Pacific cooperation ensures fisheries continue despite COVID-19: media release

Categories Media releases, NewsPosted on

Honiara, 4 September 2020 – Member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) are actively working together to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 being transmitted through fisheries operations, allowing the industry to continue making a vital contribution to Pacific island economies.

Regional protocols have been developed through a strong partnership, led by the Australian Government’s Office of the Pacific, with the Office of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, the Forum Fisheries Agency, the Pacific Community, the Australian Government’s Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security, and Marine Resources Assessment Group Asia Pacific, in close consultation with Members. 

Infographics will be displayed on vessels and at ports to explain hygiene practices and goods-handling protocols, to mitigate against the risk of COVID-19 transmission. 

At their meeting in August, Fisheries Ministers from FFA member countries emphasised the importance of supporting the fisheries sector to continue, given COVID-19 has had a major negative impact on tourism and trade in the Pacific.

“It is crucial for fisheries to continue operating at this time, providing much needed income to support the economic recovery as well as to enhance contribution to the food security of our people,” said Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, FFA Director-General.

“It is very encouraging that several Members have been utilising these protocols to inform their national activities during our regional surveillance operation that concluded today. We acknowledge and sincerely thank our partners Australia, PNA, SPC, MRAG Asia-Pacific and especially our Members for their continued support and assistance in developing this valuable tool,” Dr Tupou-Roosen added.

The Parties to the Nauru Agreement also welcomed the new protocols. 

“This is critical to the continuation of a viable fishery and the safety of our island nations in this pandemic, remembering always that complacency kills,” said CEO Mr Ludwig Kumoru.

The protocols can be found on the FFA website: http://ffa.int/covid19.

ENDS//

Background

These protocols are designed as an overarching guide to health and safety, and as minimum operating standards relevant to fishing sector operations in the Pacific. These protocols may be used by Members of the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency, and/or flag and coastal States that operate in the region, to guide the development of national orders related to the fisheries sector under State of Emergency legislation and policies responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For more information please contact covidprotocols@ffa.int.

For more information contact Ronald F. Toito’ona, FFA Media, ph: +677 7304715, ronald.toitoona@ffa.int

About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)

FFA assists its 17 member countries to sustainably manage fishery resources that fall within their 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs). FFA provides expertise, technical assistance and other support to its members who make decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision making on tuna management. Find out more here www.ffa.int.

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Report indicates Pacific tuna fisheries weathering COVID-19 well

Categories NewsPosted on

By Bernadette Carreon 

The fishing effort in the tuna-rich waters of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) does not appear to have been significantly impeded by the COVID-19 crisis, according to a report prepared by Brisbane, Australia-based resources consultancy MRAG Asia Pacific.

The report, which was completed in April, stated that travel restrictions as a result of the pandemic “has not resulted in a widespread decline in fishing effort”.

The 32-page report looked into the changes in fishery and market dynamics of the PNA member states — including Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands Tuvalu, and Tokelau — in the period of January to April 2020, as the pandemic took hold.

The report said that the information was drawn from PNA Fisheries Information Management System (FIMS), which focuses on the purse-seine fleet, and interviews with industry participants throughout the supply chain.

The FIMS data showed purse-seine fishing effort declined slightly in February 2020, compared to the period spanning November 2019 to January 2020, but has since recovered in March and April.

“Indications are that total effort (in exclusive economic zones plus territorial seas plus archipelagic waters) increased at a faster rate than effort solely in EEZs,” the report found. 

“Preliminary data on levels of effort and the intensity of fishing effort (measured as the number of fishing days recorded per calendar day) in April 2020 are the highest in the 2019–20 period.”

It said, based on the data, fishing effort in March 2020, when port closures and quarantine restrictions were put in place, “was roughly similar to equivalent periods in March 2018 and 2019”. It also noted that overall fishing intensity in March 2020 was around 6.5% higher than the average for March 2018 and March 2019.

While fishing intensity is up, and the geographic location of fishing has changed, and the report found catch rates for January to April 2020 were 30% lower than in the same period in 2019. The report suggested a causal link between the lower catches and increase in fishing intensity — presumably a result of vessels taking longer to fill up in the low-catch conditions.

Fishing intensity increased in the EEZs of Federated States of Micronesia, Tuvalu, and Kiribati by 68%, 68%, and 12% respectively; with intensity lower in the high seas (14%), Tokelau, and also marginally in PNG.

“There is limited evidence from the data to indicate any of the variations are COVID related to date,” the report noted. 

A steady decline in catch rates was seen at the end of 2019.

On 14 July, PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru said fishing efforts have not slowed down despite COVID-19.

