A shared vision for self-determination: the PNA story in print

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A Solomon Islander who is a household name in the Western and Central Pacific tuna industry has written the story of how the Davids of the industry prevailed against the Goliaths.

Fishing for success: lessons in Pacific regionalism is the story of how the Parties to the Nauru Agreement came into being, and is written by one of those involved in its formation: Transform Aqorau.

The book was published recently by the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University. 

Dr Aqorau said in an interview with the Coral Bell School that it was “one of the happiest stories” to come out of the region.

“The huge increases in revenues, from our work in getting hard limits for the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS), and in restructuring the VDS and running it as a business, demonstrated that we can manage our resources more effectively,” Dr Aqorau said. 

“I wanted to share this story because for a long time we were really played off by the foreign fishing operators. It was quite unfair how the distant-water fishing nations, for the better part of 30 years, did not pay us for the true value of our tuna.”

Dr Transform Aqorau on deck of a purse-seine fishing vessel. Photo: Giff Johnson.
Dr Transform Aqorau on board the purse-seine fishing vessel Lojet during a two-week voyage. Photo: Giff Johnson.

The PNA began operating from a small office in Majuro, Marshall Islands, in 2010. Dr Aqorau said that, at that time, the PNA states collected US$60 million in revenue from tuna fishing. 

Because of the agreement, in 2019 the same states earned revenue of US$500 million. 

It was an achievement “that donors, regional organisations and political leaders have been trying to do for years, but could not”, Dr Aqorau said.

“it is about how a group of countries, friends and colleagues – through their friendship, alliance, shared vision and desire to control their fisheries … – put their heads together and created the largest capitalised tuna fishery in the world.” 

He was motivated by wanting “to ensure that our peoples – the young, the old and feeble, the people in the village – get a fair share of the returns from our tuna resources”.

Dr Aqorau charts the early discussions on the agreement, and the opposition, challenges and victories along the way. 

The development of the agreement is threaded through many of the tuna conservation and management tools used in the region today. They include the Vessel Day Scheme for purse-seine and longline fishing vessels, and the Fisheries Information Management System (FIMS). They also include the achievement of the first Marine Stewardship Council certification in the region, and the related set up of the Pacifical tuna-marketing brand.

Some arrangements had been more successful than others, he said, but from the beginning the countries saw that the conservation of tuna populations and economic gain went hand in hand. 

“The story of the PNA has been a remarkable one, especially the success of the VDS and how its significant economic returns have made such a large impact on the development of Pacific communities,” Dr Aqorau said.

The eight states that are members of the PNA are Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

Initial economic impact of COVID-19 reported for Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and Palau: media release

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WASHINGTON, 23 June 2020 – US Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary, Insular and International Affairs Douglas W. Domenech today announced the publication of three technical notes from the Graduate School USA’s Economic Monitoring and Analysis Program (EconMAP) providing an initial assessment of the economic impacts of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. 

“While each of the three Freely Associated States continues to remain free of COVID-19 cases, the slow down and near termination of transportation across the region has had strong repercussions on their economies,” said Assistant Secretary Domenech. 

“It is hoped that the data and analyses in these technical notes can help illuminate impacts as FAS leaders draft fiscal measures and implement mitigation strategies to maintain financial and economic stability now and as they emerge from the impacts of COVID-19.”

Funded through the US Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs (OIA), the projections made in the EconMAP technical notes assume that travel will remain limited for all three of the FAS through fiscal year 2021 or until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed. 

The technical notes also utilize economic modeling techniques that project the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic without consideration of any external donor assistance and in the absence of any confirmed domestic cases. Should any of the three FAS report COVID-19 cases and develop community transmission, the projected negative impacts of the pandemic could be compounded. 

As laid out in the reports in more detail, the following highlights reflect initial expected COVID-19 impact in each FAS in fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

The Republic of Palau

The Republic of Palau – Heavily dependent on tourism with 20 per cent of all its workers employed in the tourism industry, Palau attracted 90,000 foreign visitors in fiscal year 2019, with the tourism industry contributing 20 per cent to gross domestic product. Prior to the pandemic, Palau’s fiscal year 2020 first quarter tourism numbers were on track to grow more than 30 per cent and estimated to attract 116,000 visitors for the year. Instead, it is now projected that Palau will experience a 51 per cent reduction of tourists, with a total expected of about 44,075 visitors, and a further 89 per cent reduction in fiscal year 2021.

