Data gathered by the FFA shows that economic conditions in the South Pacific long-line fishery is on a downward trend, with no signs it is likely to return to the profitability of previous years.
Dr Chris Reid, Chief Economist for the Forum Fisheries Agency, says that the fishing in the Pacific has always been subject to variability.
“The profitability of the long-line industry is determined by a number of factors: catch rates, fishing costs and the market price for fish,” he says. “When fuel costs are low and prices are good, most fishers have a smile on their face – as long as they are catching enough fish.”
There are a number of factors in play. There are good seasons and bad seasons, and the industry has natural fluctuations, up and down.
But the last five or so years have given poor returns to fishers, both domestic fleets and foreign vessels. The normal variability between good seasons and poorer seasons has been replaced by a trend downwards. These years have been marked by higher costs and a lower CPUE – catch per unit effort.
“The main thing about catch rates since 2011 is that they’ve consistently been lower than the average,” Dr Reid says.
The graph illustrates his point. The figures for 2011, the start of the downward trend, show high prices for fish but are offset by high costs and a bad CPUE. The black line shows very poor overall economic conditions in the industry.
“It has got to the stage that a good year today is what an average year looked like 10 years ago, and today’s average year is like a poor year then. If we have a bad year now, it’s going to be absolutely terrible,” says Dr Reid.
In 2013, some fleets withdrew and in the last couple of years there appears to have been a significant drop-off in effort. Dr Reid says this is just simple economics.
“It’s like a classic open access fishery. Everybody floods in, then catch rates drop off and people withdraw. Catch rates might come back a bit but unless there’s a management regime in place, you just return back to this situation so the fishery will always just bump along the bottom,” he says.
“It’s economic over-fishing.”
He contrasts the economic notion of sustainability with a scientific stock assessment, which says the stock is biologically healthy. The long-line industry, though, targets the bigger fish and many of these have already been caught.
“The fish that are susceptible to being taken by long liners are the older fish, for example, for albacore it is those fish that are around five years and older that are susceptible. So the size of this segment of exploitable fish keeps shrinking even though the stock remains in a biologically healthy state,” he says.
“When you put out a line, instead of pulling in 40 kilograms for every 100 hooks you’re now pulling in 20, and it cost you the same amount of money to put the line out so your revenue is cut in half while your expenses aren’t.”
Dr Reid says that if fishing activity was reduced the bigger fish would likely come through again and catch rates increase. But because the scientific stock assessment shows over-fishing is not occurring, some members of the Western and Central Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) are reluctant to take action. Nonetheless, being conscious of the fall in catch rates, the Scientific Committee of the WCPFC has recommended that there be no further increase in fishing mortality on albacore to ensure the economic sustainability of the fishery.
He says the domestic fleets are affected more than the foreign fleets.
“If they do keep driving down the catch rates and boats stay there, the ones that are more likely to leave are the domestic boats because they don’t have the subsidies, they tend to have a higher cost structure and they have less ability just to move elsewhere. So they’re the ones that typically tie up,” he says.
“And you can only tie up for a certain period of time. The decision then becomes, if I have to have a major refit of the boat or I need a new boat, am I going to re-invest in this industry? I expect that they would be the ones who would get out.
“In recent times, the Fijian, Samoan and American Samoa fleets have all tied up at various times and there were stories of many operators trying to sell out. There were certainly examples of domestic fleets tying up whereas there was no indication of the Chinese or Taiwanese tying up.”
According to the scientists, things are going to get worse before they get better. They claim that if the fishing effort is maintained at current levels then the stock will keep falling in size until it stabilises at a lower level.
“A further decline in catch rates of seven per cent or so will obviously make the long-line fishery even less profitable. Half the problem with it being unprofitable is that nobody makes money so what’s the point in having a fishery out there? It could mean withdrawals of more domestic fleets,” Dr Reid says.
There is pressure within the Commission to include economics in the decision-making process, so that target points for albacore should not just be made on a biological basis. Many of the members of the WCPFC including both coastal states and fishing nations recognise that economics is important, and the decision-making processes have moved a long way from being biologically focused to include economic implications.
“At the national level we’ve seen Fiji cut their licenses because they had issues about catch rates in decline within their own national waters. They reduced the number of licenses to mitigate that effect. But it’s very hard if you’re in a zone to do something that is going to make any difference when everybody outside is continuing to fish. Often it can make some difference, but without necessarily bringing it back to where you used to be,” Dr Reid says.
“It’s all about creation of wealth. There’s a fish stock out there, it’s in my waters. I can try to extract as much wealth from that as possible, now how do I do that?“
The foresight of Pacific Islands country leaders in the late ‘90s means that the tropical tuna stocks in the Western Central Pacific today are being fished sustainably, despite pressures from increased fishing including illegal, unregulated or unreported fishing.
These are the findings of UN expert consultant on ocean and coastal management and governance, Dr David Vousden, who presented the conclusions of a detailed analysis of Western and Central Pacific oceanic fisheries to a meeting of Pacific fisheries managers in Rarotonga, Cook Islands earlier this month.
Dr Vousden says one of the most notable aspects of the tuna fisheries within the Pacific Islands region has been its continuing sustainability.
“All the available scientific monitoring evidence and modelling supports the conclusion that the tuna fishery in the Convention area is sustainable and is currently not being overfished.
“This is down to the fact that the countries have been working together through this Convention [Western Central Pacific Fisheries] and by carrying out the various activities and requirements in terms of monitoring and managing the fisheries, both within their EEZs [Exclusive Economic Zones] and out there in the high seas as well.”
Many Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) depend on tuna fisheries for a significant part of their income through their own domestic fishing operations and through licensing foreign vessels. About 60 per cent of the world’s commercial tuna supplies come from this region.
But tuna are highly mobile fish that moves across the EEZs of many different countries and also across the high seas. For this reason, Pacific tuna fisheries management is considered to be a ‘transboundary concern’ whereby countries need to negotiate with each other about fishing access and sustainability.
“This process identifies the threats and their effects on fisheries and people, but it also looks at the real root causes that are making these happen,” he says.
“So, if you have a threat like overfishing, why is this happening? Is it because it’s not being monitored properly? Is it due to illegal fishing?
“Once you know these root causes, you can look at how best to resolve them and reduce or remove the threat”
Dr Vousden found that while the tuna fisheries in the Pacific Islands region are currently sustainable, they are also being threatened by the future risks of overfishing, climate change, bycatch of non-target species like sharks and turtles, and potentially by pollution from the land and from vessels on the sea.
“One of the biggest challenge is improving the management processes,” he says. “The current management processes have been successful but they are rather ad hoc and there is a need to move to stronger longer term strategies for managing harvesting to avoid the risk of overfishing, supported by strengthened compliance and enforcement and enhanced information gathering and scientific understanding.
Dr Vousden also noted the massive issue of climate change and pointed to the “exceptionally good climate change modelling” being conducted by the Pacific Community (SPC) scientists. Within this context, he cautioned that the predicted impacts from climate change could potentially upset and confound the otherwise god efforts toward long-term, sustainable management of the oceanic fishery.
“Tuna are restricted in their range by water temperatures and by the amount of tuna ‘forage’ or food supply that they have. Climate change affects both of these parameters,” he says.
“We are seeing a change over the past decade where tuna populations are moving away from some islands and migrating closer to others. We are also seeing the upwelling currents from ocean floors diminishing and, along with them, much of the nutrients that drive the food chains that the tuna rely upon.”
