By Dionisia Tabureguci

The push by Pacific islands countries to take control of their own destinies when it comes to their coveted fishing resources may be emerging as a faint pulse of conviction and action.

But it is no doubt a cause that is likely to intensify into the future and, if all goes as planned, could see most of these small islands nations truly in charge of this lavish industry.

These days, a number of them are talking about eventually phasing out the Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFNs) from their shores, a radical idea and a definite signal they are looking at some heavy-hitting reforms in the usual scheme of things.

But for years, these countries have been talking about instituting changes that would see them benefiting more from their fisheries resources.

It’s no longer a secret that islands countries in the Pacific retain a miniscule five percent or so of the US$3 or US$4 billion worth of fish taken out of their waters every year.
(image from National Fisheries Authority (NFA), Papua New Guinea)

By some systemic default, some are quite content with that, for while they are happy with the revenue they collect from access fees, they lack the expertise and arguably the finance to develop their own fisheries sectors. So what’s changed?

Dr Transform Aqorau, deputy director of the Honiara based Pacific Islands Forum Fishing Agency (FFA), attributes change, if it has not been noticed, in a small but significant victory won at the meeting in Korea last December of members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

A draft proposal submitted by Marshall Islands and adopted at that meeting stressed the desire of FFA’s Pacific islands member countries —considered SIDS (Small Islands Developing Member States) in WCPFC’s member mix of FFA members and Distant Waters Fishing Nations (DWFNs)—to be recognised in their aspirations to develop their domestic fisheries industries.

“The draft proposal seeks to call once again for an orderly restructuring and reduction of DWFNs fleets operating in the Convention Area in order to accommodate the increasing interests and needs of SIDS to participate in maximising economic benefits of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean fishery,” said Frederick Muller, Marshall Islands’ Minister of Resources and Development, when presenting the proposal in Korea.

“Only this time around, there exists a time-frame of 10 years for such innovative and cooperative restructuring which we feel is appropriate and sufficient for our aspirations to be fully acknowledged and ultimately fulfilled.”

Shifting paradigms: Muller went further to say: “It is quite clear that the shifts in paradigm around the region are indicative of things to come in the near future, that is, SIDS in the region are intent on further revamping and realigning the current existing arrangements to reflect the impending needs and immediate interests of their people in their pursuit of momentous and mutually beneficial economic partnership as far as our fisheries are concerned.”

Marshall Islands’ proposal resulted in an outcome that favoured SIDS because it obligated the WCPFC to be mindful of SIDS interests when adopting the new Conservation and Management Measures CMMs) that came out of that meeting.

Fast forward to a month later and it is this result that is being hailed by the FFA on behalf of its members.

“I think it (the Draft Resolution on Aspiration of SIDS) is an extremely significant outcome and signals the changing order of how things will be done in the future,” Aqorau told Islands Business.

Phasing out foreign fishing: “It recognises the need to phase out foreign fishing and replace these with arrangements controlled by SIDS. SIDS by the way, have always wanted to play an important role in the management of their fisheries and that is why the FFA was established 30 years ago. Bilateral fishing access agreements were always viewed as being temporary arrangements and that their long-term aspiration has been to develop their own domestic tuna industries.”

A recent event that underscored this was the signing in May last year by country members of the Parties to Nauru Agreement of a PNA Third Implementing Agreement, seeing them take charge of conserving their resources by adopting conservation measures that they have drawn up themselves.

“They have closed off the high seas pockets, introduced a number of measures including a three months FAD (Fish Aggregating Devices) closure, and 100 percent observer coverage on purse seine vessels, implemented a Vessel Day Scheme which firmly places and actually entrench their control over the fishery,” said Aqorau.

In that same May meeting of PNA members, a proposal by Kiribati on the setting up of a tuna corporation that would belong to all PNA members and which would be responsible for all stages of development of resources from harvesting, processing through to marketing of finished products was endorsed and fed into the FFA processes.

“In the end when this proposal is up and running, member countries will have the freedom to choose who will fish in our waters from among the DWFNs,” Kiribati’s secretary for Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development Ribanataake Awira had told Islands Business.
“Since we will be fishing, processing and selling our own resources, we will no longer need the DWFNs and we will slowly phase them out of our waters. Only those who have contributed a lot to our development and accommodating to our joint venture arrangements will be given the right to fish in our waters.”

That stand seems to reflect the thinking in other neighbouring countries as well.
“In the next five years, Tuvalu will be very selective on who will fish in its waters,” said Tuvalu’s Director of Fisheries, Sam Finikaso.

“Like other SIDS, Tuvalu will only retain those who supported us in our domestic development.”
Will this fuel another angle to tuna politics? Could it possibly see developed states jostle for the attention of SIDS within the next 10 years, the timeframe put to SIDS eventually phasing them out? Only time will tell.

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