Fisheries officials the key to unlock the Pacific’s multi-billion-dollar potential

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The Pacific Ocean is vast.

It is so big you can fit not one, not two, but five of Earth’s moons inside it and have room left over. If that doesn’t sound impressive, then how about fitting the whole of the planet Mars in it and having 20 million square kilometres of room spare?

Spread throughout this planet-size swimming pool are some 25,000 small and isolated islands, mostly in its western and central region. And teeming within their many millions of square metres of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) are the commercially important tropical species of tuna that feed a large portion of the world. 

Three of these islands are the atolls of Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu that make up the Tokelau group. Together, they add up to 12 square kilometres of land – a miniscule string of pearls adorning Tokelau’s 318,000 square kilometre EEZ. 

In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic spread to all corners of the world, only a handful of countries managed to stay COVID-free. Tokelau was one of them. For most of the countries that remained free of the disease in 2020, that fragile status is being maintained at crippling economic and social costs. The lucrative tourism sectors of the small nation’s Pacific cousins of Samoa, Cook Islands, Niue, and Tonga were decimated. It has made their fisheries revenue that much more valuable. 

Enoka Puni with myself and Vase Reupena enjoying a bounty of skipjack tuna caught only a few metres from Atafu’s reef in April 2018. Photo: Litara Reupena.

Tokelau is an exception

But Tokelau is the exception. 

Its domestic economy does not rely on tourism. Instead, an estimated 80% comes from fisheries revenue alone. With their fisheries income mostly unaffected by COVID-19 so far, the people of Tokelau have been living in pre-pandemic normal since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic on 11 March 2020

Yes, there are small doses of pandemic reality: COVID-19 drills in the three atolls, construction of managed isolation facilities, border controls, disruptions to the supply chain, and citizens repatriated – but they are small morsels of the enormous realities outside 318,000 square kilometre moat. 

There is one reality that Tokelau shares with the outside world: that the commercial performance of the Pacific fisheries has been largely unaffected by COVID-19. With time, it has become clear that this reality has not happened by luck or in a vacuum. It is the culmination of years of hard work and a special working relationship, trust even, among its group of Pacific island officials, select fisheries experts, and their networks of partners. 

Pacific fisheries officials and their collaborating partners at the annual MCS Working Group meeting at FFA headquarters, Honiara, Solomon Islands, 2017. Photo: Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians.
Pacific fisheries officials and their collaborating partners at the annual MCS Working Group meeting at FFA headquarters, Honiara, Solomon Islands, 2017. Photo: Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians.

One of these groups is the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), which is made up of eight Pacific island nations and Tokelau, who, under their cooperative arrangement, manage the largest tropical tuna fishery in the world. Working in conjunction with the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and various other partners, they have somehow kept tuna stocks in their waters in healthy numbers while increasing revenues. (Revenue from tuna fishing grew from around US$60 million in 2010 to US$500 million in 2018.)

The secret to success, according to former PNA CEO, Mr Transform Aqorau, is relationships. In a 2016 statement, he said: “The secret lies in the close friendships and relationships that exist amongst your officials. These are not just friendships borne out of a common bond by the work we do, but transcend to our families and siblings in some cases. These friendships have allowed us to work together even where we disagree with each other. We still value each other’s company and still share a meal and drink at the end of the day.”

One individual who has been part of that group since 2010 is Tokelau’s fisheries adviser, Mr Stan Crothers. 

In this writer’s mind, Stan symbolises the hard-nosed yet unconditional love that fisheries officials have. They have dedicated themselves to claiming as much of the benefits rightly due from the region’s fishery to local people and their future generations.

With Stan’s involvement, Tokelau was accepted into the PNA’s Vessel Day Scheme in 2012. The immediate impact of that association saw the annual fisheries revenue increase by 100%, from NZ$2.7 million to NZ$5.5 million in 2013. The revenue continued its upward growth, from 2016 plateauing at around NZ$20 million a year. In 2019, its NZ$21.6 million contribution made up 77% of the total domestic economy, up from 27% in 2010.

Table showing increase in revenue for Tokelau tuna fisheries from 2010 to 2019 after Tokelau began to take part in PNA's Vessel Day Scheme in 2012.

Stan, like many of his fisheries compatriots, prefers effort and results to do his talking. 

At the 2017 WCPFC meeting, Stan and Tokelau played a crucial role that helped pass the bridging Tropical Tuna Measure, averting what would have been a historic collapse at a Tuna Commission negotiations. (This is the situation that occurred at the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission in 2020.)

But it means that most of the citizens of countries like Tokelau, who now enjoy a more equitable economic share of revenues from their fisheries, have no idea of who has achieved this result or of the amount of work involved. 