Dr Vousden has set out his findings in a technical report, which needs to be factually approved by all the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Pacific member countries. Once agreed, the next step is to produce a Strategic Action Programme for ministerial endorsement. This may then well lead to further funding and investment to support the PICTs in implement the actions identified and endorsed within the SAP.
Dr Vousden is optimistic that such support to implement the SAP would receive international support and funding, especially given the record of OFMP2: “This is about as good a flagship project as you can get in terms of governance and management of large marine ecosystems. The countries and their partners really understand what needs to be done in terms of oceanic fisheries management, and they’re really going for it.”
Despite the scale of possible threats and their impacts on the marine ecosystem, Dr Vousden is also confident of the ability of the regional and national fisheries managers to tackle them.
“When you’re dealing with an area the size of the Western and Central Pacific and you’ve got maybe 4,000 fishing boats out there at any one time, some in the high seas and some in EEZs, with different roles and regulations applying to them, just monitoring the fishery is a massive challenge.
“But I have seen this region slowly but surely rise to this challenge over the past two decades both in understanding what needs to be done and in taking the necessary management actions. This gives me enormous optimism for the fisheries in this region”.
“If they can keep going the way they are, and if they can maintain their dedication and interest in managing the fisheries, and with further advances in the science and our knowledge, then I think the Pacific oceanic fisheries stands every chance of remaining in good shape into the foreseeable future.
“The one overriding concern that remains, however, must be the monitoring of the impacts from climate change and being able to adaptively manage the fishery and the potential socioeconomic effects in the region that climate change can cause.”
The OFMP2 builds on previous GEF support that assisted the region in developing and adopting the Convention and then assisted with building the foundations, institutions and capacity for more sustainable Pacific fisheries management.
The objective of OFMP2 is to: support Pacific SIDS in meeting their obligations to implement and effectively enforce global, regional and sub-regional arrangements for the conservation and management of transboundary oceanic fisheries thereby increasing sustainable benefits derived from these fisheries.
RFSC, FFA HQ, Honiara SOLOMON ISLANDS— Regional fishing fleets have ‘eyes in the sky’ watching their every move. For the past three weeks Operation Rai Balang has been sweeping the Pacific Ocean to detect and report on fishing fleets operating in the EEZ’s of Forum Fisheries Agency members.
The operation involved assets deployed by FFA members and by the QUAD partners (Australia, New Zealand, U.S. and France). Pacific Patrol Boats (PPBs) from nine FFA members also participated. It was also noteworthy for the first full operational deployment of an aircraft under the new Australian-funded Pacific Maritime Security Program.
During the operation 257 vessels were detected and 177 vessels were interrogated closely at sea. There were 59 boarding’s at sea and in port. Over 90 sea days of steaming time and 165 hours of air time were expended. With over 250 personnel involved it was one of the biggest fisheries surveillance operations on record. In all Operation Rai Balang covered 14.1 million square kilometres of ocean.
The Operation resulted in Palau destroying seven unauthorised Fishing Aggregation Devices (FADs) within their waters and the apprehension of a Philippine fishing outrigger engaged in illegal FAD fishing. Within the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) four vessels were apprehended at sea and another vessel apprehended alongside for suspected violations of conditions Offences included the non-reporting of catch species and the non-carriage of required permits.
Efforts to reduce Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing involve not only finding illegal and unlicensed vessels, but ensuring that licensed fleets and their support vessels are not violating their license conditions.
Operation Rai Balang saw the first full operational deployment of an aircraft under the new Australian-funded Pacific Maritime Security Program. This involved the specially-equipped Cessna currently operating out of Palau which successfully tested its Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and communication capacities, in preparation for the deployment of dedicated King Air aircraft later this year. Other QUAD and member aircraft were also to the fore, including Orion aircraft from New Zealand, Australian B350 King-Airs, French F200 Guardians from New Caledonia, US Coast Guard G C130 aircraft, USGC Sequoia & Kiska assets, USN P-3 aircraft, and PNG Tropic Air aircraft.
The Chief of Staff for Operation Rai Balang, Petty Officer Bernard Pilon from PNG thanked all members and QUAD partners for their cooperation in the exercise. PO Pilon stated that “Operation Rai Balang 2018 has enhanced the effectiveness of not only the deployed assets but also of the regional team that leant a lot through country briefs and the experience of planners, watch-keepers and observers. The results speak for themselves.”
Operation Rai Balang involved patrol boats and HQ participation from FSM, Kiribati, PNG, Palau, SI and Vanuatu. The Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre in Honiara situated at FFA Headquarters included secondees from Kiribati, Vanuatu, Fiji, FSM, Tonga, USCG, AFMA, MPI, Royal Solomon Islands Police Force RSIPF TCU, SI Fisheries and the RAAF.
SustainPacFish is a new web portal designed to provide Pacific fisheries managers and industry with links to the latest information about measures to conserve and manage Pacific fisheries, especially tuna.
Launched today (23 March 2018), SustainPacFish is an initiative of the Oceanic Fisheries Management Project (OFMP2) funded by the Global Environment Facility and implemented by the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).
FFA Director General, JamesMovick, says SustainPacFish was designed after surveying potential users of the Pacific. It publishes the latest information about conservation management measures and actions to implement them.
“Our aim is to link people involved in fish in the Pacific – industry, researchers, communities and government – with definitive information about management, policies and practices that lead to sustainable use of Pacific fisheries and the conservation of our marine resources,” he says.
The new web portal is carefully designed to meet the needs of those involved and interested in Pacific fisheries. 400 leading figures involved in different aspects of oceanic fisheries management and sustainability were asked what they wanted, and they nominated simplicity, clarity and a focus on 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.”
Important information is already available through web sites operated by the FFA, Pacific Community (SPC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
“This site is not to duplicate this information but to provide an easy one stop shop to these sites and others for fisheries managers, governments and industry.
“We provide links and summaries – that’s why we call it a portal, a doorway to access information”. Movick says SustainPacFish also synthesises and simplifies existing information about Pacific fisheries that is not already accessible on other websites.
Users of the site can choose from six topics: fish stocks, economics, catch & harvest, bycatch, compliance and observers.
Once users have selected their topic they can then choose to look at information and links on a whole of region scale or by looking at the subregional grouping of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA).
Additional content on subregional agreements and on individual countries will be progressively added as will content about the activities, progress and outcomes of the OFMP2.
“There is a lot of management, compliance, policy and research work happening across the region at any given time, all related to ensuring the future of our tuna fisheries,” says Movick.
The Global Environment Facility (GEF) initiated the OFMP2 project, which is being implemented by FFA and managed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The OFMP2:
Supports Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS) as the major bloc at the WCPFC to adopt regional conservation and management measures
Supports innovative approaches being developed by Pacific SIDS at a sub-regional level, as they collaborate in fisheries of common interest
Assists SIDS to apply measures nationally in their own waters and to their fleets.
“When you look at the measure [Tropical Tuna Bridging Measure], there’s a series of very strong concessions that FFA members as a group gave to achieve consensus.” Ms Jenny Baldwin, Chair, Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC).
Each year millions of tonnes of tuna are caught in the oceans of Pacific Island nations.
As Pacific Islanders we know tuna is important for our economies, our culture and our future, but with so much of that mind-boggling quantity of fish caught over the horizon by foreign fishing vessels, do we realise the scale of what is at stake and how easy it would be for the Pacific to lose its hard-won tuna gains?
