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By Rita N-Tudia, Pacificmedia@WCPFC13
In an extraordinary show of strength Pacific island countries forced their bigger global tuna fishery counterparts in the Tuna Commission (WCPFC) to agree on safety measures for their observers on tuna fishing vessels.
Five observers have died or been murdered at sea in the past 6 years while providing regional scientists and compliance officials with the information they need to ensure the sustainability of tuna stocks.
The new measures were nearly lost as Japan refused to join the consensus, despite a week of talks.
As discussions hit barriers late on Friday, members were ready to take an unprecedented move and put the issue to vote.
Almost all 17 Pacific Forum nations made individual and emotional statements to the plenary session about the risks their citizens face to keep the fishery sustainable.
A final statement by the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Alfred (Bubba) Cook, a personal friend of an observer who lost his life in suspicious circumstances last year, left the room in silence.
Shortly afterwards a call from Tokyo cleared the way for approval of the new measures, which include a clause releasing Japan from having to comply for two years.
“It was a huge accomplishment to get the observer safety measure across the line,” Bubba Cook told journalists shortly after the meeting ended.
“I think that is a huge step symbolically. What they (FFA nations) have equivalently done is performed a ‘haka’ in front of the Distant Water Fishing Nations and they let them know that they are not going to be pushed around on the issues that they think are important to them and I think that’s a very very important symbolic step. “Cook said.
Mr Cook said the decision has more significance than just the win on safety.
“This is about Pacific Islands flexing their muscles and saying this is ours and we are going to protect it,” he said
At a press briefing WCPFC Executive Director Feleti Teo acknowledged the challenges in deliberations and the risk to the future standing of the commission.
“I think the observer safety discussions could have provided some difficult challenges for the commission and it could have reflected quite negatively on the work that the commission did this week. But it all turned good in the end,” Teo said.