The reality is there’s a tuna war taking place. It’s a hugely complex battlefield requiring combatants with specialised skills and technical acumen, with a good and agile grasp of political brinkmanship. In this field, tiny countries such as Tokelau, which do not yet have the human capability and resources for these types of soldiers and generals, could be expected to be reaping NZ$2-$3 million a year in tuna revenue. Instead, the island has earned NZ$20 million a year for the past four years.

Stan has been – and continues to be – the key that unlocked Tokelau’s multi-million dollar potential in fisheries. And with his work with the PNA, FFA and other fisheries partners, he has helped extend similar benefits to other Pacific island countries and territories. 

And here’s the rub: All of Stan’s efforts for Tokelau and for other parties have been provided on a largely pro bono basis for the public good. 

But perhaps the magnitude of even the vast Pacific Ocean is not large enough a symbol for the value and heart of fisheries workers. For it is they who make the difference. Day in, day out, they go to battle with the aims to sustainably manage the fisheries, to negotiate fair and equitable benefits for the Pacific people who own these resources. 

Their work has so far made fisheries one of the few sectors in the world to successfully hold off the devastation of the still uncontrollable SARS-CoV-2 virus.

It is really hard work. And many in the public arena just do not know about it. 

In an interview shortly after the latest Tuna Commission meeting in December 2020 (WCPFC17), Stan said, “I think I’ve had a total of around three work days over the past six months where I haven’t been on Zoom meetings to do with fisheries. 

“So, I’m shot. But hey, I think a couple of weeks without Zoom meetings to get my eyes rested and we’ll be ready to go again in 2021.”

It is important that we acknowledge this line of work in the modern era – one that reaches back to foundational giants in Ambassador Satya N. Nandan of Fiji, Elisala Pita of Tuvalu, and countless others. To do so, following is a light-hearted version of a story on Stan and Tokelau that I wrote for the Nukunonu newspaper, Te Ulugā Talafau. It was published in August 2020.

Grant Thomas and the Tokelau child with the million-dollar smile 

Before COVID-19 changed the world, the new decade in New Zealand and Tokelau was heralded by the publication of the 2020 Queen’s New Year Honours List in January. Among the awardees was one Mr Grant Thomas Crothers, who became an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) by way of services rendered to Tokelau and the fishing industry. 

The citation stated that Grant Thomas was the “Deputy Chief Executive and Acting Chief Executive of the Ministry of Fisheries in New Zealand. Upon retirement, he began pro bono work in the Pacific Islands to ensure small island countries could reap sustainable outcomes from their fisheries resources. 

“In 2009–2010 he started working with and advising the Parties to the Nauru Fishing Agreement (PNA) and Tokelau. He played a key role in helping to develop the Tokelau Fisheries Policy, a document that was formed through extensive consultation with the Tokelau community, which enabled Tokelau to join the PNA.”

At about this point, there will be a lot of confused people in Tokelau, with many asking, “What is this? Who is Grant Thomas?” 

And that is because Grant Thomas is an alias that stands for “Stan”. So when the name Stan Crothers is called out loud, not only will Tokelauans immediately say, “Oh, our Stan?” but virtually the entire international fisheries sector right down to the little children on outboard boats skimming the lagoon stretch between Fakaofo’s Fale and Tai islets will also go, “That’s our Stan.”  

But more than just a popular personality with a few choice words, Stan has shaped Tokelau’s fisheries sector from a six-figure annual revenue stream in 2011 to an eight-figure boon starting in 2016.  

Stan’s “input has helped grow the Tokelau fisheries sector from just under NZ$1 million per year to NZ$20 million annually” in less than a decade. These funds make up approximately 80% of Tokelau’s domestic revenue, and have allowed the New Zealand territory to improve its infrastructure, build hospitals, boost education outcomes and make other gains. The one smidgeon of regret for Stan, though, is that not one cent of the fisheries revenue has gone into building up Tokelau’s Trust Fund that currently sits just below NZ$100 million. 

Sunrise over the Fakaofo lagoon, Tokelau, November 2018. Photo: Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians.
Sunrise over the Fakaofo lagoon, Tokelau, November 2018, viewed from the front of the Sakava residence, the place where Stan Crothers mulled over a decision about Tokelau’s fisheries back in 2010. Photo: Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians.

But how did a sought-after expert come to swap lucrative consultancy work with international institutes to volunteer his time and efforts for Tokelau some 10 years ago? 

The Hollywood drama-style answer is revealed at the end of this article. But first, a window into some of the quirks and characteristics of this highly reserved individual, which are best garnered from comments by those who work closely with him. 

Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen, Director-General, FFA

“Having experienced first-hand the significant contribution that Stan makes to our fisheries work, I was delighted that he is to be awarded this honour of Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Stan’s contribution to the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), particularly Tokelau, has been immense,” Dr Tupou-Roosen wrote.

“The extraordinary work that he has done with the leaders and people of Tokelau to turn around their fisheries management and development to reveal its true value and potential has been remarkable. Without a doubt, the merits of this wonderful collaboration will benefit the people of Tokelau today and for generations to come.

“In the wider region, FFA continues to benefit regularly from his vast knowledge and experience in our fisheries discussions. His commitment, passion and diligence for the people of the Pacific in our fisheries work makes this a most well-deserved award for Stan Crothers.”

Dr Josie Tamate, Deputy Chair, WCPFC, and Director-General, Niue Ministry of Natural Resources

“This is an excellent achievement for Stan!” Dr Tamate wrote.

“I have great respect for Stan, particularly his contribution to the management of the tuna fisheries in the WCPO and especially for Tokelau. He has a wealth of experience on fisheries management and negotiation that have flowed on to Pacific island and FFA island colleagues.

“We have learned from him, and his sense of humour is quite interesting, especially through the analogies and metaphors that he sometimes uses. Only Stan can make an intervention with reference to a ‘divorce and/or marriage’ during a serious fisheries negotiation … yet in many instances, it helped break the ice and pressure a bit. Congratulations, Stan.”

His Excellency Mr Ross Ardern, Administrator of Tokelau

“On a personal level and as the Administrator of Tokelau, I was so pleased to see Stan receive acknowledgement of his work in the fisheries sector in the New Year’s Honours list,” Mr Ardern wrote. 

“His elevation to that of Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit is richly deserved. I am particularly pleased that Stan’s family will be able to participate in the award ceremony in Wellington in the not-too-distant future as they, too, have played their part in supporting Stan and his work.

“Stan has epitomised what it is to be a public servant. The work that he has done in lifting the fisheries profile of Tokelau has paid significant dividends. It has given Tokelau the ability to focus on core infrastructure relating to schools, public service buildings and the education sector.

“Stan has passed a great deal of institutional knowledge about the technicalities of the fisheries sector to others – his great work will continue and all pacific countries will benefit from that.

“Thanks, Stan, for all you have done for the Pacific.”

And now, the reason behind Stan’s decision to help Tokelau in 2010, is given by Mr Feleti Tulafono, Tokelau’s Director for Fisheries, in his inimitable and colourful way.

Stan was an unknown individual to us, most probably because he was very high up in the echelons of the then New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries.

When Stan came into Tokelau Fisheries, we worked very closely with him. And as we got to know him better, we found out he was a former Deputy Director and Acting Director of NZ Fisheries. At this time, Stan was doing consultancy work for the World Bank in the area of fisheries. For me, I had a burning question that I wanted to ask Stan.

Feleti: Stan, what made you change your mind and agree to help Tokelau Fisheries?

Stan: When I agreed to the late Ulu, Foua Toloa and Fisheries Minister, Keli Kalolo’s invitation to travel to Tokelau to help Tokelau realise the potential from her fisheries and build that potential, I knew it would be near impossible. That it was going to be a very big undertaking because the proper legal, development and management frameworks were not in place. Most specifically, because of Tokelau’s current constitutional status [as a territory of New Zealand].

Students of Tialeniu School make their way to the school shuttle to take them across the lagoon to Fenuafala where the school is located. Photo: Litia Maiava/Te Mana.
Students of Tialeniu School make their way to the school shuttle to take them across the lagoon to Fenuafala where the school is located. Photo: Litia Maiava/Te Mana.

Feleti: So what made you agree to help us?

Stan: Well, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision. On my first evening in Fakaofo, I was talking with the late Foua Toloa and Keli Kalolo. They had been trying very hard to convince me to help them and Tokelau. I told them, when we broke off to go to bed, that I would think about it.

The following morning I went for a walk around the village and I could see schoolchildren. Some walking and some joyfully running to the jetty where they board the school boat to take them to school on the other islet, Fenuafala.

I kept walking towards the jetty and two young schoolgirls came skipping along and one of them said ‘Good morning Stan!’ It took me by surprise because I did not know who they were. 

It was later when I went to see the then Manager of Fisheries, Mose Pelasio, that I came to know the young girl who said good morning was Mose’s youngest daughter, Te Kaumana’alofa.

The ‘good morning Stan’ from that young girl, at that moment while I was watching the young children cram into that small school boat was the turning point – I decided there and then to help Tokelau.