With tuna over-exploited elsewhere in the world, the major fishing nations – China, Japan, South Korea, The United States, Europe and more – are increasingly wanting to fish in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), popularly known simply as the ‘Tuna Commission’, is the body set up to make sure the fishing rules are fair, by bringing those powerful distant-water fishing nations (DWFN) together with Pacific countries in a consensual decision-making process.
The 14th session of the Tuna Commission (WCPFC14), held in December 2017, adopted important measures governing tuna fishing activities for 2018 in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. It is the world’s largest fishery, producing nearly 60 per cent of the globe’s entire tuna harvest – with a catch value estimated at US$4.7 billion in 2015.
A few hours after its conclusion, Commission Chair Ms Rhea Moss-Christian told Pacific journalists covering the event as part of the #Tunanomics initiative, “WCPFC14 has been a particularly successful meeting in terms of agreeing a range of measures and initiatives that will ensure ongoing environmental and commercial sustainability of tuna management in the Western and Central Pacific Fishery.”
It could so easily not have been so, as negotiators battled until 2:45am beyond the last day of the meeting to reach agreement.
The most important decision endorsed by the Commission’s 28 member countries was agreement on a ‘Bridging Measure’ for Tropical Tunas [bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin], the largest commercial harvesting activity in the WCPO fishery.
“Negotiating a new measure such as this is an extremely complex process, so it has been gratifying to see commission members cooperating so well to produce a measure that will ensure responsible tropical tuna fishing management into 2018 and beyond,” said Ms Moss-Christian.
“What we have achieved is a balanced measure that aims to protect the national and commercial interests of all members, from Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to large fishing nations, while also being sustainable.”
The tropical tuna and other measures endorsed by the Commission become legally binding this month (February 2018; 60 days after adoption on 8 December 2017), and took on extra significance earlier this year when a study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) revealed that depletion of global fish stocks has reached a tipping point: that approximately 60 per cent of the world’s assessed fish stocks are fully exploited and 31 per cent are over-fished.
For the Commission’s largest bloc, the 21 Pacific Island countries and territories, a sustainable WCPO fishery is not only important for jobs and economy, it is their bulk source of nutrition, protector and provider of climate change resilience, and the ocean that defines their cultural heritage and identity.
The commercial importance of the Pacific bloc to the Commission, together with each individual Pacific country’s high reliance on its marine resources, are underscored by two broad facts.
Firstly, the majority of the WCPO’s tuna harvest (1.4 million of 2.6 million tonnes) takes place in their collective waters, so it directly impacts their economies (government revenue, employment and exports), development (education, health, transport, policing and security, human rights, etc.) and the potential to further develop their fisheries industry.
In 2015, fisheries contributed: US$453 million to the region’s GDP, generated US$571 million benefit to the balance of payments in the form of net exports, paid US$46 million to 23,000 national employees, contributed US$54 million to government revenue in the form of license revenue and other payments, and spent US$120 million on the purchase of locally produced goods and services.
As individual countries, Tokelau’s fisheries contributed more than 60 per cent of total government revenues in 2016. In Kiribati and Tuvalu, it is even higher at 80 and 90 per cent.
Secondly is the fact that their environment, traditional ways of living, and food security is wholly dependent on marine and fishery resources. If the fish go, or the waters get polluted or suffer a shipping disaster, or reefs plundered, they would be in serious trouble as there are few other alternatives at their disposal. This vulnerability is exacerbated by the increased frequency and more destructive natural disasters now resulting from the impacts of human-induced climate change.
That is why the nine key outcomes agreed by the Commission on 8 December 2017 are important to fight the current rate of illegal and unregulated activities threatening the sustainability of the fishery; and, by extension, safeguard the very existence of these small Pacific nations.
TUNA COMMISSION DECISIONS UNPLUGGED – PART I
So what are the deeper impacts of the Commission’s measures for Pacific islands countries and territories? What did they give up in the negotiations? What were the concessions made by Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFN)? In the allocation of rights to fishing on the High Seas, was the Pacific bloc finally recognized? And what do these mean from the lens of the ordinary Pacific weaver, planter and fisher?
Just hours after WCPFC14 concluded, then deputy Director General for the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Mr Wez Norris gave a briefing to Pacific media covering the congress.
All Pacific nations made concessions.
Japan’s role in the negotiations was critical. With help from a few Pacific countries, especially Tokelau, Japan was able “to broker deals, make arrangements” in the margins of the negotiations that led to the successful outcomes at WCPFC14, especially the hotly contested Tropical Tuna Bridging Measure (TTM).
For the first time, a concrete move was made by Commission members on the issue of High Seas fishing rights and allocation for the Pacific islands bloc.
The failure in the Albacore tuna negotiations that came with a silver lining.
Lifting the 12-month ban on FAD fishing in the High Seas unraveled all the gains by the Pacific bloc implemented in 2017.
The relaxation of catch limits could come with significant opportunity costs for many FFA members in the future.
“I think every single Pacific country gave up something or gave up measures that come at cost but also provide potential for future benefit,” said Mr Norris.
But at the end of the day the reality of “the Tropical Tuna Measure (TTM) that was agreed was a relaxation.”
This means more tuna will be caught. Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs), which have a higher accidental catch of vulnerable bigeye – were a particular talking point, especially the FAD closure rules which ban FAD fishing during certain months of the year.
“Everybody that was subject to a limit under the old measure will benefit from this current measure,” Mr Norris said.
“Everybody who had some sort of restriction has less of a restriction now. The High Seas FAD closure was relaxed, the EEZ FAD closure was relaxed, the long line catch limit was relaxed. And that applies to FFA members as well. They will all enjoy the benefits of increased economic efficiency of the fishing fleets that they license or flag.”
However, he sounded a warning about possible future repercussions for FFA members.
“Our big concern at the FFA Secretariat is that the concessions FFA members gave to developed fishing fleets may come back to bite us in the future, in terms of the need to take cuts in the future or in terms of increased difficulty to develop our own fishing fleets and our own fishing industries.”
FOR DUMMIES: WCPO FISHERY BACKGROUND AND PACIFIC ISLANDS CONTEXT
The WCPO share of the global catch of albacore, bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tunas increased from 50 per cent in 2006 to 58 per cent in 2014.
In 2015 the total WCPO catch of these species was 2.7 million tonnes with an approximate value of US$2.2 billion. It means that 57 per cent of the world’s total tuna harvest of 4.7 million tonnes is caught in the Pacific.
Purse seine fishery
The catch by sleek, modern purse seine fishing vessels is the largest. The WCPO purse seine fishery catch is predominantly based in the waters of FFA member countries. In 2015 it was around 1.3 million tonnes, 72 per cent of the total WCPO purse seine catch, and valued at around US$1.7 billion.
Historically, between 2006 and 2015, the purse seine catch in the waters of FFA members has varied between 63 per cent and 85 per cent of the WCPO purse seine catch.
For Pacific nations, this matters: they reap rich benefits from fishing within their 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) but none from any fishing immediately outside those areas in the High Seas. The proportion of in-EEZ fishing increased dramatically from 2009 to 2010 (from 65 per cent to 82 per cent) as a result of the closure of the western High Seas pockets to fishing. However, catch in the High Seas in 2015 almost doubled in 2014, and more than trebled between 2010 and 2013 as some fleets increased their High Seas fishing – likely, at least in part, in response to the increasing fees charged by Pacific members of the PNA group for access to their EEZs.
