The 16th session of the Pacific Tuna Commission (WCPFC16) that oversees waters producing 55% of the global tuna catch gets underway this week in Papua New Guinea. With a yearly value of over $5 billion to fishers in the region the annual event is incredibly important to the Pacific region, which makes up the largest bloc of the 33-member group. 

The 21 Pacific island countries and territories make up 64% of the Commission membership. Not only are their waters the seascape where the majority of the tuna harvest takes place, but these are the same waters and biosphere that define their indigenous reference. 

Those are two of the main reasons why the annual Tuna Commission congress is all-important to Pacific nations and to their people – the resource owners. 

“As custodians of our land and resources, this is an important forum that seeks to establish rules and regulations that conserve and preserve natural resources, especially the marine resources, and PNG is proud to be part of the 16th WCPFC forum,” Dr Lino Tom, PNG’s Minister for Fisheries and Marine Resources, told media earlier this week.

This feature is an attempt at introducing the Pacific resource owners: weavers, planters and fishers. Who they are; what and why the ocean means so much to them; and a number of reasons why they are not as engaged as they should be in their “tuna story”.

Dedication

It is dedicated to Tuvalu’s Elisala Pita who passed away in August 2016, and to our brave forebears who fought, and continue to fight, for equity and sustainability of their offshore fishing resources. And in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) set up by Pacific nations to guard and protect its oceans and, ultimately, Pacific islanders’ way of life.

Ulutala

In the Samoan indigenous reference, Va Tapuia (sacred relations) means each living thing shares a common story of origin. It means that Va Tapuia governs relationships between people and the environment; that is, the land, the sea, the sky, the flora and fauna. For instance, water shares a genealogy with land, who in turn shares a genealogy with humans, the cosmos and the gods. This genealogy is sacred and invests a legacy of responsibility on all living things (trees, clouds, volcanoes, water, animals, people) to respect, through reciprocity, the divine balance or harmony they share. 

Reciprocity: harmony’s Pacific meaning

History records “modern civilization”, the “West”, as birthed in the 15th century CE after the fall of the Roman Empire. And like those that preceded it, it is defined by the things it excludes. The people who do not fit. 

The unfit, who civilization must prune to protect its sense of self. And so long as there is progress, the pruning is encouraged to continue. But progress and pruning bring with them an unwelcome side-effect – the increasing and unwanted human debris left behind in their wake: the excluded, littered muck on the outside looking in. 

Every culture, except for Pacific islanders, has survived this way since early antiquity. And each has had to find an answer to the question that confronted it: What becomes of them, the human debris? 

In the 17th century, the growing British empire’s “answer” was two-part: call them criminals, and throw them in a deep dark hole that hopefully would never run over. But justice demanded the “West” do better than that; that civilization be not judged by who it excludes, but by how it treats the excludedToday, amidst trade wars, rampant diseases, mass killings, and wanton environmental destruction, we bear witness to that treatment.

Pacific civilisation, Polynesian in particular, traces its roots back to 800 BCE, 2,300 years before the “West” was born. It is defined by a culture based on the collective and on reciprocity. An “inclusive” society that embraces rather than excludes, living a way of life based on sacred relations. 

In the Samoan indigenous reference, Va Tapuia (sacred relations) means each living thing shares a common story of origin. When followed, Va Tapuia gives rise to other principles such as the Va Fealoa’I, or mutual respect; Tofa mamao ma le Faautautaga Loloto, or wisdom in the exercise of authority. It is this “reciprocity” in place of the West’s “progress” that gives rise to the Pacific interpretation of “harmony”. It is a reference with clearly defined components that ensures no one is excluded, no one is left behind – there is no human debris.

School of fish in Auckland: March 2016

In the world’s most populous Pacific city, Auckland, an old man smiles, eyes calmly surveying the throng of people busy setting up in the room. It reminded him of a school of fish swimming in the lagoon close to shore all those years ago.

His head still fully covered with hair that has almost completely turned grey, clearly, this is an important person, despite his simple appearance. Respected too, judging by the glances and the manner of endearments invited guests and peers show him. His Order of the British Empire, awarded in 2001, affirms him a person of distinction, international stature and influence.

As he sat there, calm and relaxed behind the front table, there was a glint in his eyes. An excitement made obvious by the satisfied veneer subtly painted over his demeanour. The impression one gets is that he had been party to something of great importance recently – yet the occasion on 15 March 2016 that finds him in Auckland’s Mercure Hotel was not about the telling of that tale.

