“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.”
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.
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.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) has commenced the process of getting its tuna fishery Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified, and it is already looking ahead to the benefits it hopes certification can bring.
Key among those is boosting the on-shore processing sector, which has had some difficulties in achieving its full potential in recent years. There are six plants on PNG, including Filipino firm Frabelle’s own operation and its joint venture with Thai Union Group, named Majestic Seafood.
There is also RD Processing, IFC, Nambawan Seafood, and South Seas Tuna Co.
Frabelle president Francisco Tiu Laurel has previously told Undercurrent News of the difficulties in realizing the company’s potential on the island. This time last year the two plants it is involved with had been forced to lay off employees, and were considering closing entirely, apparently because the government had ended subsidies for foreign companies.
Already, though, the situation is looking brighter, Tiu Laurel said.
“For our plants Majestic and Frabelle PNG we are again up and running at about 70% of our capacity, and we have rehired about 800 workers per plant as the government of PNG has approved to give us some refund for the fish that PNG-flagged vessels unload and process on shore-based facilities,” he said.
The government’s final decision on these regulations is yet to be determined, and once it is, Frabelle will be hoping PNG’s national fisheries authority signs it as soon as possible.
“Once we get this we will be running the factories at full capacity, and hire more workers hopefully in the near future,” said the Frabelle boss.
Presenting at the recent Seafood Expo Global in Brussels, Belgium, PNG Fishing Industry Association (FIA) chairman Sylvester Pokajam noted the island’s six plants are currently operating at around half capacity; Frabelle at 90 metric tons (of a possible 120t) per day, and Majestic at 80t of a possible 250t.
In total, the processing sector is operating at 7,125t/ day, compared to its full capacity of 15,000t. Pokajam and Tiu Laurel both told Undercurrent that gaining MSC would help bring that utilization up.
“If PNG gets its own MSC it will definitely help the plants, as demand for MSC fish is increasing in several markets around the world,” said Tiu Laurel.
How will MSC help?
PNG’s government originally set up its “domestication policy” to attract downstream investment to the island, FIA told Undercurrent.
This policy incentivized shore-based investments from fishing operators already working on PNG, like RD and Frabelle, by discounting fishing license fees to compensate for the higher production costs of processing in PNG. This meant tuna canned there could compete on the global export market (mostly Europe). “Canned products from PNG had to compete with high volume, low-cost products from South America (Ecuador) and Thailand, which were also going into the EU market, and still is.”
The policy attracted overseas investors too, leading to the construction of five of the plants now operating (IFC initially set up shop in PNG to can imported mackerel for the domestic PNG market, FIA added”.
However, before all processing plants were able to fully reach their processing capacity there was a shift in the application of the domestication policy, whereby the fishing license fees were calculated on the basis of the “vessels day scheme” (VDS) rate, on a par with a region-wide benchmark price. “This benchmark price was two-to-three times the discounted rate,” FIA noted.
“The PNG government then further changed the policy application and introduced the regional VDS rate across the board on all fishing vessels (both domestic-based and distant-water fishing nations). This again further compounded the production cost of a unit of canned tuna produced in PNG.”
So, now PNG’s domestic vessel operators feel there’s no incentive to produce a cost-competitive product in PNG if they are paying the same licensing fee rate as the distant-water fishing fleets, “who have not sacrificed and taken on risk on any shore-based investment, as PNG domestic investors have done”.
The industry lobbied, and the PNG government tried a new line; a rebate scheme on both the processing sector — calculated per metric ton of value-added — and on the fishing sector (per ton of fish landed into a PNG shore-based plant). “This rebate scheme is having its share of challenges in implementation to date, and rebates haven’t been paid as and when due,” said FIA.
Hence, FIA said, processors are not currently inclined to utilize their full capacity. But:
“With the MSC fish, it attracts a premium price compared to the current non-MSC fish products. Hence, with certification, the same volume of fish produced by PNG processors will attract the premium price, and this would enable a viable return for the processors to produce more in PNG. Eventually, the MSC value becomes the incentive to attract the volume to be landed and produced in PNG, and the plants processing volume will progressively improve towards their full capacity.”
Extra volumes too
Tiu Laurel also noted PNG’s ongoing MSC process encompasses an area of fishery not currently covered by the PNA certification.
“Plus it [would] also make catches from the archipelagic waters of PNG MSC certifiable, [volumes] which currently are not included in other MSC approved areas,” he added. At present PNG is part of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement MSC certified tuna fishery, but it is looking to break away from this organization as the sales are controlled by Dutch organization Pacifical, which parts of PNG’s sector have fallen out with.
“The archipelagic waters produce a lot of fish annually, and [are] very near the ports of Lae and Madang, where most of the factories are located, thus making it very important for the factories to get a constant supply of fish to process,” Tiu Laurel said.
Historical catch records suggest archipelagic catches would add around 90,000t more MSC certified tuna per year, the FIA told Undercurrent.