Overall, Palau is expected to experience a 22.3 per cent decline in GDP and a loss of 3,128 jobs, primarily in the private sector.

The fiscal deficit for Palau, resulting from the loss of tax revenues such as the payroll tax, gross revenues tax, hotel room tax, and import taxes, is projected to be about US$40 million; however, this impact is partially mitigated by Compact grants and trust fund revenues. Construction and infrastructure projects already planned for Palau are anticipated to serve as an important economic stimulus when the cyclical negative impact of COVID-19 on Palau’s economy is being realized.

The Federated States of Micronesia

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) – While the FSM does not enjoy the same level of visitor arrivals as Palau, the majority of the COVID-19 impact will also be felt in the private sector, namely in the transportation and tourism sectors. The hotel and restaurant industries are projected to fall by 46 per cent in fiscal year 2020 and then an additional 75 per cent in fiscal year 2021, reflecting the absence of tourists and minimal interstate visitors. Similarly, the transportation sector, which includes shipping, port services, aviation, and airport ground handling, is projected to decline by 27 per cent in fiscal year 2020 and an additional 14 per cent in fiscal year 2021. Notably, the total projected loss to the FSM economy will be the most severe decline in the FSM economy since the start of the amended Compact period in 2004. 

Ultimately, the FSM is expected to experience a 6.9 per cent decline in GDP and a loss of 1,841 jobs, reflecting an 11 per cent reduction of employment levels in the FSM compared to fiscal year 2019. 

Optimistically, given the FSM’s strong fiscal position at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the application of targeted internal and external assistance, including Federal assistance, to bolster health sector investments, improve resiliency in the health system, provide budgetary resources to offset revenue losses during the pandemic, and to provide direct support to affected individuals and businesses, will be sufficient to offset much of the projected threat to the FSM economy and to its fiscal position going forward.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) – The overall RMI economy relies very little on tourism and visitor arrivals with the hotel and restaurant sector representing only 2.3 per cent of GDP. It is, however, more heavily dependent on the public sector, which includes important fisheries activity and sovereign rent receipts. The Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority is already seeing declines ranging from 30 to 50 per cent across aquarium fish exports, the tuna loining plant operations, purse seining operations, and shore-based support to the longline fishing industry. With airline travel to the RMI near complete shutdown, wholesale fuel operations are projected to drop by 45 per cent, reflecting the loss of nearly all of its aviation fuel sales. 

Overall, the RMI is projected experience a 6.9 per cent decline in GDP and a loss of 716 jobs.

The projected impact on tax revenues, employment, and job loss coupled with potential significant reductions in fisheries revenues may result in a sizeable fiscal shock in the range of US$14 to US$20 million, larger than previous fiscal downturns experienced by the RMI. The RMI will benefit significantly from donor assistance that can help mitigate the projected negative impacts on the economy as a whole and to avoid a dangerous deterioration of its fiscal position. 

Breadth and depth of impact in three countries

In all three countries, the breadth and depth of economic impact will be substantial in the tourism, transport, and fisheries sectors, again under the current modeling with each country still reporting zero COVID-19 cases. Although Palau is hardest hit due to its tourism-centered economic structure, the FSM and RMI are also deeply affected. The EconMAP team expects to update the technical notes to eventually quantify the full range and impact that internal mitigating efforts and external donor assistance will have in each FAS, eventually providing a full report to better understand the combined impact of assistance and the net impact of the COVID-19 response.

The full and complete COVID-19 technical notes for the FSM, RMI, and Palau can be accessed at http://www.pitiviti.org. EconMAP technical notes are intended to provide a concise and timely analysis of an immediate situation for decision-makers, utilizing currently available data sets and macroeconomic tools developed in close collaboration with stakeholders.

All three FAS governments are working closely with Federal partners in the United States government, including the Department of the Interior, to invest in strengthening their health systems and to mitigate the impact on affected individuals and businesses. For a partial list of US Federal assistance to the FAS related to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit https://www.doi.gov/oia/covid19.

Funded through the Office of Insular Affairs’ Technical Assistance Program, EconMAP is managed by the Graduate School USA’s Pacific & Virgin Islands Training Initiatives. EconMAP produces annual economic statistics and economic reviews for the RMI, FSM, and Palau, as well as occasional technical notes on emerging issues.

