‘Tuna diplomacy’ is one of the game-changers for the Pacific.

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Tuna has shaped regional politics and influenced the relationship between Pacific Islands States and major trading partners including China, Japan, United States and Taiwan and South Korea.

Each year the Pacific comes together with these powerful fishing nations to set the fishing rules for more than half the world’s tuna, as well as other ocean-going species at risk of being caught by accident by the fishing industry.

Diplomacy and solidarity among Pacific countries is key to Pacific success.

Ahead of this year’s meeting of the rule-setting body – the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), organisations representing Pacific nations are stressing their commitment to work together in solidarity.

With 60 per cent of the world’s main canning tuna – skipjack – caught in their waters as well as large quantities of fish for the fresh and frozen fish market, the Pacific is an important grouping.

However, decisions at WCPFC are made by consensus, so achieving results is often difficult.

The CEO of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement which represents the 8 tropical tuna countries plus Tokelau, emphasised collaboration with the 17-nation Forum Fisheries Agency as they hold a series of meetings in Honolulu to prepare their negotiating strategies.

“The FFA Director General reminded us that we are doing this work for the benefit of our people,” PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru said in a statement ahead of this year’s WCPFC which commences on Monday.

“We are the resource owners. This is why we work together to promote effective measures at the WCPFC for sustainable management of our fisheries resources,” he said.

Over the past decade, Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) comprising of eight countries (FSM, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, PNG, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu) developed a new model of cooperation, establishing a Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) to limit purse seine fishing access to their waters.

The VDS scheme is the single most successful resource management model in the Pacific using rights- based control over fisheries resources.

Under the scheme, fishing fleets are required to purchase fishing days at a minimum of US$8,000 per day, provide 100 percent coverage of all purse seiners, provide in port transhipment of tuna and an annual three-month moratorium on the use of fish aggregating devices. This has improved conservation and management of tuna caught in PNA countries while increasing the revenue share for island member countries from US$60m in 2010 to an estimated US$400m last year.

Ocean management or what is now being promoted the Blue Pacific narrative–where Pacific countries are called to exercise stronger strategic autonomy over the Pacific Ocean and its resources.

In recent years, the Pacific has witnessed increased geostrategic competition in the region and the Pacific Ocean is at the centre of this stepped-up engagements from new and emerging global players.

At the Pacific Leaders’ Summit in Nauru this year, leaders reaffirmed the Blue Pacific as the basis of ‘asserting’ the region’s solidarity on the global stage and secure potential development assistance to drive collective ambition and aspiration for the Pacific region.

In the words of the Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi; “The Blue Pacific platform offers all Pacific countries the capabilities to address a changing geostrategic landscape. The opportunity to realise the full benefits of the Blue Pacific rests in our ability to work and stand together as a political bloc. And the challenge for us is maintaining solidarity in the face of intense engagement of an ever-growing number of partners in our region. We should not let that divide us! ”.

Under the flagship of the Blue Pacific identity –Pacific nations are again building a collective voice and asserting their common values and concerns. The Blue Pacific is about shared stewardship of the Pacific Ocean –and the recognition that Pacific Island Countries manages 20 percent of the world’s oceans in their Exclusive Economic zone (EEZs).

To make this happen –Pacific countries realise the need to secure their maritime borders. The settlement of maritime boundaries provides certainty of ownership of the Pacific Ocean space –as Pacific people taking control of their domain, which is critical to managing their ocean resources, biodiversity, ecosystems as well as fighting the impacts of climate change. Of the 47 shared boundaries in the Pacific, 35 Treaties have been concluded so far and few more countries are now finalising their border agreements.

The WCPF meets from 10– 15 December ….PACNEWS


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An Interview with Pamela Maru Fisheries Management Adviser, Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Solomon Islands. Effective January 2019, Pamela will take up her new position as Secretary for the Ministry of Marine Resources, Cook Islands.

Republished from:  INFOFISH (www.infofish.org). This email interview was originally published in the INFOFISH International, Issue 6/2018.

