As the second block of the Oceanic Fisheries Management Project (OFMP2) winds up, Hugh Walton, who has coordinated the project for six years, is dotting Is and crossing Ts on final reports.

He’s also been reflecting on the effect of the project and his considerable role in it.

“Looking back over the years and the duration of the project, there have been a few stand-out events that I will always feel good about,” Mr Walton said.

“I feel very thankful to have met and worked and been around and formed friendships with such a diversity of very fine people with a common interest to understand and sustain our Pacific marine resources and ensure their utilisation is applied to the best possible benefits and outcomes for Pacific peoples.”

Mr Walton is the Chief Technical Adviser and Project Coordinator of the OFMP2 at the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). He’s worked in the fishing industry since 1978, and has a deep understanding of it borne of the length of time he’s been working there and the different positions he’s held, which range from fisherman, to teacher and trainer, adviser, consultant, administrator and project manager – all in the coastal and oceanic fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).

“I moved to the Pacific in 1987 to take up a role as the fisheries training officer at the University of the South Pacific,” Mr Walton said.

“With the exception of five years back in New Zealand, I have worked in the Pacific ever since, so I guess the stand-out thing for me is simply the friendships and relationships I have across FFA and the broader region.”

With such a long career at the centre of things, it’s no wonder he has a treasure trove of stories from his working life.

“There are a few things that stand out for me, in no particular order,” Mr Walton said.

International fishing prize a highlight

“One that was a real highlight for me was being part of the FFA team in winning the 2019 Global Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Network’s Stop IUU Fishing Prize.

“The award recognised the power of regional cooperation. We are a group of small countries and we are up against powerful economic and political interests. It was also a reflection of the innovative ways we’ve worked to protect our fishing rights.

“It was exciting to be part of the FFA team that went to Bangkok in February 2019 for the award.”

Another highlight has been a process rather than a specific event.

Hugh Walton at work for FFA in his home office in New Zealand. Photo Theo Walton.

Hugh Walton at work for FFA in his home office in New Zealand. Photo: Theo Walton.

A world of acronyms and a long, satisfying process

“There was a component of the OFMP2 project that required the preparation of a transboundary diagnostic analysis, a TDA. Our fisheries world is filled with acronyms, and I had to look that one up for sure,” Mr Walton said.

“Turns out it is a cross-boundary situational analysis of our Western and Central Pacific oceanic fisheries. It had to be across national boundaries and also cover nearby international waters because tuna and similar species such as swordfish travel enormous distances across the ocean.

“The TDA was to investigate what is going on, what is working, what is not working, what problems we face in managing the fisheries, and what risks and challenges we face. It was a tall order!

“We were fortunate to have Professor David Vousden come on board to lead the work on this. I suppose I did the information gathering and he did the analysis and drafted the report.”

After the report was endorsed by the Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC), the governing body of the FFA, it was submitted to the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which funds OFMP2.

“That was towards the end of 2018, and it led to our moving forward with the next stage. Now that we had identified the challenges and the risks and issues to address in the TDA, we began work on the Strategic Action Programme, the SAP, which is, essentially, what we need to do to solve these problems and address the challenges,” Mr Walton said.

“Again, we had the good professor on the team, as we undertook widespread consultation across the region.

“At this time, in November 2018, I was fortunate enough to travel to Marrakesh in Morocco to attend a GEF conference on international waters. After the meetings one day, I met with the two senior UNDP managers who work on the International Waters Programme to discuss the SAP process. I was telling them how useful and interesting I had found the process, when the head of the GEF International Waters Programme joined us.

“He was the overall convener of the meeting, and after listening to me for a couple of minutes, he said, ‘Stop … stop there …’ And I thought ‘Woo, what have I done?’

“He wanted me to repeat what I’d said so he could record it on film. What a relief! And it gave me and the project a profile with the big gun of GEF, which was very pleasing.”

The SAP document was endorsed by FFC officials in May 2019, but before it could be submitted to GEF it needed the official signature of all the Ministers of Fisheries of FFA’s Pacific Island members.

That was “quite a challenge but we got there” and the SAP was then endorsed by GEF.

Preparing for the next OFMP

“And so, we moved on to the next stage, taking us a step closer to a new GEF Oceanic Fisheries Management Project, OFMP3. That was completion of the project preparation form, or PIF,’ Mr Walton said.

“Again we hired Prof. David, who managed us through the process. At the end of it, we had a 70-odd page document which, essentially, outlines the components of the new project. The endorsement process for the PIF was somewhat more complicated, as it required signed letters from numerous fisheries officials. They included the all the Pacific small island Global Environment Facility designated focal points, the directors of their national environment administrations. I was fortunate to attend one of their meetings with the Regional Environmental Secretariat, SREP, in Apia, Samoa. That meant I could talk to everyone at the meeting, and that helped us slowly but surely collect the letters of endorsement.”

After GEF endorsed this process, the team started work on the full project design document.

“Again we have had Prof. David in the driver’s seat. We also were very lucky to have two very well-known and experienced regional consultants, Rhea Moss-Christian and Barbara Hanchard, and they were assigned the task of preparing detailed national reports to a standard format to comprehensively outline the current national oceanic fisheries context,” Mr Walton said.

“We had detailed travel plans laid out and then … just as we were about to get on the road, along comes COVID and we are stopped in out tracks.

“We had to reassess how to progress from there and we all jumped on to the virtual bandwagon and began collating all we needed for the document in a virtual process. We finished the document in March. It’s a monster: 380 pages.”

The document is being reviewed by UNDP, before the FFA team can submit a final plan to GEF that will allow a new project to commence.”

“The take-home for me has been contributing to a process that will provide important technical support for Pacific Islands oceanic fisheries for the next five or more years. It’s been an honour and a pleasure working with such great people.”

Hugh Walton hopes to keep playing a part in protecting the tuna resources and the livelihoods of Pacific Island peoples.

“I am currently writing up a number of final reports and will finally finish with FFA at the end of September,” he said

“That said, I am hoping to be able to carry on in more of a consultancy and advisory role with FFA and help get the new GEF project up and operational. Whatever the scenario, I hope to continue to do bits and pieces of work on Pacific fisheries matters in one way or another.”

Many in the region will welcome his continued input.