From a high of 506,413t of tuna caught in 2013 in PNG waters, volumes dived to 135,687t in 2015. That has since been on the rise again, to 316,278t in 2018, according to FIA data. Importantly, said Pokajam, this has always been made up just 1% bigeye tuna, a species there are concerns for in terms of biomass. Skipjack made up 65% of the total, and yellowfin 34%, in 2017.
“Landings in PNG are actually up, in my opinion, except for the first three months [of 2019] when catches were down, mainly due to bad weather. But from April onwards I think it will be okay,” Tiu Laurel told Undercurrent.
Based on Tiu Laurel and Pokajam’s comments, PNG’s tuna sector is now waiting on what it hopes will be a successful MSC certification and a more favorable government approach.
“We need this additional refund to make us really competitive, as we are now paying full VDS [vessel day scheme] fees — the same as other overseas fishing companies fishing in PNG, which is not fair,” said Tiu Laurel of the possible changes in regulation.
Other Pacific Island nations grant the locally-flagged fleets a 40-50% discount on VDS rates, and allow them to fish for free in the “eastern high seas”, managed under the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, he claimed.
“This is a terrible disadvantage to the PNG-based fleet. The difference in cost of operation per vessel is about $1 million per annum versus other vessels,” said Tiu Laurel. “Due to this many have actually left the PNG registry, and if not addressed soon many more will leave.”
In 2018 there were 226 vessels licenses to fish in PNG’s exclusive economic zone — 61 reefers carriers and 165 purse seiners. In 2019 there are 61 vessels either PNG-flagged or locally-based foreign vessels licensed, affiliated to five companies; see the slide to the right.
Any new regulations for PNG will have to wait for the time being, though. As the Diplomatreports, a vote of no confidence was slated to take place on May 16 to remove prime minister Peter O’Neill from office. O’Neill had rejected calls to resign earlier in May.
O’Neill disrupted the opposition’s plans by obtaining a parliamentary adjournment on May 7. Following the adjournment, opposition members of parliament can now only table a no-confidence motion again once parliament resumes operations on May 28.
Tiu Laurel has, in the past, told Undercurrent of Frabelle’s ambitions to expand its processing to other Pacific Islands, namely Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).
The latter remains on the cards, though plans have been delayed, he said.
“We intend to build one more loin and pouch plant in FSM, Pohnpei state, and we are now working on a state agreement with the fisheries department. But recently there has been a change in leadership as there is a new president, and we are waiting for the new cabinet to be chosen and continue the negotiation.”
Frabelle hopes to finalize talks this year, and to begin construction next year, he said.
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Global fish stocks are in decline, but a new tuna management scheme by the Federated States of Micronesia offers a blueprint for recovery. By working to manage half of the world’s skipjack tuna stocks sustainably, Pacific Islanders are leading the way in ensuring that fish, and people, are protected for generations to come.
A cluster of small Pacific islands is poised to make history in the management of global fish stocks. This week, when conservationists from around the world gathered at the fifth annual Our Ocean Conference in Bali, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) unveiled a bold promise and issued an even bolder challenge: full transparency in tuna fishing by 2023.
If FSM’s commitment is replicated, citizens of the Pacific could reclaim control over a natural resource that forms the backbone of the region’s economies. And it would promote future prosperity by helping to ensure that tuna stocks are fished sustainably, and that foreign vessels fishing in these waters do not take more than is permitted by law.
The mechanism that FSM and The Nature Conservancy will present this week is called the Technology for Tuna Transparency Challenge, a combination of monitoring and regional pacts aimed at improving fishing oversight. The initiative represents the first time a developing country has committed to 100% transparency in its fishery operations; if it succeeds, it could trigger a transformation of how seafood is managed worldwide.
FSM and the seven other island states that make up the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) may look like dots on the map, but they command an expanse of ocean greater than the size of Europe and are global powerhouses when it comes to fish. With control over half of the world’s supply of skipjack tuna and about a third of tuna stocks globally, the PNA is a veritable OPEC of the sea.
In FSM, efforts are already underway to use this market position as a force for good. Fish like tuna are important global commodities, but the industry is in steep decline worldwide. By committing to full transparency and pushing private partners to do the same, FSM will send a powerful signal that sustainable fishing practices are urgently needed to protect these crucial species.
But the real motivation behind FSM’s pledge lies closer to home. Tuna is more than a commodity here; it is what builds schools, pays teachers’ salaries, paves roads, and keeps hospitals open. It is the socioeconomic foundation of communities on the frontlines of climate change and rising sea levels. In other words, this is an existential fight – for the wellbeing of people today and the survival of island societies in the future.
FSM’s rich tuna fishery already provides half of the country’s income, but it could deliver even more. That is because too much of the value of tuna caught in local waters is being captured by foreign fishing fleets. Transparency is the key to bringing more of this wealth home. With electronic and human monitoring, we can stop illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, which robs the region of more than $600 million a year. Contrary to popular belief, most poaching is not the work of pirate operators; the major culprits are licensed foreign vessels that underreport or deliberately misreport their catch.