“Business hasn’t slowed down, uptake of days is still OK,” he said. 

“Boats are still taking up the same number of days and even before COVID-19. So nothing has really affected us. Except some boats have stopped going into their ports, but those boats have shifted to other ports like Marshall Islands, to PNG, to FSM. So you see a lot less boats are going into Kiribati [and] those boats are now going into the Marshall Islands or going into FSM. So, in a way, COVID-19 hasn’t really impacted our operations or the PNA fisheries.”

Mr Kumoru added that PNA needs to keep its operation going, but is prioritising the safety of its observers as well.

Although COVID-19 has not gravely affected the purse-seine catch, challenges are looming as a result of market uncertainty associated with the pandemic. The MRAG report noted that with restaurants in Asia and North America having periods of shutdown, or seeing dramatically reduced clientele, demand for sashimi tuna—– which is generally caught by the longline fleet — has dropped sharply. 

And the report said the continued port closures and travel restrictions could eventually affect fishing efforts in the PNA, and also result in lower demand for fishing days under the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS).

The VDS is the foundation of the PNA’s economic revenues, bringing in about US$500 million (€438 million) annually to the PNA member states.

“It seems likely that, collectively, the impacts of these logistical issues, if prolonged, will have an impact on fishing effort (although at this stage it’s not clear how much, and the impacts do not appear to be evident in the overall effort figures to date). For those fleets/companies who purchased fewer days at the start of the year, logistical difficulties may ultimately influence demand for VDS days for the remainder of 2020,” the report said.

Forum Fisheries Agency Investment Manager Tony Sullivan said eventually the economic impacts of the pandemic will be felt in the fisheries industry. Those increased costs stem from higher freight costs, being forced to move exports overseas, employment costs, and other one-time expenses associated with the pandemic.

“What I don’t have available currently is what the actual economic impacts of this are, and it is probably a little bit too early to tell, but we know that it is going to be significant in terms of export revenue, employment, and businesses actually being able to sustain themselves through this pandemic crisis,” Mr Sullivan said.

This news story first appeared in Seafood Source on 20 July 2020.

Tuna observers likely to stay off boats as concern for health continues

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By Taobo Amon Tebikau (Radio Kiribati News)

To protect people’s health, Kiribati and other Pacific countries are likely to extend the current strict rule that suspends all purse-seine fishing boats carry an independent observer.

Observers are important for conservation of tuna but with the COVID-19 pandemic still growing world-wide, travel to and from the boats poses risks to countries like Kiribati that have not had a COVID-19 infection.

In March, Kiribati and other members of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement decided to suspend the requirement that tuna boats carry observers.

That suspension is due to expire on July 31.

But PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru told reporters this week, it is likely the suspension will be extended for three months.

“We had to make sure that our islands are safe and that they still have the operations going on because once the operations are going on, that’s our means of earning money,” he says.

Before the extension can be approved, countries that are members of the PNA must talk to the other major Pacific fisheries agency — the FFA.

“We’ll have to work together with FFA and have a common stance on who’s for the extension,” Kumoru said.

Despite the change to the rules about observers, 30 per cent of purse-seine boats still have observers on board, Mr Kumoru said.

Some chose to stay on board and some countries, like Papua New Guinea, have not suspended are still allowing movement of observers, despite closed borders.

Mr Kumoru said Pacific countries are still monitoring tuna boats through the Vessel Monitoring System or VMS andcan see patterns they make so they know if they are making a set that is against the rules.

Note: this news story was produced as part of the Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting (FEMM) journalists’ workshop in July 2020.

A shared vision for self-determination: the PNA story in print

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A Solomon Islander who is a household name in the Western and Central Pacific tuna industry has written the story of how the Davids of the industry prevailed against the Goliaths.

Fishing for success: lessons in Pacific regionalism is the story of how the Parties to the Nauru Agreement came into being, and is written by one of those involved in its formation: Transform Aqorau.

The book was published recently by the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University. 

Dr Aqorau said in an interview with the Coral Bell School that it was “one of the happiest stories” to come out of the region.

“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.”

Dr Transform Aqorau on deck of a purse-seine fishing vessel. Photo: Giff Johnson.
Dr Transform Aqorau on board the purse-seine fishing vessel Lojet during a two-week voyage. Photo: Giff Johnson.

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. 

The development of the agreement is threaded through many of the tuna conservation and management tools used in the region today. They include the Vessel Day Scheme for purse-seine and longline fishing vessels, and the Fisheries Information Management System (FIMS). They also include the achievement of the first Marine Stewardship Council certification in the region, and the related set up of the Pacifical tuna-marketing brand.

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.