The eight Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) plus Tokelau control the largest sustainable tuna purse seine fishery in the world, because they control most of the waters in which the tuna are found. For skipjack, the most commonly canned tuna, around 50 per cent of the global supply is harvested in the waters of PNA members.
Revenue accruing to PNA has risen from US$60 million annually in 2010 to close to US$500 million in 2016. Central to this success is its zone-based management and Vessel Day Scheme, which have been shown to be effective for both conservation and economic development. Fishing nations are not so happy with the sharp increase in fees.
The WCPO longline fishery, which is made up of many smaller, fewer well-supervised boats, produced between 40 per cent and 48 per cent of the global longline catch of albacore, bigeye and yellowfin over the period 2006 to 2015.
The longline fishery accounted for around 11 per cent of the total WCPO catch 10 years ago. Although it has continued a steady decline to current levels of around 9 per cent, the level of catch remained flat, fluctuating between 240,000 and 280,000 tonnes.
But this is not the case in the waters of FFA member countries where the proportion of the total longline catch has increased from under 30 per cent prior to 2010 to over 38 per cent since 2014.
In 2015, FFA members’ WCPO catch was around 77,000 tonnes, valued at US$436 million. It represents 31 per cent of the total WCPO longline catch.
The longline fishery is particularly important to countries with albacore tuna, such as Solomon Islands, Cook Islands, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and more.
These countries have got together to improve management of the fishery under an agreement, called the Tokelau Arrangement, but so far it has been hard to implement. At WCPFC14, the measures proposed by FFA members were not direct management measures. They were not going to immediately cut catch or effort, nor rebuild the economics of the fishery; rather, they were a first step in the process towards doing so.
But the negotiations to a ‘Target Reference Point’ for albacore broke down due to two key issues: the failure of Pacific island countries to agree on in-zone limits that would fit within the overall southern albacore catch limits recommended by scientists, and the unwillingness of fishing nations to cut their catch in the High Seas.
As FFA Director General Mr James Movick highlighted during a media briefing at WCPF14, the sticking point was China not wanting to cut its effort “by correctly pointing out that, in terms of the overall management of the southern albacore, there needs to be measures adopted both In-Zone [inside FFA members’ EEZs] as well as in the High Seas.”
Although there will be no immediate or significant impacts from the negotiations breakdown, the “Commission does need to step up and start that process [to an albacore measure], we are a couple of years behind where we would have ideally been,” Mr Norris confirmed at the post-Commission media briefing.
TUNA COMMISSION DECISIONS UNPLUGGED – PART II
Success for the Pacific in tuna negotiations requires sticking together and overcoming often-trenchant opposition from fishing nations. Chair for the 17-member Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC), Australia’s Ms Jenny Baldwin, rated the Commission’s outcomes as a “mixed result” for Pacific countries.
There was a “relatively positive outcome … as we did end up with a tropical tuna measure that is going to improve the continued management of the tropical tuna species [bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin] within the WCPFC,” she stated.
“But as FFA members, we are quite disappointed we couldn’t agree to a Target Reference Point for South Pacific albacore this year.” But she noted that with the disappointment came a silver lining: “We have got some commitment from most [Tuna Commission] members to have that agreed at next year’s  WCPFC.”
Mr Norris, who accompanied Ms Baldwin to the media briefing, added there were other positive outcomes that “we must not lose sight of”, such as the marine pollution measure, the Port State Measure, the silver lining in the failed albacore Target Reference Point negotiations and, for the first time, the Commission agreeing to discuss a specific process for SIDS’ participation in the High Seas fishery.
“The marine pollution measure is a very good first step towards addressing what Pacific Islands Forum Leaders have identified as a critical issue for the Pacific – the amount of plastic waste in the ocean. So that’s a starting point, and FFA members are looking forward to ways the Commission can build on that.”
“The world has been very focused on ports as a mechanism to fight illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing activities.
“This is the first concerted step by the WCPFC [Tuna Commission] to move towards regional action to address that issue.”
On a Target Reference Point for the South Pacific albacore fishery: “While we are all disappointed on the albacore outcomes, they do represent a far more solid commitment to action than the Commission has ever done before,” said Mr Norris.
“FFA members walked away dissatisfied that we didn’t achieve an albacore target reference point – that is, we didn’t address a specific measure for improving the management of the stock. The commitment we saw at the end of the day from key fishing states China and Chinese Taipei was far more concrete than we have ever seen before. So that is very encouraging.”
HIGH SEAS PARTICIPATION FOR PACIFIC SIDS
A surprising and significant highlight for Pacific countries came as a byproduct of the Tropical Tuna Measure [TTM] negotiations – agreement to discuss the development of a ‘process’ to securing High Seas participation rights for Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
At the moment, allocation of High Seas fishing rights is based on records of which country has fished there in the past but Pacific countries argue that as tuna-owners they should have rights too.
“I think the outcomes in the TTM, in terms of allocation processes, are really positive for FFA members and all SIDS,” said Mr Norris.
“For the first time, the Commission actually acknowledged the need to go into a specific ‘process’ to look at who has what opportunities, who has rights in the high seas.
“In the past, all of our discussions, and this is consistent with all other regional fisheries management organisations (RFMO) [international organisations formed by countries with fishing interests in an area], have simply been about catch history. Those developed fleets that have been fishing in the region for 50 years get a limit based on what they’ve been doing for the last 50 years.”
Pacific countries have not fully developed their industries and as a result have no ‘High Seas footprint’, and therefore no catch history on which to base catch limits for their participation.
“However, the TTM negotiations was the first acknowledgement that ‘no, we’re going to go through a process where we will sit down and have a look at High Seas participation’.”
Mr Norris emphasised that the language in the TTM specifically refers to Article 30 of the Tuna Commission’s establishing convention, which insists the special requirements of Small Island Developing States be taken into account. Article 30 can be used as the legal basis to force the Commission to live up to its obligations under the UN Fish Stock Agreement to facilitate increased High Seas participation for SIDS.
“The agreement to High Seas allocation is a really large step forward in terms of other Commission members recognising the needs of SIDS,” continued Mr Norris.
“We have been through this debate many, many times in the WCPFC about Article 30. This is a real, tangible way that the Commission can implement it. It is not about development funding or assistance for meeting participation – it is about actually structuring management measures that will benefit SIDS in the region.”
Mr Norris claimed such an achievement would be of global and historical significance.
“When we go through that process and secure specific rights for developing states on the High Seas that will be a real big achievement in the world of international fisheries.”
But as the prolonged and complex TTM negotiations highlighted, together with the breakdown in the albacore target reference talks, securing High Seas rights and participation will not be easy.
One of the difficult challenges is the opposing position taken by DWFNs and the majority of the Pacific bloc in regards to what management system to adopt for the High Seas.
FLAG-STATE VS ZONE-BASED MANAGEMENT
The majority of Pacific countries subscribe to ‘Zone-Based’ management while DWFNs are in favour of ‘Flag State’.
There are two fundamental issues at the centre of the debate for Pacific nations: sovereignty, and future potential to fully develop and exploit their fisheries.
Who owns the fish? DWFNs promote the belief that because of the highly migratory nature of tuna, it is therefore a commodity of the commons.
Pacific countries’ definition differ slightly and in a very significant way.
