HONIARA – High market fees imposed on tuna vendors at the Gizo Fish Market, in the Western Province of Solomon Islands, are forcing more tuna fishers to revisit the coastal fishing grounds, and have led to unsustainable fishing.
Gizo Fish Market is normally restocked with fish every day, as people from communities around the provincial capital take turns to sell their fish. This usually makes it easy to control the price of fish at the market. But now a problem has arisen over the fees charged to sell fish.
Tuna vendors want answers from authorities on why they have to pay $SBD20 to sell their catches at the Gizo market. People selling reef fish are charged SBD$5.
Tuna vendors are concerned because they spend more money and risk their lives to travel out in the open waters to fish.
This has raised a feud among the tuna fish sellers in recent times.
Ms Namu Avo is from the Babanga community, outside Gizo Island. She is a frequent vendor at the Gizo market and one of those who has questioned the fee differences.
“I felt disappointed with how the authorities are charging the fees for fish vendors at the market,” Ms Avo said.
“Looking at the difference of SBD$15, it is very expensive for us tuna vendors, having put more effort, time and also more money to fish for tuna.
“Sometimes we return with very few tuna, maybe less than 20, and really need to sell them out to repay all the expenses incurred on the fishing trip. They will still charge us the same amount of fee. This is really unfair to us tuna vendors.”
Ms Avo and other tuna vendors at the Gizo market said authorities needed to consider the challenges and expenses that they endured to bring fresh tuna to the market.
Costly fishing trips and high competition at Gizo market
The tuna fishers’ toil is dangerous and difficult. They have to wake as early as 2 am to prepare before heading out to various fish-aggregating devices (FADs) to fish.
According to Wesley Misu, a fisherman and vendor from the Titiana Community, outside Gizo, the trip to reach the FADs can take up to 5 hours.
“Travelling out into the open seas in search of various FAD devices is very difficult and dangerous. At the same time, it is also expensive,” Mr Misu said.
“The weather, too, can be unpredictable. Therefore, we have to also take extra precaution, especially when the sea is rough and the destination is too far to reach.”
Fishers sometimes have to cancel their fishing trips when there is no fuel or when the weather is severe.
Ms Avo also said that fishing was a challenge for tuna fishers.
“To make it worse, when we came back exhausted to the market, we are told to pay the high market fee without being certain that our catches will be completely sold,” she said.
“This is a real challenge for me as a tuna vendor, while the reef fish sellers only take advantage of the reefs and doesn’t spend a lot of money to go fishing for tuna and just exploit the nearby reefs.”
The Gizo Fish Market was supposed to make selling fair to all, so that communities near Gizo could sell their fish each day. Each market day allowed vendors from two communities, including Titiana, Nusa Baruku, Babanga, and Saeragi.
“Therefore, as a community, we have to take turns to sell our catches at the market. This is an arrangement that a lot of vendors here at the Gizo market are very unsupportive of,” Ms Avo said.
She said she had found out that fish vendors at the Noro market were charged SBD$5 regardless of being a reef fish or a tuna vendor.
However, at Noro Market competition was not high as it was at Gizo. It was lessened because the National Fisheries Development unloaded most of its catch to the SolTuna cannery there.
Ms Avo said that at Babanga there were a lot of boats and that nearly all families on the island went out to fish, as it was their only means of survival.
“For us at the Babanga community, the competition at the Gizo market at times can be high. Some of us normally sell little quantity, but when other fishers or vendors comes with high fish quantity and started dropping their prices, we have no other options but just follow suit. So, there is no understanding between all tuna vendors at the market,” Ms Avo said.
“Such a situation will force fish prices to drop to as little as $10, and it will not meet the expenses we incurred to travel out to fish in the open seas,” Ms Avo said.
Turning to reefs as a substitute for tuna fishing
According to Ms Avo and Mr Misu, the misunderstanding between the tuna vendors had forced many fishers to resort to fishing in the nearby reefs. Too much fish was being harvested, so that unsustainable overfishing was occurring in the reefs outside Gizo.
“We are faced with a lot of challenges every day, from meeting the needs in our own homes and of our customers and clients at the market,” Mr Misu said.
“Fishing is the only means for us to earn money, since there is no land available for us to do gardening. The money we get from each fishing trip is used to pay for food, children’s school fees, and other basic necessities. Therefore, we have to try as much as possible to meet our daily targets.
“We even have customers and clients on standby to pay from us, either at the market area or their residential homes. When we are not able to fish for tuna in the open seas, we have to revisit the local reefs to help sustain our families.”
Ms Avo said her husband had had to forego tuna fishing trips.
“My husband is a tuna fisher, but at times when we do not have enough finance to set out on fishing trips, he had to forego the trips and opt to fish in the nearby reefs. This is not only us that normally face such issues; it is a concern for a lot of families in the Babanga community,” she said.
“I believe such practice is the reason there are limited fish stocks in our reefs. There are also no sustainable management plans being put in place for us to follow.”
Vendors call on authorities to set policies to make fishing sustainable fishing
Due to the rise in unsustainable fishing practices, tuna fishers and vendors at the Gizo market have called on local authorities to reconsider the fees charged at the market, so that they, too, can preserve their reefs for future generations.
Gizo Town Council clerk Charles Kelly said the local council was not responsible for collecting fees from vendors at the market.
“If there is anything to do with the Gizo market and the fees that are charged to vendors, Gizo Town Council is not part of it,” Mr Kelly said. Vendors needed to negotiate with the Gizo market master.
But he said the council was alarmed at the level of overfishing outside Gizo.
Gizo Market Master Moffat Maeta said his office was fully aware of the matter, and that his officers would try and sort out the situation so it was fair to all. He said the fee collectors were often lenient with reef fish vendors, which resulted in the low fees charged instead of the unstable fees.
“Normally, the fish market fees are charged at SBD$20 across the board for all fish vendors. This is clearly stated in the Western Provincial Government Market Ordinance.
“My office is aware of the fee differences as it’s been reported,” Mr Maeta added.
There were plans to review the market ordinance and the fish market fees.
Mr Maeta said that, because of the rise of overfishing in the province, especially around Gizo, the provincial government needed to review the fees charged at the Gizo Fish Market. One idea being considered was to reduce the fees charged to tuna vendors, and increase the fees for reef fish vendors, as a way of making fishing on local reefs less viable.
