the fisheries industry. That the legal framework underpinning the NTSA is a viable tool for broader law enforcement efforts that would, with other monitoring, surveillance and control tools will be effective in fighting IUU in the Pacific’s oceanic fisheries, its coastal waters (as in the illegal Vietnamese Blue Boats), but also in combatting other transnational criminal and illicit activities.

With these innovative initiatives and more muscle being shown by Pacific leaders and FFA members, as in pushing the Observer Safety measure through at the 2016 Tuna Commission, there is hope that the Pacific’s tuna fishery is heading to a more sustainably managed future.

And at the same time, the collective strength of the Pacific’s 19.3million square kilometer of EEZs will also attract strong partnerships with other regional, national, and local governments, plus networks of fisheries sector stakeholders including non-governmental organizations, industry leaders, standards organizations, local universities, and fisherfolk that would lead to better protection of the world’s marine ecosystem, of vulnerable small island states in other oceans, and health of our planet’s ocean. –ENDS

 

 

Vietnamese reef robbers- rocking the Pacific boat

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Koror, Palau  ‘Blue Boats’ a phantom fleet of marginally registered fishing vessels, set sail from small villages in Vietnam to venture out and spread throughout the Pacific. Made of wood and painted in a hue that blends invisibly with the ocean, these boats are virtually undetectable to 21st-century marine radar.

Bypassing tuna, these poachers target coastal fish stocks and other marine resources that are easier to harvest. Although they do not come for the prized tuna catch, their unwelcome entry in the Pacific waters now poses a big problem to many small island nations in the region. These boats have been spotted in Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and New Caledonia. There is also a strong possibility that they are in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

The growing threat of these ocean pillagers in the Pacific is a serious concern raised during the annual Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting held in Nadi, Fiji from Dec. 5 to 9.

James Movick, director general of Forum Fisheries Agencies, said these poachers are not after the highly-migratory species but are stealing coastal reef resources such as sea cucumbers, clams and other sea creatures that local fishermen are not even allowed to take.

Vu Duyen Hai, head of the Vietnamese delegation to the WCPFC meeting, said Vietnam has approximately 105,000 blue boats. While aware of their intrusion, Vu could not say how many of them have illegally entered the regional waters.

“We have been informed by some other countries that Vietnamese vessels come to Palau or Micronesia to poach,” Hai said. “We are not so sure that they are Vietnamese vessel or that they are Vietnamese flagged.”

Because the blue boats are not equipped with GPS, Hai said they follow the fish and unintentionally enter the EEZ of other nations.

While it may not be clear from which villages the blue boats are coming, these fishing vessels bear the tradition of Nha Trang, the first big boat-building city surrounded by several harbors at the northern end of the South Coast and its river mouth holds hundreds of boats. These motorized fishing boats are painted, with bright red and white trim around the windows and panels in the cabin top. Their bows are tall.

Some nations take a hard-line in dealing with these blue boats, which have been compared to a “thief in the night,” who enters the home and steals the most precious resources. In Palau, Vietnam’s unwanted poaching has been put on notice with at least five boats having been burned since 2015. The vessels that had been burnt were caught fishing illegally off of Kayangel Island, with over 8 metric tons of sea cucumbers and reef fish on board. “We will not tolerate any more unsustainable acts. Palau guarantees, you will return with nothing,” Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. said.

“I think they are doing very big damage. I mean we have found them in Australia, in Papua New Guinea, in Palau, and Federated States of Micronesia. So if they have found them there, then they must be everywhere,” Ludwig Kumoru, CEO of Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), told Pacific reporters at the WCPFC meeting.

Vietnam, a cooperating non-member country of WCPFC, has expressed interest to become a full member. But several WCPFC members impacted by the blue boats are not keen to accept Vietnam into the commission.

“It is a matter that goes way beyond our imagination.” Eugene Pangelinan, FSM. (Photocredit: FFAmedia)

FSM Head of Delegation Eugene Pangelinan said the problem is being exacerbated by Vietnam’s failure to provide any regulation or control over boats that have been arrested in FSM waters.