“When it [the fish] comes into your waters, it is your fish. But once it crosses your boundary and goes into someone else’s water, then it is not your fish,” said Mr Ludwig Kumoru, CEO for PNA. “For the time the fish is within your waters, your rule applies to that fish. How you catch it, how you harvest it. What happens in your zone is up to you.”
That is the basis for PNA’s Zone-Based management approach. It views tuna as a long-term economic platform, therefore sustainability underpins their approach to assessing fishing access and participation in their sovereign waters – aspirations that will not be possible under ‘Flag State’ management, which is based around the national flag of boats already in the fishery and tends to be much more short-term in its thinking.
Potential to develop Pacific fisheries and industry
The other significant factor for Zone-Based management is the fact 85 per cent of the WCPO purse seine fishery is harvested in the waters of FFA members. So their emphasis on the longer-term conflicts directly with ‘Flag State’ approach, focused on the short-term to maximise catches and revenue.
“That is why zone-based is more effective in this region than in other global regions, because we approach management from the viewpoint of the countries who have been impacted, rather than the countries whose citizens and boats are engaged and have to regulate themselves,” explained Mr Kumoru.
The key ingredient in the zone-based approach is “the countries in whose waters the fishing is occuring are actually taking the lead to ensure the resource within their EEZs are managed.
“No other ocean on this planet today have all three stocks of tuna: bigeye, yellowfin, skipjack all in the green [not overfished]. Even the albacore is not in the ‘overfished’ state.”
Mr Kumoru said the reason why the other oceans are not faring well is because they are managed “by their fishing fleets. So I think it is very important in managing the stock that it’s the coastal states taking responsibility.”
The vision behind the PNA’s zone-based system is to greatly expand Pacific islands participation in a fishery where many of them have been bystanders for decades.
“Right now, we license Distant Water Fishing Nations, giving them opportunity to fish in our waters, because coastal states haven’t yet built the capacity to fish. There will come a time when the islands have the capacity to expand fishing in their own zones, and others must be prepared to give way.”
Which is why the agreement at WCPFC14 to relax the longline catch limit for the DWFN fleets will potentially come at significant opportunity cost for many FFA members.
“Allowing existing fleets to increase their level of catch and effort does make a big impact on how difficult it is to develop our own domestic fleets in the future. So I think there were large compromises made all round,” said Mr Norris.
In hindsight, the WCPFC14 negotiations were the first time in history that talks went so far beyond the set finishing time.
It prompted the following comment from Mr Norris: “It has never come down to the wire in terms of timing as much as it did this morning [8 December 2017], but certainly the types of negotiations that we went through over the last week are not new to anyone in the Commission; we’ve had those difficult discussions before.
“At the end of the day, we are talking about national interest, we are talking about very significant commercial interest in the private sector, so it’s not surprising that it comes down to those fairly pointy discussions.”
Taking all of the above into account, it was the summation by FFC Chair Ms Baldwin that stood out.
“When you look at the measure [Tropical Tuna Bridging Measure] there’s a series of very strong concessions that FFA members as a group gave to achieve consensus.”
Her statement spotlights the source of Pacific countries’ frustrations at these annual meetings. Although they are the tuna owners, they are the ones that have to make the most concessions, as well as carry a disproportionately heavier burden for the conservation component of the measures agreed to at these annual Tuna Commission meetings.
“They [DWFNs] are here to make profit. It is not their waters so they would rather make money and go develop their own place. They are not coming here to develop the Pacific islands,” emphasised Mr Kumoru.
“In their own EEZs, how much of their [fishery] allocation have they given to other people?” he asked.
“None of them.
“Because they use all of their allocation in their EEZs. None of their waters are allocated to someone else. And here, they want to use our waters!” shouted Mr Kumoru.
“This is why we are pushed to the corner, this is how people come here, fish here and we have no control. There are opportunities under so many international laws that we cannot fight our way out – this is the message our people back home [weavers, planters and fishers] need to know, to understand what we are up against.”
Lealaiauloto Aigaletaule’ale’a F Tauafiafi’s participation and coverage at the WCPFC14 was made possible by the Forum Fisheries Agency, the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS), Pew Charitable Trusts, WWF, Australia, Japan and GEF OFMP2 project.
NINE KEY OUTCOMES FROM WCPFC14
Tropical Tunas Bridging Measure
Key features of the new bridging measure for managing tropical tunas include:
A three-year agreement, with some 12-month provisions that reflect the need to wait for further scientific stock assessments in 2018. The one-year provisions relate to FAD management in the purse seine fishery, high seas purse seine effort control and bigeye catch limits in the longline fishery.
Measures designed to ensure stocks are maintained at recent average levels and capable of producing Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY).
Recognition for Small Island Developing States of disproportionate burden risks. This recognizes the extra burden or cost placed on resource owning states (usually) as a result of conservation measures eg closing a fishery or FAD fishing has a bigger impact on Pacific nations than on fishing nations, as most fishing nations have many other industries to rely on, and they have the option of fishing elsewhere.
Rebuilding plan and revised Conservation Measure on Pacific Bluefin
The Commission adopted the Conservation and Management Measure developed by the Northern Committee to implement the Harvest Strategy for Pacific Bluefin Tuna Fisheries. It was agreed that CCMs take measures to ensure:
Total fishing effort by CCM (Commission Members, Cooperating Non-Members and Participating Territories) vessels fishing for Pacific bluefin tuna north of 20° N shall stay below 2002–2004 annual average levels.
All catches of Pacific bluefin tuna less than 30 kg shall be reduced to 50% of the 2002–2004 annual average levels.
All catches of Pacific Bluefin tuna 30kg or larger shall not be increased from the 2002-2004 annual average levels.
Updated Harvest Strategy Workplan
The Commission adopted a revised Harvest Strategy work plan that will re-prioritise as needed the annual agenda of the Commission and Scientific Committee to allow sufficient additional time for consideration of harvest strategy issues.
Standards for e-reporting of observer data
Reporting standards for electronic reporting of observer data were adopted. The standards relate to data fields, summaries, activity logs, vessel and gear data, crew and trip-level data and also pollution reports. The standards will enable more effective monitoring and management by enhancing the work of observers in enabling the entry of near real-time observer data directly into the database systems of monitoring and scientific agencies.
Port State Measure to reduce illegal fishing
The Commission adopted a Port State Measure that will strengthen overall port controls to reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and support development opportunities for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) by reducing the impact of IUU fishing on stocks. The busiest ports in the WCPO fishery area are located in SIDS, imposing the most significant reporting requirements on SIDS. The Measure provides implementation flexibility in that Members will choose which designated ports they notify to WCPFC to come under the provisions of the Measure.
Bycatch mitigation initiatives
Sharks: WCPFC14 agreed to devote significant intersessional resources to resolve longstanding and contentious issues surrounding the conservation and management of sharks. For the first time there will be an Intersessional Working Group – Sharks – which will aim to unify the existing five management measures and build on them to develop a comprehensive management framework.
The IWG-Sharks will be led by Japan but is open to all members (and observer delegations). A list of issues prepared by the Scientific and Compliance committees has been adopted by the Commission, as part of a terms of reference for the IWG-Sharks.
Sea Turtles: WCPFC14 adopted two recommendations for the SC to undertake work that will inform the potential revision of the WCPFC sea turtle CMM. Under the first recommendation, the Scientific Committee (SC) will consider the technical details of a proposal to expand mitigation from shallow set longliners fishing for swordfish to all longliners. Key issues will be whether there are impacts on other bycatch or target species from the proposed expansion. The second adopted recommendation requires the SC to consider whether the WCPFC observer data standards should be modified to collect better data on sea turtle interactions.