By imposing high market fees on local fishers who contributed to unsustainable fishing in the nearby reefs, it was projected that they would have no other option but to travel into the open seas to fish. This practice would allow local reefs as common fishing grounds to recover from overfishing.
“I will have a dialogue with my officers of the Market’s fish section and those from the provincial market steering committee,” Mr Maeta said.
HONIARA – The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has revealed that some fish species will likely vanish as a result of overfishing in waters near Gizo, the capital of Western Province of Solomon Islands.
Gizo has faced many life-threatening challenges and now it faces a bigger challenge in the fishing industry – an industry that was once rich in marine resources.
WWF Gizo officers carried out a study in 2020, looking at the top 10 species fishers target.
Their results show that some fish species decreased in a matter of weeks. Dafisha Aleziru, a fisheries officer for WWF, said this was a serious concern for the province and the fishing communities that relied on selling fish for survival.
“The study was done by measuring the maturity size, the spawning size of fish, and the minimum size limit of fish that are eligible to be caught,” Ms Aleziru said.
“The results we compiled have depicted that there are some species which need immediate attention. We have advised fishermen in and around Gizo to refrain from harvesting them in their hotspots.”
The researchers discovered that fishing has changed the size of fish all year round, because people rely every day on the sea for their daily needs. This means that fishing is changing the size of fish in terms of population, growth and environmental changes.
“Overfishing can be fatal to all fish types and stocks. When fish is overharvested, the wider food web will also be affected. On healthy reefs, algae are usually low from the grazing of some herbivores such the surgeonfish and the parrot fish, but when these fish disappear there will be no proper balance in the coral reef ecosystem, and seaweed-like algae (called macroalgae) can grow free, eventually suffocating reefs,” Ms Aleziru said.
“This is what’s happening now is Gizo and the surrounding islands.”
She said they had found that two of the popular fish species would disappear soon.
“The data collected shows that species like Acanthurus lineatus, [a surgeonfish] known locally as bebera, seki, berava or quere, and the Lethrinus olivaccus, which is locally known as long nose, misu, mihu or miu mola, are under huge threat locally,” she said.
According to the research findings, these two types of fish no longer reach maturity before they are harvested. The bebera begins to spawn at a length of about 17.5 cm, and is allowed be harvested once it reaches 20 cm. The long nose begins to spawn at about 46 cm and may be caught once it is 50 cm long.
She said the results showed clearly that the area had been heavily overfished over the years, with indiscriminate fishing methods used. The rising impacts of climate change were also contributing to the loss of fish. The scientific data they had collected proved that these species were in great danger.
“The destruction of the marine ecosystem has heavily contributed to the low fish population and, even worse, people tend to dive for fish, which has directly affected the growth of the fish population,” Ms Aleziru added.
Piokera Holland, a conservation officer for WWF Gizo, said: “The size of maturity for these fish to be harvested is 20 cm or 50 cm, but now you will find that most of the fish at the market are less than the actual maturity size.”
He said that the Gizo area would lose the species “very soon” from lack of conservation knowledge in the local communities.
Based on the findings of the scientific study, most of the communities had no knowledge of conservation management. Therefore, the WWF has begun to work closely with four communities in Saeragi, Simbo and Kolombangara to provide support through community-based resource management, in the hope that the two species can be saved and others protected from threat.
Apart from the WWF assistance, help may also come from the Western Province Network for Sustainable Environment (WPNSE), a network of non-government organisations operating in the province along with the provincial government’s fisheries office, to monitor the flow of a sustainable environment both Inland and Ocean.
In response to the outcome of the WWF study, WPNSE said it “will collaborate to address the issue in due time. The association will try as much as possible to not replicate the work of our members, but will meet to let each other know what they doing on a particular area.”
In light of the worrying findings from the study, the association is urging the provincial government’s fisheries office to take the lead before it is too late for the endangered species.
“We will be requesting the provincial government to put an action to the issue which the people and the marine ecosystem of Gizo are now facing,” a WPNSE statement said.
HONIARA – In recent times, communities in the Western Province of Solomon Islands have seen a drastic decrease in fish numbers in their common fishing grounds.
Two coastal communities that rely on the ocean for survival are Nusa Baruku, on Gizo Island, and Babanga, which is located on a beautiful, small, sand-banked island that lies 2 km east of the provincial capital, Gizo.
Unlike the overpopulated Nusa Baruku community, Babanga has a population of no more than a thousand people. Initially predominantly I-Kiribati, this community is gradually become a melting pot of race and culture in peaceful coexistence.
Increasing demand fuels overfishing of reefs
Just like every other Pacific island state, fish and other marine resources are an important commodity for people, who rely on them for income generation.
In Nusa Baruku, where fish is harvested every day, and this and an growing population and marine pollution mean the resources are on the edge of overexploitation. These three things threaten the coral reefs and their biodiversity, and now people have to go out far to fish for food and income.
According to Ms Eva, a fish vendor and fisher from Nusa Baruku village, the consistent use of unselective fishing methods has damaged the reefs. Eva has sold fish at the Gizo Market for more than 20 years. Over this time, she has seen the changes that are happening to the marine resources of her village.
“Growing up in the Baruku area, I saw the changes that are happening which resulted in the depletion of our marine resources. From time to time, these changes become challenges, as we no longer experience fishing like before, when it was easy and plentiful,” Ms Eva said.
Due to improper management of the resources they have, Eva said that, sometimes, they had to travel outside the islands to fish.
“Nowadays, it is not easy for us to fish in our familiar fishing grounds because of overfishing with the growing population in our community. Besides, marine pollution is contributing to the scarcity of our marine resources, not only the fish but also other seafood we normally consume,” she said.
Eva said she has been fishing for most of her life on the nearby reefs and had seen the changes happening over time in the ecosystem.
Pollution is playing a significant role in the damage of the ecosystem. The main sources are run-off from rivers; the spilling of hazardous substances such as oil and petroleum from vessels and small boats with outboard motors; and also human waste such as plastics, ghost traps, and lost nets, monofilament and lines. Once damaged, the coral reefs can take a very long time to recover.
At the Babanga community, a similar concern has been raised. Fishing has been regarded as one of the main income-generating activities on the island. There is limited arable land and water for growing root crops and vegetables, and they rely heavily on sea resources to meet daily basic needs.