“We have the ability to shape our fisheries in a way that suits our long term needs, feeding and providing for our Pacific Islands. We need to invest in our people, and management of these resources – to give back, as we take out – if we really want to move ahead. We need to speak up more, and stop shying away from things that matter but which might be uncomfortable to raise.(Pamela Maru: quote from the ‘70 Inspiring Pacific Women campaign’)

INFOFISH: Let’s begin with the FFA proposal which was adopted last year by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) for a new Port State management measure to combat illegal fishing by boosting Pacific Island capacity to conduct port inspections. It must have been a moment to remember, particularly for you as the team leader of the project. Could you give readers an insight as to the preceding dialogue with Island nations to gather support for the initiative? We understand that the consultation processes between South Pacific countries often reflect certain cultural and traditional values.

Pamela Maru: Firstly, this really was an FFA member driven process. FFA members are made up of 17 nations from across the Pacific – north and south. It was FFA members that had been calling for proper consideration of their specific needs and special requirements, particularly as 15 are Small Island Developing States. Addressing these needs in a meaningful way is important to ensure that they are able to meet their aspirations of continuing to enhance their ability and contributions in the fight against IUU fishing. Fisheries make a significant contribution to the economies of Pacific Island nations, so the development of any programme must be adapted to suit specific objectives, their business needs, and the nature in which fisheries are managed in Pacific Islands.

The Forum Fisheries Agency is a unique entity. In 1977, Pacific Islands Forum Leaders had the foresight to establish an agency that could provide the necessary technical and legal support to Pacific Island nations to establish and manage their tuna fisheries resources. Over time, FFA members have cooperated in developing several regional initiatives, such as the Regional FFA Vessel Register, the FFA Vessel Monitoring System, Harmonised Minimum Terms and Conditions for Access by Fishing Vessels to EEZs, the Niue Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement, the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre, and regional standards for fisheries data collection and monitoring. What this has resulted in is a comprehensive framework and solid foundation for fisheries management and monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS), in supplementing national capacity, on which to incorporate and further enhance measures such as port inspection regimes.

Of utmost importance is the protection of sovereignty. As coastal States and port States, ensuring their ability to manage their tuna resources and ports in a manner that does not undermine their authority, but that also enables these island nations to determine what the most effective and efficient means to achieve an objective is important. Far too often people presume to know what it is like working in small fisheries administrations, and that things could be easily put in place. When you are competing for resources against other national priorities such as health, education and infrastructure, fisheries will always rank lower.

In 2016, FFA undertook a study to quantify IUU fishing in the Pacific. What it demonstrated was that the former perception of high risk, unauthorised or unlicensed fishing vessels, has in fact diminished and now accounts for only 4% of the total estimated volume of catch associated with IUU fishing activities. This is an outcome largely driven by the suite of regional and national controls and monitoring tools established by both FFA members, and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). The nature of IUU fishing in the Pacific has shifted where misreporting now makes up 54% of the estimated volume of catch associated with IUU fishing activities, and 29% for non-compliance with other licensing conditions. What this means is a need to refocus compliance efforts and resources in response to these risk areas, on both flagged and foreign fishing vessels, which is exactly the approach FFA members are now taking through the development of a new Regional MCS Strategy (2018-2023).

Incorporating smart business design and risk assessment frameworks will enable smaller fisheries administrations to provide for the necessary information sharing and compliance responses needed to better implement port inspection regimes. This will help to avoid overburdening fisheries administrations that are already stretched for resources, and ensuring that systems are developed that are fit for purpose. The strengthening of port inspections is one part of the MCS toolbox that FFA members are operationalising, and working with development partners who also share this vision for a coordinated and integrated approach to MCS.

INFOFISH: You were reported to have said “It is the first time a measure really looks at the implications and impacts on small island developing states (SIDS), what those obligations might mean in terms of addressing their needs and their capacitydevelopment requirements and developing, or having, some sort of agreement to develop mechanisms that will support their ability to improve their technical capacity”. Almost a year has gone by since the adoption of the proposal. How far have the Island nations progressed in equipping designated ports and addressing fisheries compliance gaps in the relevant areas?