Sea Birds: WCPFC14 adopted a new CMM for seabirds that involves minor amendments to the existing seabird CMM. The changes relate to (a) new requirements for tori (bird-scaring) lines to be used on small vessels fishing south of 30 degrees South and (b) to the formats CCMs use to report seabird interactions in annual reports to the Commission.
Conservation and Management Measure on Marine Pollution
This measure involves collective action to reduce the detrimental impact of marine pollution on ocean and coastal environments, wildlife, economies and ecosystems. Under the measure, CCMs will prohibit their fishing vessels operating in the WCPFC Convention Area from discharging any plastics (excluding fishing gear). CCMs will also be encouraged to prohibit their fishing vessels from discharging oil or fuel products, garbage, food waste, domestic waste, incinerator ashes, cooking oil or sewage.
Target Reference Point (TRP) for South Pacific Albacore
The Commission agreed to prioritise the development and adoption of a Target Reference Point for south Pacific albacore through the following actions:
CCMs will review available scientific and economic information to decide appropriate goals for the fishery and corresponding candidate target reference points.
Regardless of the results of the 2018 stock assessment and the management advice from SC14 to WCPFC15, SC14 will dedicate sufficient time in the Management Issues Theme to develop robust advice to WCPFC15 on candidate target reference points.
CCMs will develop TRP proposals and WCPFC 15 will adopt a Target Reference Point for south Pacific albacore, using whatever decision-making means are necessary.
Amendment to the Record of Fishing Vessels (RFV) CMM – Samoa
CMM 2013-10 RFV was amended to support the continued operation of Samoa’s domestic longline fleet that fishes exclusively in Samoa’s EEZ. The amendment will allow this fleet to directly offload to American Samoa instead of landing and containerising fish in Samoa, and then shipping to American Samoa. The current practice is costly, impacting on the economic hardship experienced by Samoa in this fishery as a result of prolonged reductions in catch rates in the albacore fishery.
Location for next WCPFC annual meeting
The next annual meeting of the Commission – WCPFC15 – will be hosted by Federated States of Micronesia and held in Pohnpei from 3-7 December 2018.
The two principal priorities for Pacific small island states are climate change and fisheries. One seeks finance and redress from rich developed countries for whose industries and lifestyles are the root causes of human-induced climate change. The other aims to manage, preserve and fight for equitable benefits from its vast fisheries and ocean’s wealth currently exploited androbbed by rich developed and developing countries on the seas and in the boardrooms.
By Lealaiauloto Aigaletaule’ale’a F. Tauafiafi
The high drama in Manila at the December 2017 Pacific tuna negotiations resulted in decisions with far-reaching implications for the ordinary weavers, planters and fishers across the Pacific.
‘Measures’ are sets of complex rules to achieve the goal of sustainably managing fishing activities. In this case, members were negotiating access and rights for the world’s largest and most abundant tuna fisheries, those in the Western Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).
Held in the Filipino capital of Manila, this was the 14th meeting of an annual series that started in 2004, when the WCPF Convention establishing the Commission entered into force. The 2017 meeting achieved a dubious historical first: the first negotiations to go past midnight on the very last day.
THE CONTENTIOUS ISSUE: BRIDGING MEASURE FOR TROPICAL TUNA
The contentious issue was an all-important ‘bridging measure’ for Tropical Tuna (TTM) – skipjack, bigeye and yellowfin – worth around US$2.1 billion to Pacific nations in 2015 alone. With the current rules for tropical tuna set to expire at the end of December 2017, the ‘bridging measure’ was needed to establish how much fish can be caught, whether fishing is sustainable, and how benefits are allocated. Failure to agree would have meant no conservation rules, no fishing rules and the potential for a free-for-all by industrial fishing nations.
And there it was, despite an expected sign-off of 4pm on Thursday, 7 December, delegates were still fighting over new issues into the early hours of Friday morning.
There were a number of times when the whole process was going south with many delegations admitting defeat as they saw no way out. But through the determined leadership of Commission chair Ms Rhea Moss-Christian and efforts, in particular, from the Tokelau and Japan delegations, the deadlock was finally broken and the deal signed at 2:42am Friday morning.
And something else that had never happened before, happened. A chorus of applause, high-fives and back-slapping by tired delegates, Tuna Commission staff and die-hard support officials from the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and various other agencies who never gave up.
And that was because the stakes were never higher for Pacific countries and territories. This was evident in the fact that the ‘bridging measure’ had been nearly two years in the making and was needed to govern the vast bulk of the Pacific tuna catch.
The Chair herself had taken it on as a special mission over the past 18 months with the aim of ensuring members endorse the ‘bridging measure’ in December 2017. Now that it’s approved, the new rules take over for up to three years to give breathing space for negotiations of a more comprehensive long-term measure for tropical tuna.
RHEA + JAPAN + SIDS = SUCCESS
Two other details are worthy of note from this Commission meeting. First, that the 11th-hour resolution was largely made possible by the strong leadership and unconventional approach employed by Chair, Ms Christian-Moss, which gained the respect and confidence of members.
And secondly, the importance of the fisheries to Japan and Pacific small islands countries who stood united in negotiating for strong ‘conservation’ measures.
To them, sustainability of the stock is critical.
For Japan it’s simple: they are the ‘end market state’ for many tropical tuna products so they need the raw material to be sustainable. On the flipside are Pacific countries, but more so the eight countries plus Tokelau that make up the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) bloc. Economically, they are largely dependent on their waters that produce most of the raw material and, secondly, come from cultures that place a high priority on being good custodians of the ocean environment.
They were up against the United States of America and China who were demanding increases in their fishing limits above recommended levels. Opposition also came from some Pacific countries that are not members of the PNA.
If the negotiations had broken down it would have been a sorry day for Pacific island countries, whose future food security and aspirations of economic independence rely heavily on the tuna caught in their sovereign waters – aspirations that include ambitions to develop their own domestic commercial fisheries to keep a greater share of the tuna resource – the majority of which is caught in their back yard.
And these have been the ‘pointy’ issues at these annual gatherings.
PACIFIC’S THREE TUNA ISSUES FROM DAY 1
Of the estimated 2.5 million tonnes of tropical catch in the Western Central Pacific Ocean, more than half – 2.4 million tonnes – comes from the sovereign waters of Pacific island countries. However, the lion’s share of revenue is taken by overseas fishing nations. The Pew Charitable Trust estimates that once tuna caught in Pacific waters (WCPO and Eastern Pacific) is processed and gets to market, it is worth an estimated US$22.7 billion per year.
Which is why Pacific countries focus on three key issues at the annual Tuna Commission congress:
As major owners of the resource, they want a bigger portion of the US$22.7 billion ‘end value’ of tuna.
They get lumped with a higher burden to implement ‘conservation’ obligations for measures negotiated by members. They want an equitable share of the burden amongst members.
Their rights and allocation to fishing in the high seas (where there are no national jurisdictions) have been ignored from day one, when the issue has been brought up at the Commission year after year. They want the Commission to come up with a process that will address the special circumstances of small island states.
On top of all that, there is another double negative for Pacific countries.
The status of the WCPO fishery as the largest, most abundant and healthiest in the world makes it even more attractive in today’s climate where tuna stocks in other global fisheries continue to be depleted and overfished. It has led to increased pressure on the Commission with a constant stream of countries applying for participatory status every year.