In comparison, on large islands, copra and cocoa are the top seeds and contribute to incomes.
Babanga islanders expressed concerns over the lack of sustainable income-generating projects to support the rapidly increasing population.
”It is a cause for concern, given multiple challenges imposed on family livelihoods and community incapacity to contain associated socio-economic issues,” the islanders said.
Communities call for sustainable fishing project
With the increasing problems of reef exploitation in both communities, village fishers are calling on authorities to provide project support so they can make the harvest of marine resources, especially depleting fish stocks, sustainable.
A group of fishers from Babanga said one option was to ask the provincial and national government through the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) to step in and provide much-needed support in conservation management.
“Our only means of survival is to continue fishing, as there are no other income-generating activities available that one can make fast money just as how fish trading does,” one fisher said.
“If the provincial government and national fisheries ministry have available funding to assist us, we are willing to cooperate to save our decreasing fish stocks.”
The people of Nusa Baruku are pleading for conservation support to help them manage their resources before it is too late. As time passes, the increase of population makes it more difficult to manage their resources, because people go out to fish every day.
According to fisher and vendor Eva, one reef is normally be fished over five times a day.
“Now, it worries me to know that there will be no good place to fish in the near future, and it will be more difficult for the generation to come,” she stated.
Other villagers also raised concerns about the need for the whole community to understand their marine ecosystem so everyone could help protect it. However, in order for this to happen, they needed support from the fisheries and other NGOs to help them tackle these issues.
Lack of provincial government support clarified
In an exclusive interview, a fisheries officer working for the Western Provincial Government revealed that there were ongoing problems in the provincial government and that these had contributed to the failure of some proposed fisheries projects.
“Lately, we haven’t been able to fulfill some of the projects we planned,” said the officer, who wishes to speak in anonymity.
“Most of those projects were supposed to be funded by the provincial government under the provincial financial budget. MFMR is also helping us with infrastructure support such as building provincial fisheries centres, storages and other project assistances.”
The officer said that, although his office understood that local fishers wanted project support, it was reluctant because support had been used wrongly in the past.
“For example, recently, there was a program from the Ministry of Fisheries where people could apply for assistance like outboard motors, ice-cooler freezers and other fisheries aspects of support.
“We later found out that some of these people were taking such an opportunity for granted. They ended up selling their property to other people,” he said.
As a result, the MFMR had shut down project assistance. The ministry had transferred the assistance scheme to the Constituency offices to take care of.
“The new arrangement now allows rural fishermen to apply for fishing projects through their Constituency offices instead of requesting assistance from the provincial fisheries office. So, it is clear that all the funding for all fisheries programs and projects are directly received by their constituency,” the officer said.
The officer urged the people of Babanga and Nusa Baruku to seek help to their from their Member of Parliament.
WWF support takes pressure off reefs
The provincial fisheries office is now receiving support from non-government organisations that operate in the Western Province. One of these is the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The Gizo WWF fisheries officer, Ms Dafisha Aleziru, said the organisation was providing support to communities through micro-finance for women and conservation management with the construction and deployment of FADs.
WWF has already been working with four communities in the province in the micro-finance and marine resources management support. The communities are Saeragi in west Gizo, Varu and Nusa Tuva in Kolombangara Islands, and at Riguru in Simbo.
Ms Aleziru said, “The micro-finance initiative is to help women in these communities to look at other income-generating opportunities, rather than stressing the reefs with fishing activities. Similar to the micro-finance support, the idea to deploy FADs is to ensure that the management of all sea resources is under control.”
With the growing demand of financial and conservation management support from coastal villages, the organisation is looking to also support communities in Vela la Vella and Rannonga this year. But there is a process for communities to follow, in order to qualify for any assistance from WWF, though the office is open for the public and is on standby to help anyone who is interested.
“The first step is to write an application letter to the office and we will arrange a time to meet with the community. At the same time, upon receiving the letter, we will be doing an assessment at the community along with the proposed site,” Ms Aleziru said.
WWF conservation officer Mr Piokera Holland said, “Conservation is not an overnight job, as it takes patience and hard work before we can experience its benefits. People really need to understand how important conservation is and why it is vital for our marine resources and biodiversity.”
He said WWF had faced some challenges in setting up support. The main one was, when working with communities, ensuring the rights over and ownership of the proposed area.
”This is common in all the communities WWF has worked with. Sometimes the management plan was already given, but then some people will come forward and claim that the same area is also theirs,” Mr Holland explained.
He said WWF had not received any requests for help from Babanga or Nusa Baruku. However, the organisation was open for a dialogue, should the communities need assistance to conserve their marine resources for future generations.
As with many other aspects of government policy, overfishing and other fishing-related environmental issues are a real problem, but it’s not clear that government intervention is the solution. Indeed, it might be one of the main drivers of overfishing and other conservation and sustainability issues stemming from commercial fishing. Much like drone fishing, there are serious ethical issues of interest to the average angler.
There’s another commonality that overfishing has with environmental issues more broadly: The Western companies primarily concerned with serious efforts to curb overfishing are not the ones who are most guilty of overfishing. What this means is that the costs of overfishing are disproportionately borne by the countries least engaged in practices that are counter to efforts to make commercial fishing more sustainable while also promoting conservation of fish biodiversity.
All of these are important issues not just for commercial fishermen [sic], but also those interested in questions of conservation and sustainability in general, as well as recreational fisherman and basically anyone who uses fish as a food source.
As the ocean goes, so goes the planet, so it is of paramount importance for everyone to educate themselves on what is driving overfishing, what its consequences are and what meaningful steps — not simply theatre to feel as if “something is being done” — can be taken.
Indeed, over three billion people around the world rely on fish as their primary source of protein. About 12% of the world relies upon fisheries in some form or another, with 90% of these being small-scale fishermen: think a small crew in a boat, not a ship, using small nets or even rods and reels and lures not too different from the kind you probably use.
There are 18.9 million fishermen in the world, with 90% of them falling under the same small-scale fisherman rubric discussed above.
Overfishing definition: What is overfishing?
First, take heart: as a recreational fisherman, you are almost certainly not guilty of “overfishing”. This is an issue for commercial fishermen in the fishing industry who are trawling the ocean depths with massive nets to catch enough fish to make a living for themselves and their families, not the angler who enjoys a little peace and quiet on the weekends.