It is a matter that goes way beyond our imagination.” Pangelinan said, describing how these activities seem to be condoned by flag states that allow a large number of vessels to go out beyond their monitoring capabilities or ability to exercise flagship obligations.

At a plenary session, the Vietnam delegation recommended that a hotline be established between the Asian nation and the islands so future incidences could be addressed through communication. Pangelinan rejected the suggestion. “We don’t feel like a ‘hotline’ is what the Law of the Sea convention calls for,” he said. “We want them to live up to their flag state duty to prosecute or take other actions against the blue boats.”

Between December 2014 and September 2016, the FSM has seized more than nine Vietnamese vessels and arrested approximately 169 crew members, according to a briefing paper distributed to the media at an earlier Pacific Island Leaders Summit in Pohnpei.

The FSM has borne the substantial cost of detecting the vessels, making the arrest, as well as transporting, feeding, and repatriating the crew members, Pangelinan said. He noted that some of crew members, who have been arrested and sent home by the FSM government, later came back and arrested again.

Suzanne Lowe-Gallen, chief of Compliance and Technical Projects for FSM, said surveillance and arrests of these boats has cost the FSM government more than $200,000.

According to Keobel Sakuma, Palau National Marine Sanctuary executive director, the blue boats and their destructive practices affect Palau’s nearshore marine life, resources which are vital to the tourism industry and to the island’s food security.

WCPFC chair Rhea Moss-Christian also shared her perspective, “It’s certainly an issue of concern because it relates to Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported (IUU) issues in general and impacts small island coastal states,” she added that they will wait and see what the most affected members have in terms of proposals or requests for action.

FSM, which has been gravely affected, urged the commission needs to address the issue. “The impacts of IUU are not localized, but are felt across the region. And as such, collaboration is key toward combating the detrimental effects of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, in particular these unacknowledged, uninvited and unwelcome blue boats,” according to a statement by the FSM government, which was read before the commission.

The Forum Fisheries Agency will be taking steps to put into place a number of surveillance mechanisms that will allow assistance to countries that are being affected by the problem. “As a regional agency we recognize that we have a responsibility and there is an opportunity for us to use the regional platforms and mechanisms that we have in order to support those countries to better monitor and survey any possible blue boat activities. So we are planning to bring together those parties that are currently being affected sometime in the first quarter of next year in order to discuss this strategy,” Movick stated, adding that the agency is looking at utilizing satellite surveillance to get a handle of the issue.

One economic impact of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing on developing countries is the direct loss of the value of the catches that could be taken by local fishermen if the IUU fishing were not taking place. According to the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency’s 100-page report released in March 2016, illegal fishing in the Pacific Ocean is costing more than $600 million a year and is mainly being carried out by legally licensed fishing vessels, a report has found. The agency’s report is the first in-depth attempt to investigate, quantify and place a monetary value on the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practices in the region. “IUU fishing by the licensed fleet accounts for over 95 percent of the total volume and value of IUU activity estimated here,” the report said.

On the global level, the Conservationist group Oceana estimates that the world economy loses between $10 billion and $23 billion annually from illegal fishing. IUU harvests may be brought to market at a lower price as unfair competition to the same products from the regulated supply or as a mislabeled competing product. In either situation this illegal unregulated contribution to the market may lower the overall quality and price of products available, thus creating an economic burden on harvesters following the laws and regulations.–First published in Pacific Note

Profiles from the Oceanic Fishery: Rhea Moss-Christian

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A real life David and Goliath struggle has unraveled in the Pacific as a young woman from a small island nation takes on the cause of protecting the world’s dwindling tuna stocks against bigger countries and interests — a role that has earned her global respect.

In her day job Rhea Moss- Christian works as the special adviser on Oceans and Trade to the government of the Marshall Islands, where she provides direct support to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. It is in her unpaid role as chair of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, the rule-setting body for the world’s biggest tuna fishery, that she has won the respect of the world by moving the institution from a state of paralysis.

