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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
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.”
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.