Pacific fisheries ministers raise coastal fisheries, marine pollution and climate change concerns: media release

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A joint media release of Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Pacific Community (SPC), the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA)

Noumea, 27 August 2020 – A new-look Pacific Regional Fisheries Ministers Meeting, which started virtually yesterday, has tabled key concerns on the state of coastal fisheries, climate change and marine pollution. Their decisions reflect regional priorities for the fisheries and marine sector. 

Cook Islands Prime Minister and Minister of Marine Resources, the Honourable Henry Puna, addressed the meeting stating that “one undeniable and tangible resource, asset, and lifeline that we all possess is our shared fisheries resources” and called for initiatives to diversify the use of fisheries and marine resources, using innovative and collaborative approaches. 

While highlighting the Pacific’s strong response to the national and regional security threats the COVID-19 pandemic has posed, he stressed the importance of enhancing fisheries management, maintaining food and economic security. 

“Our collective response must always reflect how much we value our people, and the mana, resilience and Pacific community spirit, that underpins the very fibre of our nations,’’ he said.

The meeting, chaired by the Honourable Marion Henry, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) Secretary for the Department of Resource and Development, was hosted online, gathering fisheries ministers and officials from the Pacific Island Forum countries and territories as well as regional organisations.

The talks covered regional coastal fisheries and aquaculture priorities and the impact of COVID-19 on these fisheries, the 2020 Coastal Fisheries Report Card, and options for enhancing discussions on community-based management of coastal fisheries. Ministers also endorsed the Regional Framework on Aquatic Biosecurity. 

One of the key resources that helped to frame the meeting was the Coastal Fisheries Report Card, presented by the Pacific Community (SPC). It provides annual regional reporting on the current state of Pacific coastal fisheries across a range of biological, social and economic indicators. 

The report card highlights the importance of coastal fisheries for food security and livelihoods in the region, with 89% of households eating fish or seafood weekly and 30% of households participating in fishing.

Ministers reflected with deep concern on the results that signalled a decline in the status of key indicator invertebrate and finfish species, and reef and ecosystem health, which have direct impacts on livelihoods and food security, and called for the strengthening of coastal fisheries management.

Moving from coastal fisheries to climate change issues, ministers considered where the fisheries sector can incorporate climate change mitigation and adaptation into policies and plans, with a view to securing climate change financing to support such measures, where possible. Ministers called for an advocacy strategy to enhance high-level messaging at the UNFCCC and related meetings to advance measures to address the impacts of climate change on fisheries in the region.

In discussions relating to marine pollution, ministers supported improvements in Pacific port waste reception facilities to enable them to receive fishing vessel waste on shore rather than have it dumped at sea. Ministers expressed concern about the impact of abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear, especially on coastal fisheries and coral reefs, and called for collaborative action to address this issue.

Ministers welcomed progress on the development of the 2050 strategy for the Blue Pacific continent being led by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. 

Secretary Marion Henry, as chair of the inaugural Regional Fisheries Ministers Meeting, stressed that “the meeting marked a new chapter of strengthening regional cooperation, solidarity and friendship especially in these unprecedented times where the region has been greatly affected by the impacts of COVID-19”.

Access the statement of outcomes here.

ENDS//

Media contacts

Toky Rasoloarimanana, Communications Officer, Fisheries Division, Pacific Community, tokyr@spc.int, mob: +687 89 93 94

Ronald Toito’ona, Communications Consultant, Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), ronald.toitoona@ffa.intph: +677-7304715 

Nanette Woonton, Acting Communications and Outreach Adviser, Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), nanettew@sprep.org

Lisa Williams-Lahari, Public Affairs Adviser, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), lisaw@forumsec.org

logos of Pacific Islands Forum (PIFA), Pacific Community (SPC), Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), and Parties to Nauru Agreement (PNA)

About the Regional Fisheries Ministers Meeting 

The Regional Fisheries Ministers Meeting is a joint event launched in 2020, following the 2018 decision by Forum leaders to have more comprehensive updates on fisheries work from the Pacific regional organisations: the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Pacific Community (SPC), the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA). 

The 19 members of the RFMM are: Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The Fisheries Ministers report to Forum Leaders under the Standing Item on Fisheries including on progress against the Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Fisheries and providing advice and recommendations on fisheries issues requiring Leaders’ attention. The Forum Fisheries Committee Ministerial meetings and their focus on Oceanic fisheries, continues to be led by the Forum Fisheries Agency, FFA and also reports directly to Forum Leaders.

Malaitans reap benefits from conserving marine areas

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HONIARA – Communities along the coastline of Malaita Province have transformed degraded natural environments in recent years – and have improved their access to local foods as a consequence.

People in this most populous province of Solomon Islands have depended for their livelihoods directly on what nature provides: roots, fruit from forest trees, and fish and other marine animals and plants. 

But these natural resources have been under increasing pressure. As in many other places in the world, the resources here were carelessly managed in the face of growing human populations and increasing need to harvest them for food and other uses.

To turn this situation around, several communities have worked with WorldFish Solomon Islands, a fisheries NGO, which has done most of the work in setting up the conservation sites. The provincial government’s fisheries division has also helped.

Now the Malaitan people are benefiting from the conservation of local sea resources, and discovering that the “modern” conservation techniques they’ve been introduced to are the same practices that were used in the past.

The Fumamato’o success story

Manaoba Island is located on the north-eastern part of Malaita. It is the home of the Fumamato’o community, which lives along the Lau Lagoon. 

The community decided to protect its marine resources in 2013, and has already benefited greatly from its efforts. Before, this island community was a victim to overharvesting of fish, trochus, sea cucumbers, clam shells, and many other sea creatures.