At 42, Christian had spent more than half her life working with tuna and other marine resources. “For 20 years I have been following this path on fisheries,” Moss-Christian said. Her work in fisheries started with her undergraduate study in an American University. But her career began during the time WCPFC Convention was being negotiated in the 1990’s. The convention eventually gave birth to the commission.

Straight from school she helped the RMI government during the regional fisheries meetings and the United Nations negotiations as the they struggled with other Pacific countries to establish a body that would bring sustainable management to the last healthy fishery resources.

Christian is a cheerful young mother who takes her job seriously. She made history as the first woman to chair the Pacific Tuna Commission, a body which brings together all the big fishing nations from Europe, Asia and North America with developing Pacific nations such as Indonesia and the Philippines. Her recent re-election for a second two-year term is testament to the respect she has won from the members.

She wears so many hats and has recently given birth. As she travels around Asia and the Pacific with a breastfeeding baby, she is breaking new ground for women hoping to make a positive impact in the world.

When asked about her experience as chair from a small island nation such as the Marshalls, Christina said she doesn’t see a problem dealing with commission members from large countries. “I don’t know if it affects me directly, I work very hard, I try to give equal time to delegations. I don’t see that my representation as a small island state should cloud my ability to do that,” she said.

WCPFC membership includes all the nations that fish in the Western and Central Pacific and the resource-owning island states. The aim of the commission is to put fishing for tuna and other species that range widely across the ocean on an economically and environmentally-sustainable footing. Fishing is a cut-throat industry powerful nations involved have not been willing to act even when tuna stocks drop to critical levels.

As chair of the commission, Christian shoulders a huge responsibility especially when two of the main commercial species of tuna are at dangerously low levels. The Pacific bluefin tuna and bigeye tuna are in most trouble, with bluefin down to 2.6 per cent of pre-fishing stocks and bigeye down to 16 per cent. Both stocks continue to be overfished. Christian said the challenge can be daunting as different countries have different interests. The way the commission is set up every one has to agree to measures or they will not be agreed. She said that the challenge is to help members meet their interests. There is a mechanism to do that and “there is a way for them to agree to take action even if they don’t see it immediately,” Christian added.

Christian, in her pioneering role, said she is humble about her substantial contribution and happy to see more opportunities for women.“I see myself as someone who cares about the issue not as a woman but as someone who plays on my strengths, (in) taking the role as chair,” she said. “From the time I started to now, it’s encouraging to see that there is a more balanced representation (of women) at meetings and in their delegation, I think that is just a sign of growing interests overall in the importance of fisheries especially in the Pacific region,” she said.–First published in Pacific Island Times and Pacific Note

Reef Robbers: Who’s paying? New pressures for Pacific surveillance from Vietnam’s Blue Boats

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Does the Pacific have a system capable of mounting effective surveillance, capture and arrest illegal vessels and operators in its 20million-plus square kilometer fishery? The answer to that, over more than a decade of Surveillance Operations in the region, is an emphatic ‘Yes.’

But the newer question the region is asking itself has a mixed response. Can the region deal to the ‘Vietnamese Blue Boats’ threat putting our Pacific reef systems on the line? The answer to that is Yes and No.

THE YES!

Yes because the 17 Pacific Forum countries have a special system specially set-up to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU) in its multi-billion dollar fishery.

The system called the Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) network run by FFA is enormously powerful. Its scope is oceanic, it has multiple international partners that contribute to it [the Australian, French, New Zealand and United States of America military collectively called the ‘Quad’], and all of the Pacific’s fisheries agencies’ IUU-related networks feeding into it.

Any lingering doubts about the power it wields were put to rest last week when the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) apprehended three illegal ‘Vietnamese Blue Boats’ at the Indispensable Reef 50 kilometers south of Rennell Island, Renbel Province after being directed there by an aircraft provided by France under the FFA’s regional MCS framework.

Near midnight on Sunday, 26 March, RSIPF’s patrol boat Auki rammed and boarded the first of the four vessels, all of whom refused to stop when called. The crews of each vessel boarded were apprehended and detained aboard Auki. And even though sister patrol boat Lata later joined the fray, the logistics of managing arrested crew and corralling the three apprehended vessels gave the fourth ‘blue boat’ an opportunity to escape.

