The 24 countries and territories of the Pacific are united behind a call for a Climate Change resolution to come out of the 16th meeting of the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC16) taking place in Papua New Guinea.

“Climate change is a top priority for us,” said Mr Eugene Pangelinan, Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC) and Head of Delegation for Federated States of Micronesia.

“The [FFA] membership are calling for strong action by the Tuna Commission, specifically looking at food recognition of the impacts of climate change on our fisheries, on our food security, and livelihoods.

He said science has already started to show some of the impacts of climate change, such as “the distribution of fish stocks moving more towards the east as years go on. So there is direct scientific information that tells us something is happening to our fish stocks.”

“For the Forum Fisheries Agency, given the importance that ministers have placed on addressing and advocating for more attention to climate change in particular, in terms of its impacts on fisheries. How do we address that here at the Commission,” he said.

“So our emphasis here [at the Tuna Commission] is a starting point. This is a resolution, it is not binding. It is just to start that conversation within the WCPFC but most importantly, FFA and all the developed countries sitting around the table need to understand that climate change is happening for us and as ministers highlighted, we need to start that process here and a resolution always starts that discussion.”

He agrees it could turn out to be a very costly activity, “but we have to have that conversation. So we are putting ourselves up in front but we invite our colleagues to come in and help us have that discussion.”

FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen emphasised that, “While a resolution is non-binding, it will serve to focus attention on this important area, and whilst we refine the specific actions that can be taken by this Commission. Then we can move into binding measures.”

The resolution was introduced yesterday, and preliminary feedback asking questions including the mandate of this Commission on the topic of climate have been received.

“But our members are committed – our leaders have been clear – that this is the greatest threat to our security, and to our well-being and health as Pacific islanders, so there’s a really strong push from our members to persevere with this,” Dr Tupou-Roosen confirmed.

“It’s early days to tell where we are at with this. But we are so privileged to have key advocates such as the Hon. Minister from Fiji, the Hon. Minister from Tuvalu, and others in the room who will be able to help us get this through.”

Modeling from the Pacific Community indicates that as a result of climate change, tuna stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean will move east. It will mean more difficulty in monitoring and managing the fisheries, and the total tuna business opportunities are likely decline in the second half of this century.

To date, the tuna catch has been increasing, especially for domestic fleets. According to the Pacific Community, the amount of tuna caught in the Pacific fishery has doubled in the past 25 years, from 1.4 million tonnes in 1990 to 2.8 million in 2014. While large foreign fishing vessels dominate the catch, the percentage caught by domestic fleets is increasing substantially, and 550,000 t of tuna was caught by Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) in 2014.

Lealaiauloto Aigaletaule’ale’a F Tauafiafi’s participation and coverage at the WCPFC16 was made possible by the Forum Fisheries Agency, Pew Charitable Trusts, and GEF OFMP2 project.