Pacific cooperation ensures fisheries continue despite COVID-19: media release

Categories Media releases, NewsPosted on

Honiara, 4 September 2020 – Member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) are actively working together to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 being transmitted through fisheries operations, allowing the industry to continue making a vital contribution to Pacific island economies.

Regional protocols have been developed through a strong partnership, led by the Australian Government’s Office of the Pacific, with the Office of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, the Forum Fisheries Agency, the Pacific Community, the Australian Government’s Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security, and Marine Resources Assessment Group Asia Pacific, in close consultation with Members. 

Infographics will be displayed on vessels and at ports to explain hygiene practices and goods-handling protocols, to mitigate against the risk of COVID-19 transmission. 

At their meeting in August, Fisheries Ministers from FFA member countries emphasised the importance of supporting the fisheries sector to continue, given COVID-19 has had a major negative impact on tourism and trade in the Pacific.

“It is crucial for fisheries to continue operating at this time, providing much needed income to support the economic recovery as well as to enhance contribution to the food security of our people,” said Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, FFA Director-General.

“It is very encouraging that several Members have been utilising these protocols to inform their national activities during our regional surveillance operation that concluded today. We acknowledge and sincerely thank our partners Australia, PNA, SPC, MRAG Asia-Pacific and especially our Members for their continued support and assistance in developing this valuable tool,” Dr Tupou-Roosen added.

The Parties to the Nauru Agreement also welcomed the new protocols. 

“This is critical to the continuation of a viable fishery and the safety of our island nations in this pandemic, remembering always that complacency kills,” said CEO Mr Ludwig Kumoru.

The protocols can be found on the FFA website: http://ffa.int/covid19.

ENDS//

Background

These protocols are designed as an overarching guide to health and safety, and as minimum operating standards relevant to fishing sector operations in the Pacific. These protocols may be used by Members of the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency, and/or flag and coastal States that operate in the region, to guide the development of national orders related to the fisheries sector under State of Emergency legislation and policies responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For more information please contact covidprotocols@ffa.int.

For more information contact Ronald F. Toito’ona, FFA Media, ph: +677 7304715, ronald.toitoona@ffa.int

About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)

FFA assists its 17 member countries to sustainably manage fishery resources that fall within their 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs). FFA provides expertise, technical assistance and other support to its members who make decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision making on tuna management. Find out more here www.ffa.int.

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Fisheries ministers strengthen commitment to regional cooperation amid pandemic: media release

Categories Media releases, NewsPosted on

HONIARA, 8 August 2020 – Fisheries Ministers from member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) have expressed serious concern about the unprecedented impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their domestic economies. 

Their comments came during the 17th FFC Ministers meeting, which concluded yesterday.

In his opening remarks, the Honourable Kandhi Eleisiar, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Federated State of Micronesia (FSM) and FFCMIN17 Chair, emphasised [that] “tuna is our only natural resource and the breadwinner of our national economies. Therefore, understanding its impact and how we may adapt [and] minimise the impact [COVID] may have on us is important.”

Commending Pacific leaders for swift action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the region, Ministers have expressed strengthened commitments to regional solidarity and collaboration as central to confronting the impacts of the pandemic in the Pacific. They have also emphasised the importance of protecting the fisheries sector, given its important economic and food security benefits. 

FFA Director General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, in her opening comments, spoke of the “adaptability and resilience” of members in the face of COVID-19, noting that “more than ever, our cooperation is needed to see us through this unprecedented challenge”.

Measures to address the impact of the pandemic

Ministers asked FFA to undertake a regional study on how members can harness their comparative advantage with respect to regional tuna resources and maximise the benefits flowing from strengthened cooperation in areas such as processing, value-adding, cross-border investment, increased regional trade, improved transportation links, and improved labour mobility. 

With disruptions to air freight impacting the export of fresh fish outside the region, Ministers welcomed the work being undertaken by FFA to explore market opportunities within the region.