What the Solomon Islands operation demonstrated was the capability of the MCS system.

It could not have been better staged or timed as on Monday this week, the who’s who of Pacific Fisheries are in Honiara for the annual series of Monitoring, Control and Surveillance sessions to tackle IUU fishing in the Pacific tuna fishery.

FFA’s Director General alluded to the MCS network’s role in the Solomon Islands ‘blue boat’ operation, “It is important that we have this capability. That the fishing industry understand we have the capability to mount effective surveillance and to apprehend vessels if we need to,” Mr James Movick stated during his opening address to officials at the regions annual MCS working group meet. These sessions set the agenda for what MCS priorities are tabled to the regional Forum Fisheries Committee in May, with the outcomes set before Fisheries Ministers in July.

In essence, it is FFA within the regional MCS strategy that provides the centralized hub for the Pacific’s various fisheries networks such as the Regional Observer Program, Vessel Monitoring, Information and technology services. It then analyses the information from these sources along with other information layers at its Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC) to assess possible and potential illegal activities in the fishery. If aerial surveillance and other actions are needed to confirm suspected perpetrators, the RFSC then links with its Quad partners and assists Pacific nations in their comprehensive response if potential IUU is confirmed.

FFA’s Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre console

What’s more, another MCS tool the Niue Treaty Information System (NTIS) will go live in May 2017 giving the system a turbo boost of ‘power’. This will come through the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement (NTSA) by allowing Parties to the agreement to cross vest other parties to help them enforce their own national laws. It also provides the opportunity in the future for partnerships with other border control networks besides the Fisheries network as they need to.

It means NTSA Parties would be able to also share their data and intelligence with regional law enforcement agencies and other related government line ministries like Immigration, Customs, Quarantine, Transnational Crime Units, and the like.

This extra capability will not only provide these new partners with information on vessels and people involved in illegal fishing activities but also a cross-sector platform to investigate those particular vessels and people. The new capability also lends itself to working together on how to enforce, how to follow-up action. It means that this new approach can be applied to any situation that involves IUU fishing and other transnational crimes usually linked with fishing vessels such as human trafficking and illicit trade.

THE NO!

There are two dimensions to the No- and they may set those who are so inclined to reach for their panic buttons, but they do demand an active regional response.

First, as the Pacific MCS system gets a super upgrade, its powerful applications now showing up the ‘reef robbers’ were created for one purpose only- ensuring sustainable management by deterring IUU activity in the region’s multi-billion dollar oceanic fishery.

“As we deal with the Vietnamese blue boat issue, technically this is not within the FFA’s mandate,” DG Movick reminded participants.

FFA’s core mandate is ‘to assist members to sustainably manage Forum countries’ offshore fisheries resources’. Which means that technically, FFA’s operations do not extend to illegal activities in coastal waters where the Vietnamese Blue Boats are illegally harvesting beche de mer or sea cucumber [worth between US$60 to US$300 per kilogram on the market].

According to Movick, “We got involved because every time there are illegal boats in the region everybody says, what is FFA doing about it. So we have the responsibility but also the opportunity of using the regional MCS framework.

“So we will be looking for a full mandate from member countries.”

There is urgency, and the process FFA is expected to take will be to raise the issue, firstly, at a meeting in early May in Australia for Pacific countries immediately affected by the ‘Vietnamese Blue Boats.

Two of the Vietnamese sailors processed before being taken off to the detention centre. Photo FFA Media

The ideal officials to attend would be Attorney Generals and other senior officials from countries targeted by the Vietnamese Blue Boats.

The aim of the meeting is to gain from these officials a direction on a mandate that FFA will take to the Fisheries officials and Ministerial meetings for some form of formalization.

“We do have a very effective tool in place and we do need to use it as these are problems that are affecting the sovereignty of our countries, the livelihoods and opportunities that exist for our own people to harvest these resources.