Overfishing is, in some sense, a rational reaction to increasing market needs for fish. Most people consume approximately twice as much food as they did 50 years ago and there are four times as many people on Earth as there were at the close of the 1960s. This is one driver of the 30% of commercially fished waters being classified as being “overfished”. This means that the stock of available fishing waters are being depleted faster than they can be replaced.
There is a simple and straightforward definition of when an area is being “overfished” and it’s not simply about catching “too many” fish. Overfishing occurs when the breeding stock of an area becomes so depleted that the fish in the area cannot replenish themselves.
At best, this means fewer fish next year than there are this year. At worst, it means that a species of fish cannot be fished out of a specific area anymore. This also goes hand in hand with wasteful forms of fishing that harvest not just the fish the trawler is looking for, but just about every other organism big enough to be caught in a net. Indeed, over 80% of fish are caught in these kinds of nets that sweep up everything into them.
What’s more, there are a number of wide-reaching consequences of overfishing. It’s not simply bad because it depletes the fish stocks of available resources, though that certainly is one reason why it’s bad. Others include:
Increased algae in the water: Like many other things, algae is great, but too much of it is very, very bad. When there are fewer fish in the waters, algae doesn’t get eaten and there’s way more of it than there should be. This increases the acidity in the world’s oceans, which negatively impacts not only the remaining fish, but also the reefs and plankton.
Destruction of fishing communities: Overfishing can completely destroy fish populations and communities that once relied upon the fish that were there. This is particularly true for island communities. And it’s worth remembering that there are many isolated points on the globe where fishing isn’t just the driver of the economy, but also the primary source of protein for the population. When either or both of these disappear, the community disappears along with it.
Tougher fishing for small vessels: If you’re a fan of small business, you ought to be concerned about overfishing. That’s because overfishing is mostly done by large vessels and [the situation] makes it harder for smaller ones to meet their quotas. With over 40 million people around the world getting their food and livelihood from fishing, this is a serious problem.
Ghost fishing: Ghost fishing is the term for what is basically littering in the ocean. The illegal fishermen created by poorly drafted regulations and subsidies often simply abandon their tools of the trade in the ocean where they were used. Not only does this create pollution because of the trash, it also attracts scavengers who are then ensnared in the garbage and can no longer fulfill their vital function elsewhere in the ocean.
Species pushed to near extinction: When we hear that a fish species is being depleted, we often think it’s fine because they can be found somewhere else. However, many species of fish are being pushed close to extinction by overfishing; [these include] … several species of cod, tuna, halibut and even lobster.
Bycatching: If you’re old enough to remember people being concerned about dolphins caught in tuna nets, you know what bycatching is: it’s when marine life that is not being sought by commercial fishermen is caught in their nets as a by-product. The possibility of bycatching increases dramatically with overfishing.
Waste: Overfishing creates waste in the supply chain. Approximately 20% of all fish in the United States are lost in the supply chain due to overfishing. In the third world, this rises to 30% thanks to a lack of available freezing devices. What this means is that even though there are more fish being caught than ever, there is also massive waste of harvested fish.
Mystery fish: Because of overfishing, there are significant numbers of fish at your local fish market and on the shelves of your local grocery store that aren’t what they are labelled as. Just because something says that it’s cod doesn’t mean that it actually is. To give you an idea of the scope of this problem, only 13% of the “red snapper” on the market is actually red snapper. Most of this is unintentional due to the scale of fishing done today, but much of it is not, [with people] hiding behind the unfortunate realities of mass-scale fishing to pass off inferior products to unwitting customers.
Why is overfishing happening?
So, why is overfishing happening? There are a variety of factors driving overfishing that we will delve into here, the bird’s eye view is below.
Regulation: Regulations are incredibly difficult to enforce even when they are carefully crafted, which they often are not. The worst offenders have little regulation in place and none of the regulations apply in international waters, which are effectively a “wild west”.
Unreported fishing: Existing regulations force many fishermen to do their fishing “off the books” if they wish to turn a profit. This is especially true in developing nations.
Mobile processing: Mobile processing is when fish are processed before returning to port: they are canned while still out at sea. Canned fish is increasingly taking up the fish consumption market at the expense of fresh fish.
Subsidies: Anyone familiar with farm subsidies knows that these are actually bad for the production of healthy food. Subsidies for fishing are similar. They don’t generally go to small fishermen whom one would think are most in need, but rather to massive vessels doing fuel-intensive shipping.
What’s more, subsidies encourage overfishing because the money keeps flowing no matter what: the more fish you catch, the more money you get, with no caps influenced by environmental impact fishing regulation.
Of these, the main driver of overfishing is, predictably, government subsidies. So it is worth taking a few minutes to separate that out from the rest of these issues and give it some special attention.
Overfishing and government subsidies
The subsidies that drive overfishing are highly lucrative: the governments of the world are giving away over $35 billion every year to fishermen. That’s about 20% of the value of all the commercially caught fish in the world every year. Subsidies are often directed at reducing the costs for mega-fishing companies — things like paying for their massive fuel budgets, the gear they need to catch fish or even the vessels themselves.
This effectively allows for massive commercial fishing operations to take … [over] the market or recapitalise at rates significantly below that of the market, disproportionately favouring them over their smaller competitors.
It is this advantage that large mega-fishing companies enjoy that is a primary driver of overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices. The end result of this is not just depleted stocks, but also lowered yields due to long-term overfishing, as well as lowered costs of fish at market, which has some advantages for the consumer, but also makes it significantly harder for smaller operations to turn a profit.
Such government subsidies could provide assistance to smaller fishermen, but are generally structured in a way that favours consolidation of the market and efforts counterproductive to conservation efforts.
What role do farmed fish play?
Farmed fish is a phenomenon that we take for granted today, but is actually a revolutionary method of bringing fish out of the water and onto our dinner tables. Originally, it was seen as a way of preserving a population of wild fish. The thinking was this: we could eat fish from farming while the wild stock replenished itself.
At the same time, communities impacted by overfishing would find new ways to get income in an increasingly difficult market. Third world countries would have their protein needs met in a manner that did not negatively impact the environment. It was considered a big, easy win for the entire world.