As questions about what that “significant other” swirled, a call from the organiser that the event was about to start quieted the crowd. 

The grey-haired gentleman was introduced. 

Elisala Pita, tuna champion

“We are honoured to have here with us the Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee,” smiled Lisa Williams-Lahari, “and Tuvalu’s Minister for Works and Natural Resources, Honourable Elisala Pita.”

Yet those titles barely scraped the surface of the immense influence this man wielded in the vastness of oceans and historic negotiations over the Pacific’s 9.6million square kilometre tuna fishery. Or his pivotal role in 2013 that promoted Enele Sopoaga from leader of the opposition to Prime Minister of Tuvalu. Or of the ancient Polynesian wayfarers’ heritage coursing through his veins, and founded on a way of life built not on the individual and self-interest, but of a shared tofi (inheritance) with fellow islanders. A communal way of life, its roots traced back to around 800 BCE. Although fading, a way of life that is still practiced today.

Slowly, as is the contemplative way of Pacific elders, he leaned forward. With assurance borne of confidence as an experienced orator, he acknowledged his ancestors, and surveyed his audience. Then he spoke. 

“Let me start off with a brief mention of the importance of the tuna fishery,” he asked politely. 

In English, the strong and unmistakable orator’s tenor voice and accent overlaid with authenticity the topic of his address: why the Pacific’s tuna fishery is so important to Pacific island nations, people, and their struggle against the threats casting shadows and uncertainties in today’s modern world. Threats like illegal fishing, driven by self-interest, corruption, greed and desperation.

Launching the Pacific’s Quantifying IUU report in 2016: Hon. Eilsala Pita, James Movick, and Duncan Souter. Photo Lisa WIlliams-Lahari.
Launching the Pacific’s Quantifying IUU report in 2016: Hon. Eilsala Pita, James Movick, and Duncan Souter. Photo Lisa WIlliams-Lahari.

“For many Pacific islands, including my country Tuvalu, tuna is the only renewable commercial resource,” he continued without pause.

“The revenues Tuvalu receives from tuna fishing taking place in our waters represent about 45% of the Government’s 2016 budget. It does, however, require our joint efforts to protect and to sustain this revenue source.” (The joint efforts refer to working with another 15 Pacific independent states, plus Tokelau.)

Tuvalu has 26 square kilometres of land, and 900,000 square kilometres of ocean. 

At the time of his address, Tuvalu’s vast ocean area was being serviced by a fisheries staff of three. And the cost of running its purse-seine fishery was estimated to be US$4 million a year. 

To the north-east of Tuvalu is Kiribati. A country where its 810 square kilometres of land houses 110,000 people, inside its 3,600,000 square kilometres of waters. With only one patrol boat to police it.

Elisala re-emphasised that the immense expanse of ocean that Pacific countries are responsible for monitoring is fraught with many challenges: a complicated legal seascape, an even more complicated political seascape, and with limited resources at their disposal, both human and financial, the sustainable management of the fishery is nigh on impossible. The situation is made worse by foreign countries breaching not only their licence and terms of access, but also reneging on legal obligations to manage their fleets when harvesting tuna in Pacific island-owned waters. 

“Tuna do not recognise our borders or our baseline maritime boundaries. Managing and enforcing a fishery where fish move freely in an area of water over 9.6 million square kilometres, with occasional tiny low-lying coral atolls in between, can only be achieved through regional collaboration,” Elisala said. 

This was part of Elisala’s keynote address to launch the study, “Towards the quantification of illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Pacific islands region”.

When he sat down, one could now see why the old man was given those admiring and respectful looks before he spoke.

In the global world of tuna, worth US$42 billion a year, Elisala needs no introduction. World-renowned and recognised by the highest powers, he is one of the Pacific’s founding fathers who champions multi-million dollar benefits and favourable conditions in order to manage, protect and maximize the economic potential of the Pacific fishery. He was so good that even the United States hired him as their fisheries adviser early in his fisheries career.

Sadly, on 22 August 2016, just five months after his March speech, Elisala passed away in Funafuti, Tuvalu. His loss was made more poignant through the rekindled memories of other Pacific tupuna who fought hard and uncompromisingly in the years of the tuna war.

Pacific mariners

Elisala was Pacific old school. A direct descendant of ancient Pacific mariners who, without the aid of navigational equipment, settled the tiny islands of Oceania that dot its multi-million acreage of ocean. This deed was achieved hundreds of years before the first European explorers ventured into the region in the 17th century. 