Vietnamese Blue Boats have ransacked beche de mer in other coastal nations in Asia, where strong action by Indonesia has made them move further afield into Palau, the first Pacific nation to raise the alarm. FSM began to report incidences and lately, PNG, Vanuatu, Australia and New Caledonia have had first-hand experience with these vessels. The latest arrests in the Solomon Islands have heaped more pressure on Vietnam to take responsibility for a problem which comes from their shores.

And another issue at play is the human rights context of this criminal activity.

Already sparking strong social media conversations in online groups across the Pacific, there are questions where Vietnam itself is remaining silent on its responsibility. What is it about the economic situation confronting these young men, where they are heading out to sea on vessels which are illegal in design, intent and goal?

The crews work in illegal, inhumane and risky conditions for unseen masters reaping the high-value financial benefits of feeding the global beche-de-mer market. For them, there is an inevitable nature to their capture, apprehension and jail in foreign lands where the conditions of their captivity are like a holiday compared to their working conditions at sea.

It may be these and other peripheral issues which help the Pacific bring global pressure on Vietnam to take responsibility for its reef robbers.–First reported in Pacific Guardians

Pacific’s NTSA- a weapon against illegal fishing

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Pacific Forum countries lose an estimated US$153million each year to Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing operators.

In a region where 60 per cent of the global tuna catch is harvested, valued at US$6billion, it is no surprise that tuna is the single most important economic resource to Pacific nations.

For some of them, tuna brings in more than 40 per cent of their national income. For others like Tokelau, it brings in 99 per cent, a source that for the past two years has been the sole contributor to its Trust Fund, a core element to realize aspirations to a self-determined nation and people.

The blatant illegal and criminal offenses together with the lack of international redress are key reasons why Pacific leaders are sick of the IUU effect. It not only robs them of revenue for current needs, it steals development opportunities from future generations. At the same time, domestic fishing operations are squeezed out of their own fishery as they succumb to the skewed competition from the heavily subsidized foreign fishing operators; while adding to the injustice are Foreign Flag states turning blind eyes to their management obligations so that Pacific nations have to redirect their revenues to manage the fishery on everyone else’s behalf.

At their most recent meeting in September 2016, Pacific leaders once again put out a strong call to international, regional and national agencies for “action to ending IUU fishing and associated activities” that would address the exploitation and injustice.

But at the end of the day, reality for the Pacific is it needs to find solutions because no one else will. And last week at a meeting in Honiara, Solomon Islands, that search looks like it has finally found an answer.

The Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) has been developing the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement (NTSA) as the region’s weapon specifically designed and calibrated to fight IUU.

At Honiara, the NTSA entered another exciting phase and emerged from the FFA’s conference centre with a vote of confidence from Pacific members more familiar with the Niue Treaty’s operational heart, the Niue Treaty Information System (NTIS.

“Data is key to our Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) work. The collection of that data is also key. But data by itself is useless if we don’t do something with it. We must use it, analyze it, and share it” if the Pacific is to stop IUU, FFA’s Legal Counsel and legal brains behind the NTSA, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen told Pacific Guardians in an exclusive interview.

FFA’s Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen with IT Manager Kenneth Katafono putting the NTIS through its paces with Papua New Guinea delegates. Photo Pacific Guardians

“So as part of this work for implementing the NTSA, the intent is collection of data, and sharing it with parties so that something can be done with it.

“It will enable a country to take further action should it be required because its one of its vessels or one of its nationals that’s involved. And also that the administrator [FFA Director General] undertakes trend analyses of certain violations or certain operators that commit certain offences and making that widely known to our Parties.”

The globally unique NTSA’s strength lies in setting up its own information system, the NTIS, to gather up interagency information, pool it together and make it accessible by Party. And its ability to allow that information to be used not only for fisheries purposes but also for broader law enforcement purposes.

It points to the final test run at a training, targeted for end of this month, giving the system the ‘green light’. All going to plan, that makes May 2017, the ‘go live’ date for the system and another milestone to celebrate the occasion of the UN’s inaugural World Tuna Day on 3 May.