The reality, as is often the case, turned out to be a little different. Crowding thousands of fish together in small areas away from their natural habitat turns out to have detrimental effects. Waste products, primarily fish poo, excess food and dead fish, begin to contaminate the areas around fish farms. What’s more, like other factory farms, fish farms require lots of pesticides and drugs thanks to the high concentrations of fish and the parasites and diseases that spread in these kinds of living conditions.
Predictably, the chemicals used in making farmed fish possible are not contained in the areas where they are initially used. They spread into the surrounding waters and then simply become part of the water of the world, building up over time. In many cases, farmed fish are farmed in areas that are already heavily polluted. This is where the admonition to avoid eating too much fish for fear of contaminants like mercury has come from.
What’s more, the fish that we eat are not the only fish that are living at the fisheries. Often times, the preferred fish of the human consumer are carnivores that must eat lots of other fish to get to an appropriate size to be marketable. These fish, known as “reduction fish” or “trash fish” require the same kind of treatment that the larger fish they feed do.
All told, it takes 26 pounds [almost 12 kg] of feed to produce a single pound [450 g] of tuna, making farmed fishing an incredibly inefficient way of bringing food to market. Indeed, 37% of all seafood globally is now fed to farmed fish, up dramatically from 7.7% in 1948.
Salmon, for example, is only healthy when it is caught in the wild. Farmed salmon is essentially a form of junk food. This is in large part due to the diet that the fish eat in fish farms, which is high in fat, genetically engineered and uses soy as a primary source of protein. Toxins at the farms concentrate in the fatty tissue of the salmon. Concentrations of the harmful chemical PCB [polychlorinated biphenyl] are found in concentrations eight times higher in farmed fish than traditionally caught wild salmon.
The pesticides, of course, are not used for no reason, but because of the proliferation of pests due to the high concentrations of fish in the fisheries. Sea lice are one example of such pests; they can eat a live salmon down to the bone.
These pests do not stay in the fisheries, but quickly spread to the surrounding waters and infect wild salmon as well. The pests aren’t the only ones escaping: farmed fish often escape and compete with the native fish for resources, becoming invasive species.
Subsidies vary from one country to another and specific statistics about how much goes to fish farms is generally not forthcoming. But fish farms effectively move the problem of overfishing from the wild oceans and into more enclosed areas. This does not solve any of the problems of overfishing. It merely creates new ones with no less impact on the environment.
Which countries are overfishing?
The main offenders with regard to overfishing tend to not be developed Western countries, but countries from the developing world and parts of Asia. Sadly, the United States is the only Western nation that appeared on a “shame list” put out by Pew Charitable Trusts. This is known as the Pacific Six. The other members are Japan, Taiwan, China, South Korea and Indonesia.
The list only refers to overfishing with regard to bluefin tuna, but it provides a snapshot of the face of overfishing internationally. Overfishing facts say that these six countries are fishing 80% of the world’s bluefin tuna. These countries took collectively 111,482 metric tons of bluefin tuna out of the waters in 2011 alone.
However, when it comes to harmful subsidies there is a clear leader: China. A University of British Columbia study found that China provided more in the way of harmful subsidies encouraging overfishing than any other country on Earth — $7.2 billion in 2018 or fully 21% of all global support. What’s more, subsidies that are more beneficial than harmful dropped by 73%.
The negative effects of overfishing are not taking place far away and in very abstract ways. They are causing communities right here in the United States to collapse. In the early 1990s, the overfishing of cod caused entire communities in New England to collapse. Once this happens, it is very difficult to reverse. The effects are felt by the marine ecosystem but also by the people whose livelihoods depend on fishing.
Another example of economic instability is the Japanese fish market. Japanese fishermen are able to catch far less fish than they used to, meaning that the Japanese are now eating more imported fish, often from the United States. This creates a perverse situation where America exports most of its best salmon to other countries, but consumes some of the worst farmed salmon in the world today.
Just how bad is overfishing?
Surely overfishing can’t be that bad, right? The seas are just filled with tonnes of fish and it would take us forever to overfish to the point that they began to disappear entirely, right?
The first fish that disappear from an ecosystem are larger fish with a longer lifespan that reach reproductive age later in life. These are also the most desirable fish on the open market. When these fish disappear, the destructive fishing operations do not leave the area: they simply move down the food chain to less desirable catches such as squid and sardines. This is called “fishing down the web” and it slowly destroys the entire ecosystem removing first the predator fish and then the prey.
There are broader effects on the ecosystem beyond fish, effects that resonate throughout the entire Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Many of the smaller fish eat algae that grows on coral reefs. When these fish become overfished, the algae grows uncontrolled and the reefs suffer as a result. That deprives many marine life forms of their natural habitat, creating extreme disruption in the ocean ecosystem.
What are some alternatives to government-driven overfishing?
While there are certainly policy solutions to rampant overfishing, not all solutions will come from government. For example, there are emerging technological solutions that will make bycatching and other forms of waste less prevalent and harmful.
Simple innovations based on existing technologies, such as the Fishtek Marine pinger, seek to save sea mammals from the nets of commercial fishermen while also increasing profit margins for these companies in a win–win scenario. The device is small and inexpensive and thus does not present an undue burden to either the large-scale commercial fishing vessels or small fishermen looking to eke out a living in an increasingly difficult market.
We must also recognise that current regulations simply do not work. In one extreme case, governments restricted fishing for certain forms of tuna for three days a year. This did absolutely nothing for the population of tuna, as the big commercial fishing companies simply employed methods to harvest as many fish in three days as they were previously getting in any entire year.
This, in turn, led to a greater amount of bycatch and waste. Because the fishing operations didn’t have the luxury of time to ensure that they were only catching what they sought to catch, their truncated fishing season prized quantity over quality, with predictable results.
Quotas, specifically the “individual transferable quota” scheme used by New Zealand and many other countries, does not seem to work as intended for a number of reasons. First, these quotas are, as the name might suggest, transferable. This means that little fishermen might consider it a better deal to simply sell their quota to a large commercial fishing operation rather than go to work for themselves, and we’re back to square one.
More generally, quotas seem to be a source of waste. Here’s how they work. A fishing operation is given a specific tonnage of fish from a specific species that they can catch. However, not all fish are created equally. So, when commercial fishing operations look at their catch and see that some of it is of higher quality than others, they discard the lower-quality fish in favour of higher-quality fish, creating large amounts of waste. These discards can sometimes make up 40% of the catch.