As with all others born on Tuvalu, the dominant geographical feature of Elisala’s childhood was the ocean. 

It shaped his identity and perceptions, and contextualised his understanding of reality and the world. With roots anchored in the ancient Pacific’s communal way of life, he left home, one of the first Pacific generation to attend Western schooling in preparation for the new world. Yet embossed in his spirit were the ancient stories and lore of his mariner ancestors: of warriors, legends, tales of discovery as told by elders in the shadowed blanket of night lit by flickering tongues of flames from sooty kerosene lamps, the stars and moonlight.

Knowledge gleaned from these two worlds informed Elisala, and selected kin of his generation, with gave them ways to navigate that world and influence the reality that plays out now in today’s modern world of tuna, oceanic management and technologically advanced tools of harvest.

But for all the international and regional acknowledgements, accolades and Pacific milestones – sadly, they are virtually unknown to the weavers, planters and fishers of the Pacific. 

Wouldn’t it be great if every Pacific islander knew about the monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) employed to protect their fisheries? It is the story of how Elisala and other Pacific leaders came up with the MCS suite of tools that is fighting the bane of IUU. 

The MCS system is worth talking about. In fact, Elisala did tell the Auckland meeting how the MCS, used as a tool, saw “an astonishing number of achievements ranging from: 

  • the first centralised regional satellite based Vessel Monitoring System (VMS)
  • innovative agreements and systems to share data and intelligence, and 
  • cooperative mechanisms that allow us to share our limited surveillance assets. 

“These are coupled with: 

  • robust systems for data collections, including well developed yet growing programs for the placement of independent observers on fishing vessels, and 
  • excellent support and coordination from our regional agencies like Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).

“I am therefore extremely proud to note that the results of this study demonstrate that these programs have been effective. As you will hear, there is of course still more that can be done, but there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that without that historical and ongoing effort, we would be looking at a much different report today. We would be looking at a report that says: 

  • rogue vessels come and go as they please, 
  • that industry knows it can fish illegally with impunity, and 
  • that the Pacific is losing more than its gaining.

“I am pleased to say that this report says none of those things.”

And this is the sad part: Elisala’s words describing the effort, innovation and hard work put in by Pacific leaders, fisheries officials – women and men – and their international partners, collaborators and friends to protect the Pacific fishery were not heard by the many ordinary weavers, planters and fishermen.

It is evidence that the “tuna story” and those involved in its composition and distribution have challenges and barriers they need to scale in critical mass.

For it is clear that fully maximised economic returns, achieving preferred levels of sustainable management for the Pacific fishery, will only happen if the weavers, the planters and the fishers are integral to the “tuna story”. That they become subscribers, writers, poets, songwriters, movie producers, advocators, owners of the tuna story.

Why is that so important? 

The answer lies in the next two paragraphs. Bear in mind that this is not definitive, as there are other pockets of literature inked with the same narrative and message.

The first is from the IUU study launched by Elisala. It states: 

“One of the ways to ensure Pacific countries get their fair share (of profits, exports, jobs) would be by increasing value rather than volume, by eliminating oversupply, and targeting higher value products and markets.”

The second are the two broad goals in the Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Pacific Fisheries, which was adopted by FFA members in 2015:

  • taking control of the fishery, and 
  • leveraging that control to maximise the economic benefits generated from the fishery to national economies.
Dancers welcome people attending 16th regular session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC16) in Port Moresby
Delegates are welcomed to the 16th regular session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC16) in Port Moresby

The “something else”

With the vastness of the Pacific fishery, the inadequate resources to manage and control it, and the weak political clout the Pacific holds internationally, the Pacific will never truly reach above aspirations. It needs “something else”. 

And that something else exists and has been successfully used in similar situations at the highest level.

That something else is … A Movement – a groundswell of united voices so powerful that they influence a change of mindset, a change in lifestyle, a change in choices, and the political impact to act in solidarity to stand up and defend the Pacific’s tuna fishery. A movement that envelopes and packages the interrelated work and tools needed to sustainably manage, protect and maximise economic benefits of the Pacific tuna fishery into one singular call to action.

Based on a philosophy inspired by American philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s 1849 essay “Civil Disobedience”, it is called the “non-violent movement of passive resistance”.

It won for Ghandi India’s independence. It won for Martin Luther King his dream. It won for Samoa sovereignty in 1962. 

The single critical element to its success? Ordinary people. Not the elites: ordinary people who are the owners, who have the integrity, honesty, courage, and rights. It is they, when united in solidarity, that bring the truth to bear.