This presents a number of potential challenges for the Commission, all of which have direct impacts on Pacific country members.
That if the Commission bows to the pressure, it will bring more fishing vessels to fish in Pacific island countries waters. And worse, the increased membership will bring more diverse interests into the Commission, making negotiations and agreement even more challenging than what went down in Manila last month.
Secondly, it needs to seriously consider its mode of operation for achieving its mandate. Now 14 years old, the Commission has used an ad-hoc process and consensus decision-making to address each conservation measure. The results so far show that this decision-making process is not suitable to handling the deeply political and economic arguments that take place within the Commission.
As the Manila 2017 congress showed, the framework ended up politicized as members proposed conservation measures that best protect their own interests, while easily ‘putting a spanner’ in the process by opposing conservation arguments that don’t. And that way of operating nearly wrecked the 2017 negotiations.
SIGH OF RELIEF, GLIMMER OF HOPE
So, as I look back at the Tuna Commission week that was, two outcomes stood out: relief for Pacific countries and a silver lining for the Commission:
relief that the bridging TTM was agreed to; and
hope, via a silver lining that appeared in the form of two provisions: (i) target reference points to enable long-term harvest strategies for tropical tuna; and (ii) a high-seas allocation process to equitably distribute rights to the high-seas fisheries, that will eventually deliver some of the Pacific’s long-term goals.
The two provisions in 2) above could spark a shift, one that could evolve and modernize the Commission’s ad-hoc framework, empowering it to resolve ongoing conflicts and answer important equity questions that are fundamental to conservation negotiations in the Pacific.
From where Pacific countries have positioned themselves, such a framework will need to spell out the conservation burden each state shall carry, dependent on their development characteristics and political status.
3 KEY THINGS FROM A PACIFIC PERSPECTIVE
Looking back at the Manila meeting but this time from a Pacific perspective, three key things stood out.
That the Tuna Commission and negotiations have real and significant impacts on the lives and futures of ordinary Pacific islanders – not so much the officials and jet-setting diplomats in the midst of the negotiations – but the weavers, planters and fishers. Direct impacts affecting their today, and their children’s tomorrow – right now!
The reality inside the negotiations process was aptly stated by deputy Director General for the FFA, Mr Wez Norris, “At the end of the day, we are talking about national interest; we are talking about very significant commercial interest in the private sector so it’s not surprising that it comes down to those fairly pointy discussions at the end of the day.”
Second, how critically important the Pacific’s fisheries officials and staff of the FFA are, in fighting and negotiating the rights of Pacific islanders as majority owners of the WCPO’s tuna and fisheries resource.
“Our big concern at the FFA secretariat is that the concessions that FFA members gave to developed fishing fleets may come back to bite us in the future in terms of the need to take cuts in the future, or in terms of increased difficulty to develop our own fishing fleets and our own fishing industries.”
And the lack of context and understanding by Pacific weavers, planters and fishers of Mr Norris’ above comments lead us to the ‘third observation’: the dearth of easy-to-understand information available to Pacific communities at the national, grassroots and diaspora about the nature, history, importance of the negotiations and what exactly is at stake.
For the growing number of Pacific weavers, planters and fishers wanting to know more, there is no channel nor a customized Pacific medium for them to hear; and to voice their position on a topic that is critical to fund their livelihoods, food security, developments, and a better future for their children.
For some of them, the following statement explains their understanding, and lack thereof, which is due almost wholly to the lack of information:
“Our tuna is exported either here in Japan or the Philippines or Europe or in the US and then came back to us in a can, how was this processed?” cried Rev. Francois Pihaatae, Secretary General for the Pacific Conference of Churches attending his first Commission meeting all the way from Maohi Nui (Tahiti).
“The guy in the village, he didn’t know that the tin fish he is eating is his fish. First it was with him and then it went out to all those who have a processing plant and then came back to him in a tin. That’s the kind of mechanism/process that we need to explain to our own people, that this is how it happened: the fish that you are eating is your own fish, but came in another aspect, that’s in a tin.
“What is going on here at the international level and even in the [Pacific] region are all technical terms. These people are not talking in a language for the ordinary people. It’s like another world, so that’s one of the issues I raised because the whole preparation before we came here: how can we translate all these technical mechanisms and all these kind of things into the language of the people so they will be aware of what is going on?”
THE TUNA BUBBLE
And this is the conundrum that exists in what I call the ‘Tuna Bubble’.
That what goes on inside the bubble is far removed from the reality outside. With the lack of information and knowledgeable commentary, the view from outside the bubble is riddled with confusion, misunderstanding, mistrust, sometimes anger but most times it’s ignorance and dis-interest.
As fellow journalist Mr Michael Field aptly describes it, “…it’s such a complicated issue because the management of fisheries is surrounded by jargon and dressed up science. It’s hard to make sense of.”
Even fisheries experts at the United Nations admit to it in their Fisheries Management Handbook, “There is a lot of terminology floating around in fisheries management that, unless clearly understood, can cause further confusion in an already confusing environment.”
But therein lies the ultimate danger for Pacific countries. That not only is the lack of information blinding ordinary Pacific weavers, planters and fishers to what is at stake, it is equally blinding officials, and delegations operating in the Bubble because they can easily forget that bubbles don’t just conceal reality, they distort it, and it is so very easy to imagine they aren’t there.
Officials inside the bubble forget that stakeholders outside need to know what is really going on because in order for the very measures and outcomes they are negotiating to be effective, it is the resource owners outside who are impacted directly.
WHY TUNA IS IMPORTANT TO PEOPLE OF THE PACIFIC
The reality of the Tuna War being fought at the Commission is incredibly important to the peoples of the Pacific – they depend on fisheries for their food and incomes. They don’t have many other alternatives. If the fish go, they are in trouble.
But that is not all; there is so much more than just wealth at stake. Even non-Pacific islanders are fully aware of the ocean’s importance to the heritage, cultures and sacred traditions of Pacific islanders.
“The ocean defines the people of the Pacific,” claimed Mr Ian Campbell, WWF’s Manager for Global Shark and Ray Conservation.
“The tuna, shark, whale, dolphin, rays – they have shaped cultural heritage. It is not just about managing the resource for wealth; this is about protecting cultural heritage everywhere from aboriginal, Maori right through to French Polynesia. It has shaped the people of the Pacific and yet the people of the Pacific are being excluded from the process.”
Whether by purpose, stealth or plain officials’ ignorance, Pacific islanders must be made aware of the fact that theirs, and their countries’ rights, to the fisheries resources in their sovereign waters, and the high seas, are being negotiated right now, legally.
It almost didn’t go well this year. What if it doesn’t go well next year or any of the years after that? The reality inside and outside the bubble may well be that by the time future generations lose the blindfolds, it will be too late.
Their rights may have been legally taken, through their silence, ignorance, disinterest taken as agreement – a scenario where they could be powerless to redress or do anything about it in the future.
The case of Tokelau and its continuing claim to a fourth atoll, Olosega (Swains Island), is a reminder about vigilance and the importance of informing weavers, planters and fishers.
THRILLER IN MANILA
In Manila, around 700 delegates fought the Tuna War. Inside the Tuna Bubble, delegates found familiar surroundings, their positions relatively the same entrenched along well-worn battle lines over the past 13 years. The rules of engagement: tightly scripted, where the tiniest nuanced change was quickly captured, absorbed and digested ready for a quick-fire retort.