An alternative to the current system is one that balances the need for fish as a global protein source with a long-term view of the ecosystem, planning for having as many fish tomorrow as there are today and, thus, a sustainable model for feeding the world and providing jobs. One way to do this would be to tie subsidies to conservation and sustainability efforts, rather than simply writing checks to large commercial fishing operations to build new boats and buy new equipment. Such a scheme would also prize smaller-scale operations over larger ones. A more diversified source of the world’s fish would also be more resilient.
One such alternative is called territorial use rights in fisheries management (TURF). In this case, individual fishermen or collectives are provided with long-term rights to fish in a specific area. This means that they have skin in the game. They don’t want to overfish the area because to do so would be to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. So, they catch as many fish as is sustainable and no more. They have a vested, long-term interest in making sure that there is no overfishing in the fisheries that have been allotted to them.
Not only does this make sustainable fishing more attractive, it also means that there is less government bureaucracy and red tape involved. Fishermen with TURF are allowed to catch as much as they like. It is assumed that sustainability is baked into the equation because the fishermen with rights want to preserve the fishing not just for the next year, but for the next generation and the one after that. This model has been used successfully in Chile, one of the most economically free countries in the world … to prevent overfishing and create sustainability. It is a market-driven model that prizes small producers with skin in the game over massive, transnational conglomerates with none.
While it’s nice to support the little guy over Big Fishing and we certainly support sustainability and conservation efforts, there’s another, perhaps more important and direct, reason to support reforms designed to eliminate overfishing: food security. When bluefin tuna, for example, becomes extinct, it’s not coming back. That means no more cans of tuna on the shelves of your local supermarket.
That’s a big deal for people in developed, first world countries, but a much bigger deal in developing countries. When major protein sources are depleted forever, there will be intensified competition for the resources that remain. This also creates unrest in the countries that are less able to compete in a global market due to issues of capital and scale. Even if you’re not concerned with overfishing, overfishing and the problems it creates will soon be on your doorstep – unless corrective measures are taken before it’s too late.
THE 21st National Tuna Congress is happening on September 4-6, 2019 in General Santos City. The Theme for this year’s Congress: “The Tuna Industry: Embracing Technologies and Sustainable Strategies”. Why this Theme?
The choice of the Theme is anchored on sustainability supported by technologies. We all know that Sustainability of Tuna Resources is paramount to the fishing industry. It cannot be overemphasized that the sustainability of the ocean’s resources does not only rest on the shoulders of government. The same responsibility is likewise demanded of the private sector, especially the global players of the Tuna Industry, and the global fisheries advocates.
The Theme calls that sustainability can only be achieved if Conservation and Management Measures are dutifully observed, and international and regional agreements calling for preservation of species and recovery plans, are honoured.
Sustainability also means no overfishing. It means that we enable an environment for Tuna and Tuna-like species to spawn and propagate for another season of catch. The intention is not to deplete our resources.
On technology, the world is currently driven by technology. The fishing industry needs to keep up by continuously upgrading systems and processes to achieve full efficiency while being ocean-friendly.
For 2019, the SOCSKSARGEN Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc. (SFFAII) welcomes its new President, Andrew Philip Yu. Outgoing President Joaquin T. Lu has served SFFAII for 8 years, starting in 2011. He also held the chairmanship of the National Tuna Congress for eight years.
President Lu’s accomplishments include: Active and dynamic Advocacy, Lobby Work, and Involvement in International and Regional Collaborations; Focused Partnership with National Government and Steadfast Observance and Compliance with Philippine Laws; and Implementation of the electronic Catch Documentation and Traceability System (eCDTS).
On the first, the country is a driven Member of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. Under his watch, the Philippines has been granted access to fish in the High Seas Pocket 1 (HSP1). This means that the country’s 36 fishing fleets can fish in the HSP1 of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. This is a major breakthrough for the country. It may be recalled that for a time, the Philippines was no longer allowed to fish in Indonesia. The prohibition affected the Tuna Industry. The severity of the situation was felt in General Santos City, the home base of the Tuna Industry.
Under his leadership, the fishing industry was able to surmount the acute challenge. Of course, even as the Philippines is granted access to fish in the high seas, the country is duty bound to comply with international regulations, like the observance of conservation and management measures.
SFFAII also pushed for the Philippines’ inclusion in the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission. The high seas of the Indian Ocean and the Exclusive Economic Zones of member-coastal states are potential fishing grounds for Philippine purse-seine fishing vessels. Fishing in other fishing grounds will enable our own fishing grounds to recover.
SFFAII also pushes the promotion of ASEAN Tuna globally and branding it as a suitable and traceable-produced product. SFFAII supports the move to properly label the fishing industry and its allied industries’ products. However, it likewise urges that international certification be made affordable, yielding benefits not only to stakeholders, but also on marine ecosystems.
On Focused Partnership with National Government and Steadfast Observance and Compliance with Philippine Laws. For 20 years, SFFAII has hosted 20 Tuna Congresses. The Tuna Congress is now on its 21st year. The yearly Congress has become a venue for intense lobby efforts from among the active players and loyal stakeholders of the industry. The issues and concerns afflicting the industry are highlighted in the yearly Tuna Congress.
The yields of the past Tuna Congresses include the Formulation of a Policy governing Illegal, Unlawful, and Unregulated fishing practices; Finalization, Production, and Issuance of the Philippine Fishing Vessels Safety Rules and Regulations; 2018 National Tuna Management Plan which is aimed at establishing a sustainably-managed and equitably-allocated Tuna fisheries by 2026 and promoting responsible fishing practices and trade of Tuna products; Creation of National Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council that serves as an advisory/recommendatory body to the Department of Agriculture in policy formulation; Reconstitution of the National Tuna Industry Council; Approval of the Handline Fishing Law and the amendment of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the said law; among others.
On Implementation of the eCDTS. In 2017, a major milestone for the Tuna Industry unfolded when SFFAII partnered with USAID Oceans and Fisheries Partnership and BFAR to develop and implement the eCDTS. The system, when operational, will trace the movement of seafood from “bait to plate”, all the way through to export markets like US, EU, and neighbouring ASEAN markets. General Santos City has been chosen as the pilot city. Now on its final year, we will see how this system will actually impact the fishing industry.