Pamela Maru: When international agreements are developed, dictating ‘how’ something must be implemented as opposed to focussing on ‘what’ is needed, can be the fine line between enabling a developing country to fully comply with a requirement or, creating an undue burden on available resources. In the context of the WCPFC, CMM 2017-02 is the only conservation and management measure that specifically articulates areas of assistance that SIDS themselves have identified as being important in ensuring their participation and contribution in the development and enhancement of port State measures in the Pacific. Not dictated to or driven by third party interests, but communicated by SIDS in the interests of SIDS. Pacific SIDS are not always well represented or able to effectively participate in the negotiation of international agreements, and this measure provides the opportunity for a considered approach to implementing port State measures in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

Compliance assessments on countries through RFMO or market-driven processes can create the political will for developing States to invest in, for example, port State measures. But in small economies this creates an issue where limited resources are diverted from higher priority areas, to an area that could be implemented if time and appropriate capacity building is provided in a way that suits the context and nature of their operations.

The measure was specifically designed to take a phased approach in implementing port inspection regimes, and ensuring that SIDS are able to fully comprehend what their obligations are – legally, technically, operationally – and what resources and arrangements are needed to maintain sustainable port inspection programmes, before progressing to a more comprehensive arrangement.

There has been great progress in working towards enhancing port inspection capacity. Understanding how port State measures fit into the regional Pacific fisheries picture and the role each country has to play, as a flag State, port State or coastal State, and sharing the necessary information and resources to inform targeted inspections. Improvements to regulatory frameworks are well underway, and regional workshops and engagement with MCS experts are contributing to the development of a broader FFA regional policy framework and related standards. This will help to develop effective training courses specifically for port State measures that will sit within the training framework that FFA has developed for MCS officers to attain formal qualifications.

Taking advantage of emerging technologies and transitioning away from manual and paper based processes, through the implementation of electronic reporting and electronic monitoring as well as further development of information management systems, is a significant body of work that continues. This will reshape the way fisheries administrations manage and analyse MCS information and enable the retargeting of resources to respond to risk assessment outcomes and help to improve compliance responses.

INFOFISH: What assistance mechanisms and associated timeframe, including training and financial support, are included in the proposal to avoid a disproportionate burden on SIDS? What is the FFA’s specific role in the process?

Pamela Maru: WCPFC is expected to discuss this issue at its annual meeting in December this year. One innovative approach that WCPFC is advancing is the development of a strategic investment plan to better coordinate the delivery of support to developing States where capacity assistance needs are identified, as well as ensuring more effective participation of developing States in the work of WCPFC. A comprehensive analyses of assistance needs, and available resources is being collated to inform the development of the strategic investment plan. This will hopefully provide the means for SIDS to access the needed resources to progress the development of their port inspection regimes.

FFA members will continue to drive and advise WCPFC and its members where SIDS require targeted assistance, and to highlight where a disproportionate burden of conservation effort is identified in the implementation of port inspection regimes. The implementation of any conservation and management measure must take into account the costs and benefits associated with implementation efforts, and that these be mitigated or removed. Port State measures are a prime example where the displacement of flag State responsibilities has resulted in the need for port States to actively address IUU fishing and compliance risks associated with deficient flag State controls. A collaborative and integrated MCS approach is needed to close the gaps and ensure that effective information sharing and compliance responses drive any port inspection regimes.

More specifically, FFA has a five year project that aims to support its members with implementing port State measures. Through this project, collaboration with donors, NGOs and the FAO will ensure that practical solutions and coordinated efforts provide timely delivery of technical support to Pacific SIDS.

INFOFISH: As the bulk of the tuna in Pacific waters is caught by foreignowned vessels, what measures are being taken to ensure their compliance with the new Port State Measure requirements? We know that in many instances, foreign interests do not share a common vision with the governments of the Pacific Islands nations with regard to the management of tuna resources.

Pamela Maru: The bulk of tuna in the Pacific is caught in the waters of Pacific Island nations. Therefore the focus of any port State measures is not only on foreign flagged, or foreign owned, but all fishing vessels. IUU fishing must be addressed holistically, it does not make sense to focus on a specific portion of the fishing fleet. It is important to use a balanced approach that also caters for flag State responsibilities, as informed by compliance assessments.

FFA members have a long history and well established relationships with their fishing partners; as such it is common knowledge between parties on the standard suite of regional requirements for foreign fishing vessels operating in the fishery waters of FFA members. These include operational data provision and reporting, fisheries observer coverage, VMS, and regional vessel registration. Most importantly is the compliance by fishing companies with the national laws of each FFA member in which their fishing vessels operate. What this means is that there are few, if any, fishing vessels and operators in FFA waters that are unknown or do not have historical information that FFA does not have access to.