It is why the weavers, planters and fishers of the Pacific are of paramount importance in achieving control of the Pacific fishery. It is they, and only they, who can make such a movement possible and successful. 

How do non-violent movements work?

According to Why violence? author Robert J. Burrowes, non-violent action works because of its capacity to create a favourable political atmosphere and a non-threatening physical environment, and its capacity to alter the human psychological conditions that make people resist new ideas in the first place. 

“In essence, non-violent activists precipitate change because people are inspired by the honesty, discipline, integrity, courage and determination of the activists – despite arrests, beatings or imprisonment – and are thus inclined to identify with them,” he said.

“Moreover, as an extension of this, they are inclined to change their behaviour to act in solidarity.”

In the context of groups, like Pacific countries struggling to defend their tuna fishery, Mr Burrowes wrote that they should convey compelling messages that explain what people can do in their particular context.

“It is important that these messages require powerful personal action, not token responses. And it is important that these actions should not be directed at elites or lobbying elites,” he wrote.

“Elites will fall into line when we have mobilised enough people so that they are compelled to do as we wish. And not before.”

Ghandi’s Pacific fishery example?

An example of this non-violence protest that parallels the experience in the Pacific tuna fishery is that of Ghandi and the Salt March message that illustrated what an Indian independence stance against British rule would look like. 

“At the end of the Salt March in 1930, Gandhi picked up a handful of salt on the beach at Dandi. This was the signal for Indians everywhere to start collecting their own salt, in violation of British law,” Mr Burrowes wrote. 

“In subsequent campaigns, Gandhi called for Indians to boycott British cloth and make their own khadi (handwoven cloth). These actions were strategically focused because they undermined the profitability of British colonialism in India and nurtured Indian self-reliance.

“A key reason why Mohandas K. Gandhi was that rarest of combinations – a master non-violent strategist and a master non-violent tactician – was because he understood the psychology of non-violence and how to make it have political impact.”

And this is why regional agencies like Forum Fisheries Agency, its member countries and officials, and their champions such as the late Elisala need to solve the information barrier so the weavers, planters and fishers can be reached and engaged. 

For it is they, not the elites, who have the honesty, integrity, and rights as owners to garner solidarity and international political support to effect required results and outcomes. 

Some of the possible results that could be had: 

  • reduction or elimination of illegal fishing
  • greater and broader industry and flag state support to MCS system for sustainably managed fishing, and 
  • consumer preference for Pacific-owned brands and certified products at various levels of the value chain (valued at US$22.7 billion in 2014).

Challenges and barriers to reaching weaves, planters and fishers

There are two major barriers that need scaling if the tuna story is to reach the weavers, planters and fishers of the Pacific.

Fisheries officials, national offices and regional agencies

There is no doubt about the commitment, and the innovative, difficult and ground-breaking work Pacific fisheries officials, MCS practitioners, ministers, non-government organisations and their various partners dedicate to the cause. 

The same is equally true of regional staff and their application to the cause at the FFA, the related regional sibling the Pacific Community (SPC) and, to a lesser extent, the University of the South Pacific (USP), Forum Secretariat, and a whole raft of international stakeholders. 

However, what is noticeable at this level of the tuna story is how insular, narrow and specific their focus is. And that is a function of a few home truths.

That the complex, highly technical, drawn-out fieldwork and overlapping or collaborative nature of the work with other government agencies takes most of the officials’ time.

When added to that is the number of meetings that must be attended to ensure each country’s voice is represented and their interventions noted on issues where the majority of them, like the illegal Vietnamese blue boats, are live and developing – it means scarcity of time for anything else.

In a country like Tuvalu that level of difficulty is multiplied manyfold when taking into account that there were only three fisheries officials in 2016.

But that’s not all.

Officials are in a sector where those at the coalface are taking a giant leap to developing and using cutting-edge technology. 

Surveillance and monitoring are fast-tracked into the digital world of hyper-telecommunications with many of the paperwork legacy systems transitioning and upgraded with urgency to digital information management systems (IMS) platforms. The hugely successful Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) employed by Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) is made possible by its highly developed Fisheries Information Management System (FIMS) that is able to manage and monitor the VDS.

It all adds up to the situation where more is expected of fisheries personnel, and at the same time, Pacific countries are doing the best they can with the limited human and financial resources at their disposal. Which essentially leaves no time to look beyond their core work program to even try and engage with relevant layers of government, let alone the media, and weavers, planters and fishers directly.