Managers of the world’s largest tuna fishery—in the western and central Pacific Ocean—have a chance this year to improve the sustainability of how those fish are caught and should seize that opportunity.
At issue are fish aggregating devices (FADs), which are man-made rafts deployed by purse seine vessels to attract fish. For years, fishermen have observed that tunas gather under floating objects like seaweed or logs. Starting in the 1990s, fishing crews began making their own buoyant objects and deployed them in ever-increasing numbers. For purse seiners, which encircle schools of tunas within enormous nets, FADs have increased fishing efficiency and the amount of tuna caught. Today most FADs in the region are man-made and include plastics and other synthetic materials, with buoys that transmit location and, increasingly, the amount of tuna underneath a FAD.
Fifty-four percent of the tunas caught worldwide is from waters managed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), and much of that catch comes from the exclusive economic zones of eight Pacific island countries—which are also home to 90 percent of the FAD fishing within the WCPFC. Those nations are members of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), which has strengthened fisheries management across the members’ collective waters.
To that end, PNA member countries have been at the forefront of efforts to better understand FAD fishing by collecting data from the transmissions of FAD buoys. According to a new analysis made possible by those efforts and prepared for the WCPFC’s Scientific Committee, an estimated 44,700 to 64,900 FADs are deployed within the WCPFC area, likely more than in any other ocean region.
The purse seine vessels using FADs primarily fish for skipjack tuna, the most common species used for canned tuna. But too few regulations are in place to ensure appropriate use of FADs, and their deployment can come at a cost to other species of tuna: Juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tunas, which also gather under FADs, can be caught before they reach reproductive age.
Juvenile catch isn’t the only concern: The webbing, nets, and ropes that make up FADs also entangle and kill sharks and turtles, and fishermen are not required to recover their FADs from the water.
A second recent scientific analysis, also made possible by the PNA data collection efforts and presented to the Scientific Committee, has estimated that at least 5 percent of deployed FADs wash ashore, and at least 26 percent of FADs could be considered “lost.”
A WCPFC working group is set to discuss FAD numbers, design, and possible management solutions on 3 October. Below are four recommendations the working group should send to the full Commission, which will decide at its annual meeting in December whether to increase regulation of FADs:
Decrease the limit on the number of FADs a vessel can deploy. Current rules prohibit a vessel from having more than 350 FADs in the water at any time, but that number is far too high to improve sustainability of the region’s tuna fishery.
Require that FADs be built in a way that results in a lowest risk of entanglement of marine animals to minimize the deaths of sharks and turtles. Such designs are being used with success in other ocean areas without affecting catches of targeted tunas.
Require that natural and biodegradable materials be used in the construction of rafts and FAD appendages (the material hanging below each device), and prioritize work to identify solutions to prevent FAD buoys from becoming marine debris.
Recommend extending the working group’s agenda to next year to investigate policies to better control and retrieve FADs, as well as alternative options to manage tuna catch in the purse seine fishery.
Taking these steps would be in line with the WCPFC Scientific Committee’s advice. In August, scientists on that committee expressed concern about the number of beached and lost FADs, and the potential impacts of high device densities on tuna populations. The committee recommended fewer deployments; use of biodegradable, non-entangling, and environmentally friendly designs; and better measures for control and retrieval.
Although fisheries managers worldwide have been slow to act, momentum is growing. Last year, representatives of FAD working groups from the Atlantic, eastern Pacific, and Indian oceans met to spark the beginnings of joint action. Their discussion was preceded by a meeting of a Global FAD Science Symposium, which included participants with expertise in WCPFC fisheries and identified proven and promising mitigation strategies, some of which the WCPFC working group is considering.
It is now up to the entire Commission to heed the advice of its own scientists, recognize the identified best practices, and adopt strategies appropriate to the western and central Pacific. Compared to some of the other tuna regional fisheries management organizations, the WCPFC lags in the adoption of strategies to mitigate some of the impacts of FADs. Given the significance and size of its fisheries, the WCPFC has a chance to set a new standard for safeguarding the health and sustainability of tunas and the greater marine ecosystem.
Dave Gershman is an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ global tuna conservation program.
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?“
Mexico and Japan have already breached their bluefin fishing limit for the second year in a row, despite strict quotas, said Pew Charitable Trusts.
Pacific bluefin is worth nearly $1 billion at the final point of sale, but it has been severely depleted over the years, and now just sits at 2.6% of its historic level, the charity said.
In September 2017, countries agreed to a rebuilding plan for the species. However, “there is little room for error, and the quota overages will continue to hurt recovery”, Pew said.
A new stock assessment for Pacific bluefin will be released this summer, and it will give fishery managers a time to consider if the recovery plan is working, and how much work must still be done to rebuild the species.
But if countries continue to stretch the limits, there is little chance for success, and the species will remain in serious jeopardy, Pew said.
“Pacific bluefin tuna can’t catch a break. Mexico, one of the leading fishing nations for this severely depleted species, officially exceeded its 2018 quota just four months into the year on May 3,” said Jamie Gibbon, an officer on Pew’s global tuna conservation campaign.
“If nations are unable to enforce the rebuilding plan and show that they are honestly tackling overfishing, the idea of an ocean-wide commercial fishing moratorium may have to be revisited as the last ditch option to save the species,” Gibbon said.
The Chinese-founded Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) wants to help Pacific Island nations manage their fisheries.
The multilateral development bank’s president, Jin Liqun, believes the Islands have “limited capacity” to do so on their own, so need the international community’s help.
Speaking at a round table discussion in Auckland attended by interest.co.nz, Jin said, “This is a huge resource that would be sufficient to make these countries very rich, but they have no power to drive away all these illegal fishing boats.
“We can help them…
“Maybe we would work with the New Zealand Government, combining our resources.”
Beijing-based Jin went on say, “I think Pacific Island countries still have to develop their institutional capability. That may take a bit of time, but with the support of New Zealand and other members of the international community, we would be able to help them to be more effective.
“These countries do need concessional funding.”
China’s position in the AIIB vs NZ’s
The AIIB has committed US$4.2 billion to financing 24 projects since it started operating in January 2016.