“I have been advised by our operations and IT team that after the meeting next month where we do the training on populating directly into the live system the information that’s required; after that, by May, it will be live for all of the Parties,” said Dr Manu.

She also expanded on the key details and outputs from last week’s meeting.

“We went into the meeting thinking that one of the key outputs to achieve is a great familiarization by several of the new faces in the room on the NTSA and especially the NTIS.

“And also the ability that the information is used not only for fisheries purposes but also for broader law enforcement purposes. That’s the objective we sought to achieve and feel we did achieve.”

She felt members understanding of how the system works was enhanced, as well as gaining greater appreciation of the benefits for their country and region as a bloc.

One of the key messages she said delegates will take home “are the ‘opportunities’ available under the NTSA. And how simple, efficient and effective it will be when they become a full party to the NTSA.

“And the message to countries already Party to the agreement, is the important that they fully commit to take it on. And implement.”

‘OPPORTUNITIES’ UNDER THE NTSA?

The NTIS is intended to be a secure searchable system accessible only by Parties to the NTSA. It houses critical information and also authority to allow any of the Parties to plan and conduct cooperative activity.

Although cooperative activities are already happening outside of the NTSA framework, there are gaps.

“What you find at the moment is that various members exchange data with some or all of the other members. But it is not done consistently and there are some gaps in the current frameworks.

“So what the NTSA seeks to do is to standardize that. Make it very clear and recognize that there are certain basic data that must be shared by anyone that’s participating in a cooperative activity.”

The NTSA provides a transparent, clear way in which everything is recorded so that every Party to an activity go into the activity knowing exactly what the rules of engagements are.

Said Dr Manu, “All of this is recorded in the system. And the system is set up so that they can look at previous activities and lessons learnt and on top of that, they can share that information with other Parties who are not part of that specific activity.

“Moving forward, I expect Parties will go from strength to strength in terms of implementing and learning lessons and continue to implement this important instrument. That’s one of the opportunities.”

Another key opportunity she outlined is the NTSA’s ability to share fisheries ‘data and intelligence’.

“There’s specific minimum data to be shared by the Parties – which is the one substantive obligation upon becoming a Party.

“Specific minimum mandatory data which makes sense to everybody because it contains key information needed if you are going to assist another Party. Or if you are going to request assistance from another Party.”

There are eight “Fisheries data and intelligence to be shared” under Article 19(1) and Annex A of the NTSA.

Two of them are fishing vessel license lists (current and historic).

“If the Solomon Islands wishes for another Party to assist in its waters it makes sense the Solomon Islands must provide its license lists.

Another crucial data is the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data.

“Our EEZs are vast and so the ability to know where the vessels are from satellite tracking and being able to better target the compliance effort so when the assisting party comes to help you it makes complete sense they get access to this VMS data,” she explained.

The opportunity offered by the NTSA is this basic mandatory fisheries data and intelligence, license list, VMS data, violations and prosecutions, cases of public record, Persons of Interest (POI), Vessels of Interest (VOI), all sorts of reports; are available to allow each party to plan and conduct activities. And they are made available on an ongoing basis.

“The mandatory data is not intended to be provided by a Party with caveats,” she stated. “That it be provided by one Party to allow another Party to plan activities with each other.”

The other significant opportunity under the NTSA “is not just sharing this fisheries data and information intelligence amongst the Parties but also being able to share it for broader law enforcement purposes,” she explained.

“This is another unique feature of the NTSA: that we are able to share with those broader law enforcement agencies any information that we think is critical to them like human trafficking through our own inspection of fishing vessels; Illicit trade, any of those transnational crimes.

“So there is a real ability through the NTSA to assist the region in broader law enforcement effort. And it is not just one way, that we share with them, but also the other way, in how they share back with us any information they find in their line of work that would be relevant for fisheries purposes.”

The NTSA framework is a unique IUU weapon that can combat illegal fishing activities at inshore and offshore fisheries.

“The NTSA framework can be used in any scenario that we’ll be seeking to capture IUU offenders.”

Which means it can also be calibrated to fight the new threat posed by illegal Vietnamese fishing vessels, also known as ‘Blue Boats’. And extended to potential future threats.