It also reveals another barrier: that Pacific fisheries departments or divisions are usually merged within a wider government ministry. In the internal challenge to get a media advice, a press release or article drafted, there is usually an information officer who deals with the multiple departments. In many cases, there is no dedicated information officer. Which means the time-poor fisheries officer will need to draft the material.

In any case, the information needs to be drafted which then has to go through the approval process before it could be posted on the department Facebook page or website, which will need another dash through a separate can and technical process. The process can be delayed when the website administrator is not a journalist and changes a few things to make it look more aesthetic, but inadvertently changes the whole technical context of the information.

The difficulty is multiplied many-fold when the information is to be sent externally, for example when it’s a media release or an article for the local paper.

And heaven forbid if a journalist interprets the information in a way that is negative: the fallout will impact the official, their relationship with their bosses, the public perception of the issue, and trust of journalists generally. Most times, the extrapolation of these scenarios usually render it best for officials not to even start the process. 

But in the case that all internal hurdles are successfully navigated, what is the assurance that getting the information to the media would, first, reach the weavers, planters and fishers, and, second, be in a format they understand, and is relevant enough to engage them to action?

Media channel for weavers, planters and fishers

It is this question that is important for national officials and regional communications officials to answer: are they using the right communications and media channels; and do they know what the information channels for weavers, planters and fishers even look like?

Sadly, the low rate of engagement success in this area says they don’t. And that the West’s media platforms and role as the Fourth Estate is not working for the Pacific’s grassroots. 

To find the weavers, planters and fishers “media” platform, there is a need to analyse the “Western” model and then assess if the Pacific platform exists within that space. 

The scope of this feature does not allow for an extensive treatment of this topic, but a brief narrative of the relevant communication element to tease out the “media/messenger” in a Pacific setting is important to include.

But first a bit of background as to where democracy and the Fourth Estate came from and why they are important today. 

Western civilisation and the Fourth Estate?

Today’s modern world, the “West”, is the most extraordinary civilisation in all of history (so far). Its roots lay in medieval Europe from where a Christian feudal society developed after the fall of the Roman empire, and started sprouting in the 15th century, spreading to the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, Oceania and pretty much to the rest of the world. 

It has become a globe-spanning industrial society colonising and establishing control over its subjects through democracy and the rule of law. 

It is distinguished by two unique features: 

  • representative government (born out of the republican government idea from Rome, and the fragmented power structures fostered by medieval feudalism), and 
  • science (a distinct and rigorous way of looking at the world).

The combination of the two has driven technological advancement and economic growth. While the rise of democracy, from the American Civil War (1775–83) maintains control and power by enabling individualism and free-thinking to revolutionise social change through the accompanied changes of thought and philosophy. 

What does that look like? 

  • Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution became widely accepted, and encouraged the rise of a more secular outlook. 
  • Sigmund Freud and others pioneered a scientific understanding of the mind and the emotions, previously regarded as the preserve of spiritual sphere.
  • Einstein’s theory of relativity changed people’s views of the universe.
  • Karl Marx and others analysed society in new ways, leading to calls for the creation of radically new economic and social structures. 

The importance of the media was first recognized by Thomas Carlyle. He was the first to use the term “fourth estate” back in 1837 (in his French Revolution paper), in an attempt to quantify why the press would be instrumental to the birth and growth of democracy: by spreading facts and opinions, and sparking revolution against tyranny.

How the press does that in a representative democracy is threefold:

  • it informs citizens
  • it sets up a feedback loop between the government and voters, and 
  • it provides a forum for debates to expose people to opinions contrary to their own by moderating and curating arguments presented by all sides. This is important because informed decision-making on the part of voters requires an awareness of multiple points of view, not just seeking out those with opinions the same as their own. 

Basically, Carlyle’s argument vouches that the press makes the actions of the government known to the public. Voters who disapprove of current trends in policy can take corrective action in the next election. And that without the press, the feedback loop is broken and the government is no longer accountable to the people.

When these pieces of information are taken together, what we have is that the Western civilization of today, born in the 15th century CE, and democracy born in the 18th century, are only 1,100 and 800 years old. These are young ideas compared to the Pacific’s communal governance system, which traces back to more than 3,000 years ago.

To tease out the Pacific media role in the way Thomas Carlyle saw it within democracy in 1837, the Samoa way is used as a reference. 

This is done for two reasons. 