The Assistant Secretary, Insular and International Affairs, @ASIIADomenech, and the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) carry out the Secretary of the Interior’s responsibilities for the US territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands. Additionally, OIA administers and oversees federal assistance under the Compacts of Free Association to the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau.

For more information, contact Tanya Harris Joshua, Deputy Policy Director, Office of Insular Affairs – Policy Division, US Department of the Interior, ph. 202 208 6008 | mob. 202 355 3023.

Japan seeks to continue fishing in Palau waters

Categories @WCPFC15, News, NewsPosted on

Japan stressed the importance of its relationship with the Pacific, with most of the big scale fishing by the Japanese being centered in Pacific nations’ water.

Head of Delegation for Japan Shingo Ota, speaking at the Tuna Commission meeting in Honolulu said they were concerned about 20 small-scale longliners from Okinawa prefecture operating in Palau’s exclusive economic zone.

Mr Ota said those boats fear losing their livelihood once the island nation transition’s 80 percent of its waters to a no-fishing zone.

He said Japan is currently in talks with Palau to allow Okinawa fishermen to continue to fish in Palau after 2020 or the implementation of the Palau Marine Sanctuary.

“We are very much concerned because this is the main fishing ground for those 20 small-scale longliners. If Palau is going to close the area those vessels have nowhere to go,” Ota said.

He said Japan is requesting Palau to find a way, maybe through research, to allow the fishermen from Okinawa to continue fishing.

Ota, however, declined to give further details on the request.

Japan is one of Palau’s top foreign donors and the aid provided by Tokyo has helped the island nation to build roads and infrastructure.

By 2020, Palau is set to designate 80 percent of the nation’s maritime territory as a fully protected marine reserve in which no fishing or mining, can take place. 

Twenty percent of Palau’s waters will become a domestic fishing zone reserved for local fishermen and small-scale commercial fisheries with limited exports.

The marine sanctuary is President Tommy Remenegsau’s signature policy saying, Palau wants to lead the way in restoring the health of the ocean for future generations.

Palau joins other Pacific Ministers for tough talks ahead of tuna meeting

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Honolulu, Hawaii– Ministers from the eight Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) nations and Tokelau will be meeting here Friday [7 December] to discuss measures promoting sustainable management of fish stocks in their waters.

Palau Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism Umiich Sengebau will attend the meeting, which is set on Friday, December 7 (Saturday 8th Palau time).

The powerful grouping – composed of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu –   controls waters in which more than 60 per cent of the world’s biggest tuna canning species – skipjack -is caught.

Sengebau said he would propose that Palau host next year’s ministerial meeting.

On December 2, tuna officials from the eight-member PNA met ahead of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting from December 10-14 in Honolulu.

The WCPFC sets the rules for tuna fishing as well as for protection of vulnerable ocean-going species such as sharks, rays and turtles.

After the meeting PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru emphasized the importance of the PNA’s collaboration with the Pacific’s largest fisheries body the Forum fisheries Agency (FFA).

Mr Kumoru said ensuring the tuna stocks remain healthy is the highest priority of the Islands.

This requires ongoing and effective conservation measures on both the high seas and in the exclusive economic zones of the Islands, he said

“That is why the PNA and the FFA put so much effort into preparing for WCPFC,” he said.

PNA officials met Sunday in Honolulu to discuss the new five-year draft strategic plan, electronic monitoring proposal focused on the longline fishing industry, budget plans for next year as well as regional fisheries issues for the upcoming WCPFC annual meeting.

Sengebau, along with the other ministers will attend the fisheries ministers’ meeting today in Honolulu to review the draft strategic plan, and other matters along with other WCPFC-related issues for policy consideration by the ministers.

Sengebau said he agrees that one of the issues that need to be tackled during the meeting is to improve management of fishing devices which are placed in the water to attract fish -known as FADs- especially in light of new technology such as radar and sonar now used on FADS.

“We need a better approach and better strategy on the FADs issue,’ Sengebau stated

Sengebau said that because of the new FAD technology , it is easier for vessels to catch fish that could impact PNA’s revenues from the vessel day scheme.

He said PNA countries should consider not only an effective way to manage the FADs but ensure that there will be economic returns for the Pacific by way of fees for FADs deployed.

In an earlier statement PNA said FADs are playing an increasingly important role in the purse seine fishery in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean that there is a need to step up its FAD management and tracking program.

PNA’s new five-year strategic plan, to be adopted soon, to guide its work, includes work to address climate change impacts on the fishery, according to a PNA press statement.