“To put a halt to IUU fishing as determined by our leaders in the most recent communiqué. And in the specific situation of the Vietnamese ‘Blue Boats’, what the NTSA is seeking to do is making sure that we can share information.

“So those countries that have experiences with Blue Boats can share this through the system. Everything is recorded and if another party like the Solomon Islands, and this is the first time they have detected Blue Boats, the system will have those shared experiences to learn from. And others who will come across those experiences can also learn from those lessons because it is all documented in the one platform.

“Today we are talking about ‘data and information sharing’. But there’s also ways in which we can share how to investigate those particular vessels [Blue Boats]. Or identify the persons involved in those specific vessels.

“This is exactly what the NTSA is geared towards. That there also will be cooperation in how we investigate, how we enforce, how we do our follow-up action, all of that can help in any situation that involves IUU fishing.

“In the future there will be other types of vessels, but this history and the learning that we gain from sharing these Blue Boat experiences is something that we want those coming after us to benefit from.”

However, the system will only be as strong as its weakest link and that is the focus of Dr Manu and her team. To promote the case for members to sign up to the NTSA so the region is united and singing from the same hymn book.

So far nine Forum Fisheries members have ratified the Agreement. Australia has indicated it will ratify in July at the start of its new fiscal year. New Zealand likewise have made noises about ratifying at the end of the year. If such commitment by Australia and New Zealand comes to bear, FFA officials are quietly confident it will catalyze the remaining Pacific nations to ratify and become Party to the NTSA.

“At the national level, provided they coordinate successfully, they will able, in the first instance to populate the system because it requires even at that stage an inter-agency effort.

“For example, fisheries won’t know the baseline cost for operating a patrol boat but that’s one of the criteria to be filled out as part of the information to come into the system. It’s maritime that has that information, so unless maritime provides that then they have an incomplete notification. That is why it really requires that collaborative effort at national level.

“Equally important at the regional level, the Secretariat must also fulfill its commitments because all elements must be working and fully understood by our members,” said Dr Manu.

“That is why we are looking forward to the training next month to do more scenario runs with our Parties. Because the more we work with the system as a Secretariat in close consultation with our Parties, the more we can refine the system to make it user friendly and as effective as it is intended to be.”–Published first in: Pacific Guardians

Canning the Pacific tuna story

Categories FeaturesPosted on

By Samisoni Pareti, Pacific Media@WCPFC13

Dual labels of a blue and white fish and a Pacific Island maiden on a can of tuna market the beautiful tale of a group of islanders living largely in small states of the Pacific who are anxious about sustainable fishing.

Through an initiative eight-nation PNA group, which is home to 50 per cent of the world’s skipjack canning tuna, tinned fish with the PNA’s white Pasifical logo and the blue tuna label of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) are now retailed in Australia, New Zealand and in Europe.

Marine Stewardship Council label

The MSC label is the global gold standard for sustainable fisheries. It guarantees the tuna has been caught in free-schools, without the help of artificial measures like Fish Aggregate Devices (FADs).

“We’ve since had yellowfin (tuna) certified along with skipjack,” says Maurice Brown-john, commercial manager of the PNA secretariat. “We (the small PNA nations) are somewhere from 90 to 100% of the global supply of MSC certified skipjack and yellowfin MSC certified or potential supply. So we’re building up the global markets.
“Already this year we’re well over 50,000 tonnes. The key thing with this is we’re marketing it through Pacifical which is a joint venture marketing arrangement used exclusively for marketing PNA MSC products.
Just as Fiji Water is synonymous with Fiji, Pacifical is synonymous with PNA skipjack and yellowfin”, Mr Brownjohn said.
John West, one of the popular canned tuna brands in Australia, is now retailing PNA supplied tuna bearing the MSC label. More than 100 million cans are sold each year in Australia. John West is also selling these in New Zealand and there are plans to market the brand in Europe.
Brownjohn believes John West captures 45% of the canned tuna market in Australia. Customers can trace where tuna was caught.
Ludwig Kumoru, the new CEO of the PNA, said the eco-label deal with MSC is beginning to pay off for the eight island countries that are members of PNA, namely, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
“It is really selling the Pacific,” says Kumoru. “When you scan the code on the can, it tells you which boat caught the tuna that is in the can, so its good marketing ..for the Pacific.”