On the one side are the 14 developing Pacific small island states (SIDS) in whose sovereign waters 85 per cent of the tunas are caught.
On the other side, developed distant-water fishing nations (DWFN) come armed with the principal goal of fishing for as much as they possibly can while offloading as much of the conservation burden onto Pacific SIDS they can get away with – after all, these are not their waters.
On the margins but just outside the bubble are observers. Civil and non-government organizations (NGOs), industry, various interest and advocacy groups, and the media. These groups are not allowed to participate or intervene directly in the negotiations.
And when closed sessions are called, they are completely locked out. Kept at arms lengths where their best guestimates are many times thwarted by the fluidity of positions or key statements missing marks because of a sudden change of pace.
International NGOs like the Pew Charitable Trust justify their role and call for participation inside the bubble as they can help take the discussions onto common grounds.
“The things that the NGO group as a whole offer is the perspective of being able to sit back and look at the whole region because we are not involved in any one regional grouping or in any one government,” said Ms Amanda Nixon, Pew’s Director for International Fisheries.
“And because we are not constrained by a need to maintain loyalty to a set of national interests, it gives us the perspective to look and say where can we see some common ground and how can we try and encourage discussions towards that common ground.”
VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE
But the bubble does have a small permissible hole for an NGO observer to enter and participate fully in the negotiations.
Mr Bubba Cook from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) used such an avenue at last year’s Tuna Commission congress in Nadi, Fiji.
“We don’t get to be parties to that conversation as NGOs,” Mr Cook explained during a media briefing in Manila. “But we are allowed, if we choose, to be part of a national delegation. And in this case last year [negotiating the Observer Safety measure], I joined the New Zealand delegation and sat in on the Compliance Monitoring and Review (CMR) process.”
However, in order to become an official member of the New Zealand delegation Mr Cook had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) which meant he could not tell media about the details of what transpired in the bubble in Nadi. But, there was nothing in the NDA that prohibited him from “divulging” his impressions based on existing publicly available information and understanding of the process from an outside perspective.
“My impressions are that the CMR process is woefully deficient. That it doesn’t create a penalty so you can have repeat offences or ongoing offences that go on and on and on with little or no consequence.
“The other impression I had was that I didn’t feel that anything they discussed inside those doors under the purview of confidentiality was truly confidential. With the exception of a number of minor issues, I felt that most of what they were discussing should have been public domain. And I know that there are other people that are part of that process who would agree with me on that count.
“So it really boils down to countries not wanting to air their dirty laundry.”
He explained some of the dirty laundry that could be revealed at the Compliance Monitoring and Review.
“They might not want the public to know, for instance, that they have been violating observer infringement, that they have been engaged in observer interference or they have been dumping trash at sea continuously for the last ten years or that they had the highest number of sea turtle captures.
“So it really requires that public push to get the Commission to open up that process and make it so that people get to know what is being done with their resource.
“At the end of the day, it is a public resource. It belongs to the people. They have a right to know what is being done with their resource.”
HOW TO GET THE STORY TO WEAVERS, PLANTERS AND FISHERS?
Moving further out from the bubble are found the ordinary weavers, planters and fishers – the real resource owners – and it’s clear they know very little about what is going on. No story, no base narrative on the history of the Tuna Wars for them to go on. Even less, apart from the #Tunanomics media work by FFA, there is no channel from which to listen or participate if interested.
As a Pacific journalist and a Media Fellow for the FFA, I was invited with a number of my Pacific colleagues to cover the Manila congress as part of the #Tunanomics – Pacific Editors Dialogue program funded by FFA, Australia through the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS) plus various others like WWF and the Japanese government. This was my second time. The first was last year at the 13th Tuna Commission in Nadi, Fiji.
In preparation for this year’s Tuna Commission, I recalled how lost I was at the 2016 event. Lost in the sense that I lacked the organic feel for the negotiations, its nuanced technical details, pace and various positions adopted by different members. But more importantly, the many gaps in the historical information to learn the language of the negotiations and the evolution of members’ positions both as blocs and as individual countries, each with their own unique set of needs and priorities.
Having that background knowledge is critical in order to provide information that would better ‘inform’ public debate at the level of the weavers, planters and fishers. Because in order to have that conversation, there is the need to disentangle the diverse positions that different nationalities take on tuna based on their cultural identities, their national and development needs; and how those needs and priorities relate to global obligations under various international frameworks such as the UN Agenda2030, for example, that drives the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
And the best way, I felt, to provide a basic tuna narrative was to approach it from the perspective of a bubble – the Tuna Bubble.
Those directly involved, the delegates, diplomats and their officials/advisors, are those inside the bubble. It is they who have created the unique and exclusive environment over the many years of negotiations. While on the outside, the rest are staggered outwards from the well informed, well resourced NGOs and advocacy groups at the bubble interface, to the uninformed weavers, planters, fishers with no access to funds for travel and participation way out in the hinterland.
From personal observations over the years covering social justice issues in the Pacific, I noticed a familiar perspective common to issues such as tuna; one also sees this in the climate change issue: what people ‘believe’ about the Tuna War doesn’t actually reflect what they know.
As in the case of Rev. Francois Pihaatae, what he ‘believes’ about the tuna and what goes on inside the bubble is an expression of who he is as a Polynesian male growing up in the traditional fishing communities of Maohi Nui. His beliefs are also influenced by the viewpoints of his congregation and those from the other 33 island members of the Pacific Conference of Churches.
It is for these reasons that I posed my ‘bubble’ approach to Media Fellow colleagues in Manila to write a post-Tuna Commission series.
And the funny thing that happened, as I started to write a basic explanation of the ‘tuna bubble’, that the topic, the ‘bubble’, virtually grew into its own article. Which is where we find ourselves, 3,890 words from the top. And the reason why the rest of this coverage will start to trickle through in the coming weeks.
Although not limited to the five titles listed below, they will be the first articles to come out of the pipeline.
It is my hope that the information in these post-Commission items, including those filed by my Media Fellow colleagues either on their own platforms or on the Forum Fisheries Agency’s news site TunaPacific Hub, that they will eventually ‘Pop’ the ‘Tuna Bubble’ and allow Pacific weavers, planters and fishers to be informed about the Ocean resources they own.
And if through this flow of information that they decide to engage, participate or tap into the $US22.7 billion revenue flowing inside their waters – then that testifies to the usefulness of the media and its duty to serve Pacific communities; and vindicates the hard labour and lobbying by Lisa Williams-Lahari and her colleagues when setting up the #Tunanomics Media Fellows program.
And fair play to FFA and developed countries Australia and Japan who provided financial support that allowed journalists like myself, trainers like Jemima Garrett and Lisa Williams-Lahari to get the media integrated into the Tuna Commission negotiations process.
Jemima Garrett and Lisa Williams-Lahari contributed to this report.
Unplugged: 2017 Tuna Commission Outcomes
View from outside the Tuna Bubble: The unlikely story of Samoa’s Minister for Fisheries
Some things start out Small: Tokelau’s take and aspirations
Solidarity: A Cook Islands perspective
Ghandi’s printing press prescribes slow media digest for tuna delights
Lealaiauloto Aigaletaule’ale’a F Tauafiafi’s participation and coverage at the WCPFC14 was made possible by the Forum Fisheries Agency, the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS), Pew Charitable Trusts, WWF, Australia, Japan and GEF OFMP2 project.