And so the arrangement began. To this day, Stan has not budged into a formal arrangement, preferring to honour the 2010 ‘shake of hands’ with Foua and Keli, a gentleman’s agreement for his services.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (left) learns steps of a traditional dance from Tokelau's Te Kaumana'alofa (right) during official visit to Tokelau in July 2019. Photo: Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians.
That ‘Good morning, Stan’ smile is just as bright now … Te Kaumana’alofa (right) teaches New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (left) the actions to one of Tokelau’s traditional dances during Ms Ardern’s state visit to Tokelau in July 2019. Photo: Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians.

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

Categories Media releases, NewsPosted on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDS//

Background

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

For more information please contact covidprotocols@ffa.int.

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

About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)

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

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Report indicates Pacific tuna fisheries weathering COVID-19 well

Categories NewsPosted on

By Bernadette Carreon 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Taobo Amon Tebikau (Radio Kiribati News)

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

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

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

That suspension is due to expire on July 31.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Pohnpei hosts symposium on technology for tuna transparency

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A Group photo of the T-3 Challenge Electronic Monitoring Symposium participants and attendees in Pohnpei. Photo: FSMIS

Repblished from Marianas Variety, 25 April 2019

PALIKIR, Pohnpei (FSM Information Services) — In response to Peter M. Christian, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, calling for complete transparency in FSM’s commercial tuna fisheries by 2023, from April 10 to 12, the Technology for Tuna Transparency or T-3 Challenge Electronic Monitoring Symposium was held at PMA Studio in Pohnpei State.

Sponsored by the FSM National Government through the National Oceanic Management Resource Authority, and by The Nature Conservancy, the Forum Fisheries Agency, and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, the symposium explored how electronic monitoring or EM fits into control and surveillance to support sustainable fisheries, how EM is presently being used in the Western and Central Pacific, EM in the seafood supply chain, how to scale EM for increased use in the FSM and the Pacific, and moving forward with a regional vision for tuna transparency through EM.

Marcelo Peterson, governor of Pohnpei State, provided the welcoming remarks. “If over 50 percent of the global tuna supply comes from our part of the world, then we must do everything it takes to ensure its sustainable management through the use of new technologies such as EM. EM will help assure us the long-term sustainability of these resources.”

National Oceanic Management Resource Authority Executive Director Eugene Pangelinan provided the introductory remarks. He noted that in attendance were ambassadors and ministers of sovereign nations, such as George Fraser of Australia and Alexis Maino of Papua New Guinea, and Dennis Momotaro, minister of resources and development for the the Marshall Islands, representatives of key local and regional partners such as the Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and regional stakeholders such as the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Fiji Fisheries, the Australia Fisheries Management Authority, and global partners such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Fishing Watch, and many more.

He said: “How often do we get all interested parties in the same room on the same platform with equal opportunity to speak freely?… Let us start the conversation of regionally aligning all the moving parts…to talk about EM…. My wish is that at the close of this symposium we’ll all be more informed and inspired to…implement EM programs.”

Marion Henry, secretary of the Department of Resources & Development, spoke on behalf of FSM President Christian to provide the keynote address. “You have traveled from afar to be here today, which is a solid testimony of your commitment to address this growing problem within our midst…. I urge full and frank discussions and sharing of information on the use of EM to assist in our continuing fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and transnational crimes being committed in our backyards…. I believe that our countries, as resource custodians, must follow the trend by also utilizing EM for our own purposes and our own advantages…. Past our recognized borders, we collectively carry the responsibility for effective stewardship of this important resource for the sake of posterity and humankind.”

Alexis Maino, roving ambassador of PNG to the FSM, provided additional remarks. “The challenges of monitoring and controlling our vast maritime territories are many.… Today, we embrace the move towards a far more advanced stage of electronic monitoring systems which we hope will result in promoting elements of transparency for sustainable fisheries management. PNG welcomes the opportunity to work collaboratively with other Pacific Island countries, including members of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement at all levels to develop and implement electronic monitoring capabilities across the entire region.”

Participants attending the EM symposium enjoyed a variety of frank and open conversations, with sessions primarily comprised of panel discussions.

EM, at its core, is about putting video cameras on fishing vessels — and, in conjunction with machine learning and artificial intelligence, with assistance from on-the-boat work from observers and data analysis, greatly improves transparency, data quality, and decision-making with regards to a given fishery’s operation. To emphasize the need for EM, it was advised during the symposium that 90 percent of global fisheries don’t have the basic data they need to become sustainable — either environmentally, or economically; EM helps to provide the data necessary to make these fisheries sustainable. EM has shown in Australia, for example, a 25 percent increase in retained catch relative to dependent and independent reporting.