The FFA MCS network provides for comprehensive access to information and resources that allows Pacific Island nations to implement their national laws, and any applicable port State measures.

With robust monitoring and surveillance systems in place, countries are able to target inspections at high risk or areas of particular interest. FFA incorporates regional vessel registrations, national licensing, VMS, surveillance information and other available MCS data to assign a compliance index to fishing vessels. This is provided to FFA members through a shared regional surveillance picture to monitor fishing vessels and their compliance history.

The delivery of dockside boarding and inspection training, investigation and prosecution courses, review of the vessel compliance index, and recent developments on persons of interest profiles all contribute to enabling Pacific SIDS, in particular FFA members, to enhance their ability to effectively implement port State measures.

INFOFISH: Thus far, only Palau, Tonga and Vanuatu have signed up to the FAO-led Port State Measure Agreement (PSMA) which entered into force in June 2016. How does the FFA-led Port State Measure complement the PSMA, and do you see more island nations acceding to the FAO-PSMA?

Pamela Maru: It is interesting that the only Pacific nations to have acceded to the PSMA are those with very little port activity. Interesting because the burden of implementation is not as great as busier ports, yet they are struggling to implement the PSMA. The core issue is the provision of real and meaningful assistance to support national implementation, which is precisely what the WCPFC measure does. The objectives of both the PSMA and the WCPFC CMM 2017-02 are the same, but how they are implemented differs, because the nature of WCPFC tuna fisheries is unique in that the waters of the SIDS lie across the entire Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Convention Area. The WCPFC measure attempts to provide assistance to developing States to fully understand what their obligations are, and to work through implementation issues before having to commit to a binding or more comprehensive arrangement.

FFA members Australia and New Zealand have also ratified the PSMA, but recognise that SIDS have special requirements to consider. Particularly important is the contribution by New Zealand to the FFA Pacific Islands Port State Measures Project, a comprehensive five year project to target assistance where FFA Island nations require support to enhance their port State measures. This project not only aims to support the implementation of the WCPFC measure and the PSMA, but broader support to develop systems and processes that will strengthen MCS capacity in ports.

The WCPFC measure balances the responsibility to address IUU fishing by enabling any WCPFC member, cooperating nonmember or participating territory to request that a port State undertake an inspection on a vessel that is believed to have engaged in IUU fishing.

Under the PSMA, countries are provided assistance once they become Parties, but with the WCPFC measure it was important to SIDS that assistance be provided whilst they consider implementing more prescriptive requirements, or whether an alternative approach may be needed, yet achieve the same outcome. The most important element of both is the access to, and sharing of, MCS information.

There is significant political pressure on Pacific Islands to accede to the PSMA. Some have signed and/or ratified, while others are considering doing so. However, each nation must be allowed to make that sovereign decision as to whether or not they sign up to any international arrangement, and not be pressured into doing something that might not be suitable in meeting their needs to combat IUU fishing.

INFOFISH: The Tuna Fisheries Report Card 2018 published by the FFA makes for interesting reading, providing as it does, an update of the current status of Pacific tuna fisheries in relation to four major goals (sustainability, value, employment, food security) adopted by Forum Leaders in 2015 in the Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Pacific Fisheries.

  • While the share of total catches in FFA Members’ waters taken by FFA fleets has risen in value from 31% in 2013 to 45% in 2017 mainly due to increased participation in the purse seine fishery, the same progress is not evident in the processing sector. Furthermore, employment in processing tends to be concentrated in certain areas. What are some initiatives that are in the FFA pipeline which might help to boost the processing sector and to ensure more equitable distribution of activities?
  • With regard to the export value of tuna from FFA Member countries, the Report Card notes that there was an increase of 25% in 2017 from 2015 levels. However the Card states that this was mainly as a result of continued growth in the value of catches by the fleets of FFA Members which made up for the global fall in prices. To reduce this over-reliance on global prices, does the FFA have proposals to enhance export diversification?

Pamela Maru: Increased participation in the purse seine fishery will not necessarily result in increases in investment or employment opportunities in the processing sector. Processing has been centralised in certain areas due to the availability of support infrastructure such as harbours, roads, electricity and water. However small ventures are being pursued in some of the other islands, and FFA is supporting investment facilitation in FFA countries, including joint venture initiatives. Identifying where cooperative arrangements might be established for product supply and processing through the potential use of regional hubs is an area of work that is ongoing.