But now, overharvesting is a thing of the past, thanks to chair of the Manaoba Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA), Mr Dominick Tuita, and his team.

During an interview with the Malaita Star magazine, Mr Tuita said Fumamato’o was like any other coastal community in Malaita Province. 

“The people depend heavily on their sea for income and food,” Mr Tuita said.

The island of Manaoba is well known to the Tobaita people, Mbaelelea people and Baegu people as the main provider of fish and other seafood. But Mr Tuita said that the overharvest of marine resources had taken a toll. 

In 2013, the people of Manaoba realised that they needed to change as they observed that resources were running out. They formed a committee to set up an LMMA.

“There are two areas where we restricted fishing: one is a total marine protected area and the other is open-and-close area,” Mr Tuita explained.

In the protected area, fishing is banned. In the close-and-open area, harvesting is allowed once a month. 

“We usually open it at the end of each month to allow villagers to fish for income or for community gatherings. When we open the open-and-close area, we invite fishermen from nearby communities to come and fish. During harvest day, everyone is welcome to fish,” Mr Tuita said.

Two Fumamato'o men standing in open long boat haul in a net while fishing in the open-and-close area. Photo: WorldFish/Bira'au Wilson Saeni.
Fumamato’o men haul in a net while fishing in the open-and-close area. Photo: WorldFish/Bira’au Wilson Saeni.

As a result of close management, fish were now present in greater numbers and larger sizes. 

Some fish species that they thought were extinct had returned to the fishing ground.

“The marine protected area and the open-and-close area made a big difference,” Mr Tuita stated.

Fumamato’o man holds two fish of a species that was thought to be locally extinct. Photo WorldFish/Bira'au Wilson Saeni.
Fumamato’o local holds fish of a species that was thought to be extinct. Once the community began to actively manage the marine areas, the fish has returned. Photo: WorldFish/Bira’au Wilson Saeni.

The women of Fumamato’o also benefit greatly from the locally managed marine area.

Betty Koidi, in an interview with the Malaita Star, said that fish was now available in big number and large sizes, which greatly helped in the marketing of the fish. 

Mrs Koidi said the women of Fumamato’o could sell one fish for SBD$10.00 (US$1.20) and above. Before the locally managed marine area was set up, they struggled, as there was not enough fish and the fish they did catch were small. 

“We women will strive and work together with the men and youths of this community to maintain the open-and-close area for our benefit,” Mrs Koidi said.

Mr Tuita said the Manaoba LMMA operated under clear rules.

“If we find you fishing in the marine protected area, you will pay a fine of SBD$500 (US$61.00),” he said.

A group caught fishing illegally in the area at the beginning of the year paid a fine of $500 and a live pig. 

He said the surrounding communities knew about the rules and were working with Fumamato’o. 

“At first other communities found it hard to accept, but as they learn about the benefits of the marine protected area, they start to work together with us”, he said.

Sea resources protected on a taboo site at Mararo

The Mararo Community Based Organization in East Are’Are has taken steps to conserve its marine resources at the Puriasi Management Area. 

The area is a unique place that also contains traditional taboo sites. 

According to Tony Atitete, the community put rules in place to safeguard the area from being exploited and to scare away potential intruders.

Mr Atitete told the Malaita Star that the area was important for their tribe for the taboo site that their ancestors used to conduct their traditional form of worship. 

Thickly vegetated hillsides and heavily mangrove treed water edges of Puriasi Management Area. Photo WorldFish/Bira'au Wilson Saeni.
Puriasi Management Area. Photo: WorldFish/Bira’au Wilson Saeni.

Because the site was being managed to honour culture and to protect the natural resources, it was becoming a breeding area for marine life. 

He said the community aimed to preserve the marine resources for future generations. Rules prohibit the catching of certain animals and from some fishing methods for three years, and ban the collection of mangrove trees for firewood, and the “unnecessary” cutting of trees. 

After the three years, the taboo area would be opened only for one week for any special occasion, and then closed again. 

Anyone found to have breached the rules would face fines of up to SBD$500 (US$61.00).

Mr Atitete said the management plan had been developed and endorsed by surrounding communities. 

Although the hillsides of the Puriasi Management Area is covered with thick virgin forest, and its shoreline with mangroves, there was a persistent threat from a logging operation nearby. Mr Atitete said he feared that the Puriasi Management Area would be disturbed if the logging company went into full-scale operation. 

Head and shoulders portrait of Tony Atitete. Photo WorldFish/Bira'au Wilson Saeni.
Tony Atitete. Photo: WorldFish/Bira’au Wilson Saeni.

Conservation an ancient practice in East Kwaio

Marine conservation has been regarded as a longstanding part of the East Kwaio culture.

East Kwaio man Tome Arika said during a recent meeting with WorldFish and Malaita Province government officials that the “modern” conservation technique they were being taught was similar to the traditional conservation practices of Kwaio people.

“Personally, I find this concept blends in well with our traditional setting,” Mr Arika said.

“Before, we restricted these fishing grounds only for feast days. At that time this place was full of fish and turtles. 

“I’ve seen it with my own eyes. But today people overharvest fish and shells.”

Mr Arika, who holds onto the ancient Kwaio way of worshipping, said the increase in the coastal human population had put much pressure on the sea resources.

“Today you will hardly find fish in the fishing grounds, which were formerly conserved by our forefathers. There are fish, but they are small in size and less in numbers.

“I think we are all in support of looking after marine resources because we want to make life easy for ourselves,” he said.