State-of-the-art electronic monitoring will also help ensure the sustainability of fish stocks and the communities they support. Currently, a lack of reliable monitoring data makes it difficult to establish protective fishing limits, and even harder to enforce them.
To remedy this, FSM plans to deploy remote sensors, GPS systems, cameras, and tracking devices on every longline vessel in its waters within five years. This will enable the collection of information such as catch composition, discards, and bycatch, which in turn will help minimize the accidental capture of sharks, turtles, and marine mammals. Crucially, these tools will also give authorities the data to manage ocean resources in real time. By joining FSM in these efforts, the PNA could raise the bar for transparency and set a new standard for fisheries management.
We already know that cooperation and conservation can reap big rewards. For example, since PNA-member states launched the Vessel Day Scheme in 2007 – which sets limits on fishing by foreign fleets – their annual tuna earnings have increased from about $60 million to more than $500 million. Pacific fisheries ministers are hoping to raise revenue even more by working with The Nature Conservancy to co-implement a system similar to one used in western Alaska, where the Community Development Quota Program (CDQ) has helped poor communities generate income by investing in fisheries-related businesses.
The commitment to full transparency and the launch of a CDQ-type initiative for PNA states are intended to keep more tuna wealth in the Pacific. By promoting better fishing practices, we can increase regional revenue flows to rebuild and restore fisheries, boost food and job security, and strengthen resilience to climate change.
We believe that fish, marine ecosystems, and people can coexist and thrive, and that the road to sustainability runs through community empowerment. We hope this vision will be shared by FSM’s Pacific neighbors, consumer advocates, and fishing partners gathered in Bali this week. Protecting a third of the world’s tuna stocks could be just the start of the global transparency revolution needed to protect our oceans – and our future.
In the context of the programming directions for International Waters in the GEF, the project makes significant contributions to FFA activities in support of both the blue economy and improving the management of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ).
Cooperation in the management of tuna fisheries by Pacific Island countries is a direct application of the principles of the blue economy. This concept aims to promote economic growth, social inclusion, and the preservation and improvement of livelihoods while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability of the oceans. It is closely linked with Sustainable Development Goal 14, specifically 14.4 and 14.7.
The Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) tuna fishery is the largest tuna fishery in the world and the 2.7 million ton annual WCPO tuna catch accounts for sixty percent of global production with sixty percent of this catch coming from the waters of FFA Members. Tuna fisheries are a key resource for all Pacific Island countries – for many the only renewable economic resource. The WCPO is the only tuna fishery on the planet in which all four target stocks are currently rated as sustainably fished with no overfishing occurring.
The Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) is a fisheries management system that establishes rights in the shared fishery for coastal state and has been driven by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), a sub-regional grouping of FFA member countries. The consolidation of VDS which allows members to sell the rights to purse seine fishing days in their waters has seen SIDS revenues from the purse seine fishery increase from from 220 million in 2012 to 480 million in 2016, accounting for more than 40% of government revenue in five member SIDS and supporting 25,000 jobs in FFA Member countries in 2017. Of those employed in the processing sector 80% are women.
The Regional Fisheries Surveillance Programme is a unique collaboration between the members of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) to address illegal, unreported and unregistered (IUU) fishing in support of SDG 14.4. A range of regionally agreed systems and tools and best practice technology applications provide a high level of monitoring, control and surveillance and the agency is active in a range of activities supporting IUU mitigation such as the implementation of electronic monitoring and reporting systems on WCPO vessels.
In terms of activities supporting improved management of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ), the OFMP2 project supports the annual FFA Management Options Consultation (MOC) meeting in which FFA Members Countries actively participate in WCPFC decision making and includes the improved management of ABNJ. MOC processes have provided the opportunity for supporting the adoption of high seas Special Management Areas and promoting strengthened catch and effort limits on the WCPFC high seas for tropical tuna fisheries, as well as an allocation process that will take account of the WCPFC Convention’s recognition of the special requirements of SIDS.
OFMP2 has also assisted PNA countries to develop the capacity to implement their prohibition on PNA-licenced purse-seiners from fishing in the two western high seas pockets.
Wider FFA promoted and supported measures such as FAD closures, 100% observer coverage in the purse seine fishery and coordinated approaches to high seas boarding and inspection activities also support more effective management of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction.
The GEF OFMP II is a key contributor to the success of the blue economy in the WCPO.
This story provides an illustration of how GEF IW projects are already addressing themes in the new GEF IW strategy for the 7th GEF Replenishment. In this case the story highlights how projects can address Objective 1. Strengthening Blue Economy opportunities. In GEF-7, investments will be strengthening nations Blue Economy opportunities, through three areas of strategic action: 1) sustaining healthy coastal and marine ecosystems; 2) catalyzing sustainable fisheries management; and, 3) addressing pollution reduction in marine environments.