The Ministers also commended the measures taken by the FFA and officials to mitigate health risks posed by the pandemic, including development of health-related safety protocols for crew members, observers and others interacting with fishing vessels. These protocols will minimise the risk of contracting or spreading the disease and enable fishing operations to continue safely. 

Work by the FFA Secretariat to improve observer safety and maintain observer livelihoods by using their analytical fisheries knowledge and skills on shore was welcomed by the Ministers.

IUU fishing

The pandemic has resulted in an increased risk of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, due to the limitations on the use of human observers and port inspections. 

Ministers highlighted the increased importance of FFA’s integrated monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) framework during these times, including the satellite vessel-monitoring system, vessel-of-interest information and the overall regional surveillance picture, as well as the aerial surveillance programme managed by FFA on behalf of members.

Climate change

While the impact of the pandemic was front of mind for Ministers, they emphasised the importance of not losing sight of biggest threat to the region — that of climate change. 

Ministers encouraged FFA to continue to prioritise work looking at the impacts of climate change on tuna fisheries and ensuring the region can adapt to the challenges this will bring.

In this regard, Ministers called for closer collaboration among regional organisations to respond to the specific needs of the region and to ensure that fisheries issues are firmly placed onto the wider climate-change agenda, including in the context of the Pacific’s engagement in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

At the conclusion of the meeting, FFA Director General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen expressed appreciation “for the continued support and trust that members place in the Secretariat as we continue to facilitate stronger regional cooperation, adaptability, caution and resilience in fisheries”.

The 17th Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC) Ministerial meeting (FFCMIN17), was attended by Ministers representing Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa, and Solomon Islands. Cook Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Tokelau, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu were represented at senior official level. 

ENDS//

For more information contact Ronald F. Toito’ona, FFA Media,
ph: +677 7304715, ronald.toitoona@ffa.int

About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)

FFA assists its 17 member countries to sustainably manage fishery resources that fall within their 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs). FFA provides expertise, technical assistance and other support to its members who make decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision making on tuna management.

Follow us on Facebook | on Twitter | on LinkedIn | on YouTube | www.ffa.int

Report indicates Pacific tuna fisheries weathering COVID-19 well

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By Bernadette Carreon 

The fishing effort in the tuna-rich waters of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) does not appear to have been significantly impeded by the COVID-19 crisis, according to a report prepared by Brisbane, Australia-based resources consultancy MRAG Asia Pacific.

The report, which was completed in April, stated that travel restrictions as a result of the pandemic “has not resulted in a widespread decline in fishing effort”.

The 32-page report looked into the changes in fishery and market dynamics of the PNA member states — including Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands Tuvalu, and Tokelau — in the period of January to April 2020, as the pandemic took hold.

The report said that the information was drawn from PNA Fisheries Information Management System (FIMS), which focuses on the purse-seine fleet, and interviews with industry participants throughout the supply chain.

The FIMS data showed purse-seine fishing effort declined slightly in February 2020, compared to the period spanning November 2019 to January 2020, but has since recovered in March and April.

“Indications are that total effort (in exclusive economic zones plus territorial seas plus archipelagic waters) increased at a faster rate than effort solely in EEZs,” the report found. 

“Preliminary data on levels of effort and the intensity of fishing effort (measured as the number of fishing days recorded per calendar day) in April 2020 are the highest in the 2019–20 period.”

It said, based on the data, fishing effort in March 2020, when port closures and quarantine restrictions were put in place, “was roughly similar to equivalent periods in March 2018 and 2019”. It also noted that overall fishing intensity in March 2020 was around 6.5% higher than the average for March 2018 and March 2019.

While fishing intensity is up, and the geographic location of fishing has changed, and the report found catch rates for January to April 2020 were 30% lower than in the same period in 2019. The report suggested a causal link between the lower catches and increase in fishing intensity — presumably a result of vessels taking longer to fill up in the low-catch conditions.