First, because of mounting evidence, both oral and scientific, that the settlement of Polynesia originated from Samoa around 800 BCE (but if it’s Tonga that’s fine too). It ended with the settlement of New Zealand around 1300 CE. And second, because it means the traditional and communal way of life unique to Samoa would have also spread along the settlement path. A Pacific way of life, history, religious practice, and language that is one of the most well-known internationally.

Characteristics of weavers, planters and fishers

The most basic unit of the Samoan system is not the individual – it is the aiga, or family. 

The term aiga is contextually different to the “West’s” definition of family. ’Aiga includes not only the immediate family (father, mother and children), but also the whole union of families of a clan and those, who although not related, are subject to the aiga’scontrol.

At the head of each aiga is a matai. It is a chiefly title (suafa) by and through which they exercise their rights in the family over which they preside. 

Although it is common for each ’aiga to have a number of matai titles, one particular title, the Sa’o, is the most important and serves as the paramount matai title to which all others of the aiga defer.

With Samoans consisting of groups of families with close ties and history, the influence of the matai is felt not only in the village but also in the district and beyond.

That power and influence extended to life and limb. But that has been altered and absorbed by the advent of Western civilization through the democratic government of today where the matai’s authority is now confined and balanced against.

It is from this aiga unit that the structure of Samoan society is founded. Briefly, parts of its traditional structure are described below.

A Village Chief Council is part of Samoa’s faamatai system of governance. It is the highest level of authority in the village where decisions are passed by consensus. It maintains village traditions, and organises village affairs. Its decisions and deliberations are carried out and informed by various committees and groups. 

The Women’s Committee is responsible for administering women’s duties and role, which include: traditional hospitality for guests and beautification of the village through scheduled visitations to ensure each family house and the surrounding are clean; managing village events and schedules, child rearing and initiatives such as training, education, handicraft production and the like.

The Village Aumaga (untitled men) protect and serve the village in all faasāmoa ceremonies and keeping up traditional agriculture and fishing methods. Tautua (service) is the core function of the aumaga. They serve the matai council, develop the family land, provide food through plantation and fishing, and ensure the welfare and protection of the family. 

The Aualuma (unmarried women) are charged with gardening, weaving, cooking and beautifying the village. Traditional ceremonial such as the ifoga play an important part in peace-keeping, and the traditional kava ceremony contributes to maintenance of good relationships. Cultural practices such as community correction through the village council are to ensure social cohesion and order in a Samoan village.

What is clear is that information and its channels were original parts of the social structure, not later additions. And the central conduit through which information is received, interpreted, and disseminated to all the various parts of society is the matai.

From the Samoan perspective, it is the matai and the traditional structures of its villages that are key to reaching and engaging the weavers, planters and fishers.

Have Pacific fisheries officials, regional communications officials, their international networks, and media practitioners built this into their information content and channels of communications? 

They must. For even as the West’s influence has compromised, absorbed and taken over some of these traditional societal structures, the isolation and youthfulness of the islands region means that disseminating information to the weavers, planters and fishers still rely on traditional structures.

It is the matai element and similar social structures in other Pacific countries that need to be incorporated into communications and media platforms to scale current information barriers. 

Success of any movement will depend on the engagement of weavers, planters and fishers for it is they who have the voice and power to make the political impact and initiate action to manage and protect the Pacific fishery. 

How to get there

As in all things, the common element to long-term success in the Pacific is: trust and face to face.

And that leads us to the final message Elisala Pita left just over three years ago. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, let me close by saying that the fight against illegal fishing is one that we cannot afford to lose as it is bound to our future prosperity and wellbeing. It is a hard fight; it is hard to even tell how bad the problem is, but it is a fight that we have made significant ground on, and one that we will continue to challenge.”

When he sat down, the glint in his eye was still there. For in February just before heading down to Auckland, he had just secured the US treaty after a hard-fought arm wrestle with the United States.

As James Movick, the FFA Director-General from 2012–2019, said:

“The role of that generation in setting up fisheries management from which we benefit today is a debt that we owe to Minister Pita and other pioneering colleagues.

“Minister Pita will be particularly remembered for his active and committed chairmanship of the committee of Pacific Fisheries Ministers over the past year (2015–16). His strong leadership, personal engagement and steady support contributed significantly to the successful adoption of the Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Pacific Fisheries that was endorsed by Forum Leaders in 2015; and the successful renegotiation of the fisheries treaty between Pacific countries and the US in June of this year.” 

Written by Lealaiauloto Aigaletaule’ale’a F. Tauafiafi