Kumoru said the decision to establish an eco-label stemmed from a tuna conservation measure that bans the use of FADs between 3 to 4 months in a year in Pacific waters. To make up for the shortfall of tuna revenue during the ban period, PNA proposed the marketing of free-school tuna that can be retailed at premium price, in association with the MSC’s label.

“So it has worked in a positive way. They (fishing boats) focus on free schools because they know if they fish on free schools, they get more money. We are addressing the conservation issue and the industry is happy because they are getting a little bit more money,” adds Kumoru.

Crucial turning point for world’s biggest fishery

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The Western Pacific tuna fishery is balanced on a knife edge, with over-fishing, rogue fishing activities and an insatiable demand for fish placing heavy pressure on this rich resource.

Bigeye tuna at just 16% of its natural population levels is now below the 20% level that automatically restricts fishing activity in countries like Australia.

Jemima GarrettJemima Garrett, an former ABC journalist covering Pacific affairs for the last 30 years, told a training group of leading journalists from Pacific countries they had a crucial role to keep the public informed.

“There’s lots of important information locked up in research reports, and your job is to put it into the public arena,” she says.  “Think of it as shining a light into dark corners.”

Ms Garrett described the ‘frightening efficiency” of modern fishing methods, where an operator in remote countries can read sonar and GPS systems to direct trawlers to large schools.

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“We have to keep Pacific people informed.  They rely on radio, television, newspapers and the web to hear about threats to tuna, and issues such as the potentially damaging fishing technique of using fish aggregating devices,” she says.

“This is where a journalist skilled in digging out the information can be vital.”

The battle for the Pacific fisheries is being led by key groups such as the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, the Forum Fisheries Agency, the Parties to the Nauru Arrangement, and international agreements such as the Nauru Agreement and, in recent years, the Tokelau arrangement.

National governments of Pacific nations and territories, industry associations such as PITIA, environmental groups and coastal communities all have an important role.

Ms Garrett says there is a huge demand for fish, with growing world population and an increasing awareness of the health benefits of eating fish.

“This is giving fishing fleets every incentive to maximise their catch.  There are tremendous vested interests here, and they will just keep fishing if there are no rules.”

Tuna Pacific website to meet needs of oceanic fisheries community

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People involved in the tuna industry across the Pacific have demanded simplicity, clarity and a focus on the essential numbers in a new website on tuna in the Pacific.

400 leading figures involved in tuna were asked what they wanted from the site. Thirty per cent responded, a good rate for a survey of this nature.

Their answer, in a word, is data.

“I want to know how many fish are out there, how healthy the stocks are, and what is predicted for the future,” says one respondent..

“That’s the only way we can write fishing policies that will keep our industry alive and well.”

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Jenni Metcalfe, the consultant designing the web site, says that the best sites reflect what users need.

“The information they need should be only 2 clicks away. They are not storehouses of organisational information,” she says.

Survey respondents were drawn from groups and individuals with an interest in Pacific tuna, from the fishing industry, environmental groups, scientists, and government officers who write fishing policy.

The web site is designed to cover tuna interests in Micronesia, Polynesia and Melanesia. While data is their main need, respondents raised other issues as well:

  • information on the benefits and employment from tuna
  • examples of successful policies and ideas
  • a section for each country, to portray the unique qualities
  • headlines and news, including biodiversity status

They also want a web site suitable for the region, simple, user-friendly, interactive and easy to navigate.

Simplicity is important, because the site has to serve an audience ranging from local communities to international conservation organisations.

The speed and cost of internet services is a factor, and also getting access to a computer in communities and offices where equipment has to be shared and may not be the most modern.

The site is part of the Global Environment Fund support of the Oceanic Fisheries Management Project. Implementation is the responsibility of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency.

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