Fishing intensity increased in the EEZs of Federated States of Micronesia, Tuvalu, and Kiribati by 68%, 68%, and 12% respectively; with intensity lower in the high seas (14%), Tokelau, and also marginally in PNG.

“There is limited evidence from the data to indicate any of the variations are COVID related to date,” the report noted. 

A steady decline in catch rates was seen at the end of 2019.

On 14 July, PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru said fishing efforts have not slowed down despite COVID-19.

“Business hasn’t slowed down, uptake of days is still OK,” he said. 

“Boats are still taking up the same number of days and even before COVID-19. So nothing has really affected us. Except some boats have stopped going into their ports, but those boats have shifted to other ports like Marshall Islands, to PNG, to FSM. So you see a lot less boats are going into Kiribati [and] those boats are now going into the Marshall Islands or going into FSM. So, in a way, COVID-19 hasn’t really impacted our operations or the PNA fisheries.”

Mr Kumoru added that PNA needs to keep its operation going, but is prioritising the safety of its observers as well.

Although COVID-19 has not gravely affected the purse-seine catch, challenges are looming as a result of market uncertainty associated with the pandemic. The MRAG report noted that with restaurants in Asia and North America having periods of shutdown, or seeing dramatically reduced clientele, demand for sashimi tuna—– which is generally caught by the longline fleet — has dropped sharply. 

And the report said the continued port closures and travel restrictions could eventually affect fishing efforts in the PNA, and also result in lower demand for fishing days under the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS).

The VDS is the foundation of the PNA’s economic revenues, bringing in about US$500 million (€438 million) annually to the PNA member states.

“It seems likely that, collectively, the impacts of these logistical issues, if prolonged, will have an impact on fishing effort (although at this stage it’s not clear how much, and the impacts do not appear to be evident in the overall effort figures to date). For those fleets/companies who purchased fewer days at the start of the year, logistical difficulties may ultimately influence demand for VDS days for the remainder of 2020,” the report said.

Forum Fisheries Agency Investment Manager Tony Sullivan said eventually the economic impacts of the pandemic will be felt in the fisheries industry. Those increased costs stem from higher freight costs, being forced to move exports overseas, employment costs, and other one-time expenses associated with the pandemic.

“What I don’t have available currently is what the actual economic impacts of this are, and it is probably a little bit too early to tell, but we know that it is going to be significant in terms of export revenue, employment, and businesses actually being able to sustain themselves through this pandemic crisis,” Mr Sullivan said.

This news story first appeared in Seafood Source on 20 July 2020.

Tuna observers likely to stay off boats as concern for health continues

Categories News, NewsPosted on

By Taobo Amon Tebikau (Radio Kiribati News)

To protect people’s health, Kiribati and other Pacific countries are likely to extend the current strict rule that suspends all purse-seine fishing boats carry an independent observer.

Observers are important for conservation of tuna but with the COVID-19 pandemic still growing world-wide, travel to and from the boats poses risks to countries like Kiribati that have not had a COVID-19 infection.

In March, Kiribati and other members of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement decided to suspend the requirement that tuna boats carry observers.

That suspension is due to expire on July 31.

But PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru told reporters this week, it is likely the suspension will be extended for three months.

“We had to make sure that our islands are safe and that they still have the operations going on because once the operations are going on, that’s our means of earning money,” he says.

Before the extension can be approved, countries that are members of the PNA must talk to the other major Pacific fisheries agency — the FFA.

“We’ll have to work together with FFA and have a common stance on who’s for the extension,” Kumoru said.

Despite the change to the rules about observers, 30 per cent of purse-seine boats still have observers on board, Mr Kumoru said.

Some chose to stay on board and some countries, like Papua New Guinea, have not suspended are still allowing movement of observers, despite closed borders.

Mr Kumoru said Pacific countries are still monitoring tuna boats through the Vessel Monitoring System or VMS andcan see patterns they make so they know if they are making a set that is against the rules.

Note: this news story was produced as part of the Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting (FEMM) journalists’ workshop in July 2020.