The report card indicates that the target for a 25% increase in export values by 2020 from 2015 levels was likely achieved in 2017. This is attributed to the recovery in fish prices since 2015, after values fell each year between 2012 and 2015. FFA continuously monitors market trends and has investigated the potential diversification of market opportunities. Traditional markets like the EU, Japan and the US are likely to be the main markets for Pacific Island exporters in the short to medium term. In the long term, and as major global suppliers in raw materials, FFA will continue to monitor and investigate where alternative markets and opportunities might present themselves.

INFOFISH: You are understandably a proponent of increasing the presence and authority of women, currently mainly to be found in the Pacific Islands’ artisanal sector and as labour in processing plants, except in instances where women benefit from genderspecific support. Nothing surprising here, as we see women in many regions of the world are similarly held back by cultural value systems and family responsibilities. In your opinion, what are the top three key strategies that should be employed to hasten the inclusion of women in decision-making processes in Pacific Islands’ fisheries?

Pamela Maru: Education is the greatest tool we can employ in addressing gender inequality issues. Demonstrating the value of women and their contributions to fisheries, and more broadly the communities they inhabit is needed to change attitudes and culture, and foster greater participation by women in key fisheries roles. Awareness and outreach programmes on gender equality will only strengthen this resolve, such as the recent work by Pacific regional organisations promoting the stories and experiences of female role models across all fisheries sectors. Empowering women by offering opportunities to further their education, employment opportunities and career progression, has flow-on benefits not only for the institutions they work for, but also on the dynamics and improved wellbeing of their families and communities.

Regional agencies and national administrations must invest in developing meaningful policy frameworks that review management processes and procedures, and make the necessary changes to understand and address gender inequalities that may restrict women from taking up opportunities to contribute and participate in decision making. Comprehensive and considered frameworks will ensure that workplace diversification and inclusivity are achieved, and ensuring that gender equality is incorporated in all work areas.

An example of this is the establishment of the FFA gender equity framework that seeks to address gender inequality, and promote the full participation of women in all aspects of its work, including supporting FFA national administrations and industries in developing and implementing gender equity policies, and committing resources to supporting work programmes and initiatives to institute changes that create an enabling environment. Whilst implementation is still in its infancy, it is a useful platform to drive and influence change in a way that should see continued improvements in the increasing trend of women involved in Pacific fisheries.

We do not have to wait for major changes to make an impact. Small changes count. Listen and take into account the perspectives of female colleagues, allow them to take the lead in driving outcomes, support their ability to be working mums and partners and reap the benefits of improved morale and productivity, establish support networks to strengthen their voices and respond to issues like domestic and family violence. There are lots of little things that can promote inclusivity and pulling down barriers that hinder women’s participation in fisheries, and everyone should actively seek to identify what they can add in support of this goal.

INFOFISH: On a final note (and this is in reference to you as one of the ‘70 Inspiring Pacific women’), do you have any personal goals that you wish to achieve so that you can similarly inspire other women?

Pamela Maru: A goal I have always wanted to achieve, and has recently come to fruition, is to return home to the Cook Islands and head the Ministry of Marine Resources. I have had the great fortune of being mentored and taught by some great individuals, and want to be able to do the same. Coming from a culture where caring for and sharing with your wider community is central, I too want to pay it forward, to teach and mentor not only Cook Islanders but other young Pacific Islanders making their way in fisheries, and ensuring that they take full advantage of the career development opportunities available to them, and how to manoeuvre in this dynamic industry.

Having worked for a Pacific regional fisheries agency, I have been exposed to many more prospects available to Pacific Islanders, to advance both my education and career in fisheries regionally and internationally. This has challenged me to set my sights a little higher, to continue with higher learning, and then eventually see how far up the regional ladder I can climb. Possibly internationally, but the Pacific is home and where I want to contribute my efforts to for now.

More women are taking on key roles in Pacific fisheries, managers and chairs in RFMOs and heading regional fisheries organisations. They have established the path ahead of me, and for those that follow. I’m just hoping I can add to that.

Editor’s Note: INFOFISH, in collaboration with the National Fisheries Authority, Papua New Guinea, is organising the 7th Pacific Tuna Forum on 12-13 September 2019.