It offers sovereign and non-sovereign loans for projects in energy and power, transportation and telecommunications, rural infrastructure and agriculture development, water supply and sanitation, environmental protection, and urban development and logistics.
New Zealand is one of the Bank’s founding members, in 2015 committing to investing NZ$125 million in it over five years.
However New Zealand has dedicated a total of US$462 million (NZ$630) to the Bank. The difference between this figure, and the amount already paid can becalled upon by the AIIB as required.
Jin confirmed that while New Zealand is technically eligible to receive funding from the Bank, its priority is developing countries.
“I’m sorry we can’t invest in your country, even though I’d love to,” he said.
The US$462 million pledged by New Zealand makes up only 0.49% of the total committed by the AIIB’s 84 regional and non-regional members. This means it holds a 0.68% voting stake.
China has committed US$30 billion, so has a 27% voting stake.
Japan and the US aren’t part of the AIIB.
Jin is adamant: “It’s not China’s bank. China has China Development Bank, Exim Bank. The combined overseas assets are now beyond US$500 billion – more than the combined assets of all the multilateral development banks.
“So if it’s supposed to be China’s bank, why should we do it? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s a multilateral institution.”
‘Need and temptation often leads to greater risk’
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters wants New Zealand to contribute more to multilaterals working in the Pacific.
He made this intension clear when he revealed New Zealand’s “re-energised Pacific strategy” in a speech delivered at a Lowy Institute event in Sydney on March 1.
Peters didn’t mention the AIIB specifically, but said the World Bank and Asian Development Bank were “vital institutions” that could offer “sustainable investment choices for Pacific nations”.
Overall he said he wanted New Zealand to increase aid payments to the Pacific, further to these falling from 0.30% of Gross National Income in 2008, to 0.25% in 2016.
Nonetheless, his speech had a cautious undertone.
“The Pacific overall has also become an increasingly contested strategic space, no longer neglected by Great Power ambition, and so Pacific Island leaders have more options. This is creating a degree of strategic anxiety,” he said.
While Peters said the Pacific was attracting “an increasing number of external actors and interests”, he didn’t mention China.
“So much is changing in the Pacific and sometimes it is not for the best. Need and temptation often leads to greater risk than prudence would suggest,” he said.
Scepticism from Pacific Island fisheries expert
These risks are ever clear to veteran New Zealand journalist and former press secretary for the Samoan Prime Minister, Michael Field.
Having spent a large part of his career in the South Pacific and covering the Pacific, and written a book on fisheries in the area, ‘The Catch’, Field said he was “completely sceptical” about the AIIB’s interest in the Pacific’s marine resources.
“I find it a really cynical move involving a country that is at the very moment engaged in an extensive plunder of the fisheries resources of the South Pacific.”
He said China’s interest in funding regulation could start by it cutting back on the subsidies it offers Chinese fishing boats.
Further, China should be “cutting back on the number and style of their fishing operation, and they should prove to the Pacific first that they are capable of effective internal regulation before they start wondering around telling other people what to do.
“The Chinese operation in the Pacific so far has been a complete disaster. It’s a matter of great shame to China. Everywhere you look; China is over-fishing and ripping off Pacific countries.”
Field said the existing regulatory system of fisheries in the Pacific was “the best option we’ve got”.
Yet he noted one of the bodies that monitors the Pacific – the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission – was “stymied year after year by nations like China who refuse to cut back on their catches, or refuse to limit their catches”.
You can see the extent of China’s fisheries in the Pacific using this Global Fishing Watch resource.
As for the concessional loans made in the past, Field noted the struggle Pacific Island countries were facing, trying to repay these.
The Australian in January reported Vanuatu was forced to lift its GST-style consumption tax from 12.5% to 15%, largely in an attempt to help service huge concessional loans from China.
Meanwhile Tonga was scrambling to start repaying massive Chinese debts with a five-year amnesty brokered by the International Monetary Fund to expire in coming months.
The Australian also reported the building boom that has taken place across the Pacific is on the back of concessional loans with provisos the borrower nations spend the money building infrastructure using Chinese construction groups.
Nonetheless, the AIIB’s Jin said it was important for donors to work with recipient countries to ensure they prioritised funding the right projects.
“So if anything goes wrong, don’t put the blame on the recipient countries, or else you have a problem,” he said.
“As long as donors and recipient countries will learn from lessons [of the past] they certainly will do a better job as we move forward.”
As for the relationship between the AIIB and China’s Belt and Road initiative, Jin acknowledged both were proposed by the Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Yet he said, “These two are different things. They are not the same, although there is some relationship…
“Belt and Road is a platform, inviting all the interested countries to work together. China does not dominate, China does not dictate, China cannot impose any project in any country. We are all working with sovereign governments.”
The south central province of Phu Yen is taking urgent measures to curb illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities, as part of the national effort to tackle the European Commission’s IUU yellow card.
Vice Chairman of the provincial People’s Committee Tran Huu The said educational campaigns are an important measure to enhance local fishermen’s awareness about IUU.
The province will intensify inspections of fishing activities at sea and in ports, take strict punishment against violations of regulations on fishing and ship registrations and management.
According to Nguyen Tri Phuong, deputy head of the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, fishery inspectors have coordinated with the border guard force to keep watch on fishing boats, inspect ships’ records on fishing, and issue certifications for origins of seafood.
Phu Yen is working on a fishing database which will integrate information on local fishing boats, the registration and licensing of fishing vessels, fishing sector’s labour and activities of local fishing ports.
The provincial border guard force has undertaken measures to curb illegal fishing in foreign waters, such as monitoring vessels’ activities, keeping close contact with fishing boats at sea and encouraging vessels’ owners and captains to sign commitments not to violating other countries’ waters.
Vietnam received a “yellow-card” from the European Commission (EC) because of its failure to meet standards over IUU fishing last year, and the country has been offered the opportunity to take measures to rectify the situation within six months.
The EU will assess Vietnam’s efforts to fight IUU fishing in April.
The “yellow card” is followed by a “green card” if issues are resolved or a “red card” if they are not. A “red card” can lead to a trade ban on fishery products.
On December 13, 2017, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc issued Directive 45/CT-TTg on some urgent tasks and solutions following the EC’s warning.
Many coastal localities of Vietnam have also taken actions to end IUU fishing.