How blockchain is strengthening tuna traceability to combat illegal fishing

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Republished from The Conversation, 22 January 2018

Authors: Candice VisserQuentin Hanich

In a significant development for global fisheries, blockchain technology is now being used to improve tuna traceability to help stop illegal and unsustainable fishing practices in the Pacific Islands tuna industry.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Australia, Fiji and New Zealand, in partnership with US-based tech innovator ConsenSys, tech implementer TraSeable and tuna fishing and processing company Sea Quest Fiji Ltd, has just launched a pilot project in the Pacific Islands tuna industry that will use blockchain technology to track the journey of tuna from “bait to plate”.

The aim is to help stop illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and human rights abuses in the tuna industry. These have included reports of corruption, illegal trafficking and human slavery on tuna fishing boats.

It is hoped the use of blockchain technology will strengthen transparency and enable full traceability, thereby countering significant threats to licensing revenue and crew working conditions and safetyand broader impacts on the environment.

Blockchain is evolving beyond Bitcoin

Blockchain technology is rapidly evolving beyond Bitcoin. Emerging applications are geared to improve business in many ways – including supply-chain transparency for all kinds of products.

A blockchain is a digital ledger that is distributed, decentralised, verifiable and irreversible. It can be used to record transactions of almost anything of value.

Essentially, it is a shared (not copied) database that everyone in the network can see and update. This system provides multiple benefits for supply chains, including high levels of transparency. This is because everyone in the network can see and verify the ledger, and no individual can alter or delete the history of transactions.

For consumers, this means you will be able to scan a code on an item you want to buy and find out exactly where it has been before landing in your hands. It will be easy to answer those tricky questions about whether or not an item – such as a fish – is sustainable, ethical or legal.

As seen here, once the tuna is caught, a reusable tag is attached, from which information is then automatically uploaded to blockchain. Credit: WWF

Using blockchain to trace tuna

The WWF pilot project will use a combination of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, quick response (QR) code tags and scanning devices to collect information about the journey of a tuna at various points along the supply chain. While this use of technology is not newfor supply-chain tracking, the exciting part is that the collected information will then be recorded using blockchain technology.

Tracking will start as soon as the tuna is caught. Once a fish is landed, it will be attached with a reusable RFID tag on the vessel. Devices fitted on the vessel, at the dock and in the processing factory will then detect the tags and automatically upload information to the blockchain.

Once the fish has been processed, the reusable RFID tag will be switched for a cheaper QR code tag, which will be attached to the product packaging. The unique QR code will be linked to the blockchain record associated with the particular fish and its original RFID tag. The QR code tag will be used to trace the rest of the journey of the fish to the consumer.

At the moment, linking tags is not difficult because the project is focusing on whole round exports – that is, the whole fresh fish minus head, gills and guts. It gets a little more complicated when the fish is cut up into loins, steaks, cubes and cans, but the project team is now able to link the QR code tags on the packages of the processed fish with the record of the original fish on the blockchain.

While it may be possible to use RFID tags throughout the whole process, the expense of these tags could prohibit smaller operators in the fishing industry from participating in the scheme if it expands. There is also potential to use near field communicator (NFC) devices to track the fish all the way to the consumer in the future.

Marine Stewardship Council-certified yellowfin tuna processed at SeaQuest processing plant at Walu Bay, Suva, Fiji, December 2017. Credit: WWF

Bringing much-needed transparency to the industry

While this use of the blockchain is the first of its kind for the Pacific Islands region, it is not a world first. A company called Provenence and the International Pole and Line Association (IPLA) has already completed a successful pilot project tracing products from Indonesian tuna fisheries to consumers in the UK.

Provenance is also working on using blockchain to track a range of other physical things – including cotton, fashion, coffee and organically farmed food products. However, the potential of blockchain goes further. For example, Kodak recently launched its own cryptocurrency to help photographers track and protect their digital intellectual property.

Blockchain technology is just starting to change the way business is done. If it delivers on its promise of supply-chain transparency, it will be a great tool to help ensure that industries – including the tuna industry – are doing the right thing.

This will give consumers more information on which to base their purchasing decisions. For the global tuna industry, which has historically struggled with illegal and environmentally dubious fishing practices, this could be a turning point as visionary fishing companies demonstrate true stewardship and begin to open up the industry to full transparency.

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