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Pacific takes on the world fishers in Samoa

Pacific Island nations are going into the 11th session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission in Samoa from Monday with a clear message to Asian, European and American countries that fish in the Pacific: agree to reduce your fishing effort or be prepared to face tougher actions.At stake is the Pacific’s most sought after tuna. Half of the world’s tuna stock is found in our waters said to be valued at US$4 billion. Putting that in perspective, the Pacific’s largest economy Papua New Guinea got its parliament last week to pass its 2015 budget of US$6 billion. Fiji on the other hand has a US$1.7 billion budget for the same year.Some 300-purse seiner boats and 4,000 long liners currently fish in Pacific waters. In 2013 alone, 1.8 million metric tons of Skipjack tuna were landed, and more than 82,000 metric tons of Bigeye tuna. Both were record catches, experts say. The introduction, however, of more and bigger boats that use smarter technology to fish our 200-mile exclusive economic zones but more so in the four pockets of high seas (or international waters) is putting excessive pressure on tuna stocks.In fact, the latest assessments by scientists at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) show that Bigeye tuna is under severe threats due to overfishing. They warn that Bigeye stock is at 16 per cent of its historic population.Owners of the Pacific tuna – namely the 17 Pacific Islands Forum Fishery Agency (FFA) countries are taking note. They, and sub-regional groups such as the eight members of the powerful Parties of the Nauru Agreement (PNA), want this week’s WCPFC meeting to adopt stricter control measures.Comprising 33 countries as members, the WCPFC administers fishing in the high seas of the Pacific. It brings under one big roof the owners of fishery on the one side, and the fishing nations, commonly referred to as distance water fishing nations (DWFN), on the other, to decide on how to manage the fishery. WCPFC is one of the five United Nations’ recognised fisheries commission. Its secretariat is based in Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).Addressing Pacific and local journalists that had gathered in Apia in the lead-up to the five day WCPFC negotiations, head of the PNA Office, international law expert and former FFA executive, Dr Transform Aqorau said his members of FSM, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu would want the WCPFC to adopt stricter conservation measures.“Our proposed conservation plan calls for as a priority, the provision of catch data especially for high seas long line fleets,” said Dr Aqorau. “We also want a range of measures to increase control over the high seas longline fishery, increase the contribution of the high seas longline fishery to Bigeye conservation, and increase the benefits to small island developing states (SIDS) from longline fishing.”Dr Aqorau’s reference to catch data is a longstanding gripe of the Pacific members of WCPFC. All members of the Commission are required by law to provide to provide to the Commission their tuna catch data annually. But since its inception ten years ago, the four Asian DWFN of China, Chinese Taipei, Japan and South Korea have refused to provide this information. At least one of them, Japan cited domestic legislation as an impediment.This week in Samoa, Pacific members of WCPFC are drawing a line on the proverbial sand. Enough is enough, they said, and the four DWFN need to open up their books or face stiffer sanctions. How good and how far the Pacific solidarity lasts is something observers of this tuna meeting will follow keenly.During the WCPFC 11th session at the sprawling modern convention centre of Faleata in Apia, Pacific owners of tuna are also expected to call for among others;• Reductions in the Bigeye catch quotas for longliners• Penalties for boats that refuse to disclose catch data• Tighter controls in the use of FADs – fish aggregating devices – in the high seas• Ban on transhipment of frozen Bigeye tuna at sea for high seas-based longliners• Increase observer coverage rates for longline fleets that fail to release operational dataAnother much-awaited decision of this week’s WCPFC would be the appointment of its new Executive Director and its chairperson. Five candidates have been shortlisted for the ED position, with Tuvalu regional civil servant Feleti Teo the sole Pacific nominee. Pacific Island members of the Commission are reportedly backing Teo, who currently works as the inaugural Secretary General of the Fiji-based Pacific Islands Development Forum. He is also a former deputy Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, and former Director General of FFA.Writing in the December edition of Islands Business magazine, long time-Marshall Island based journalist and editor Giff Johnson said PNA member countries are also backing Marshallese Rhea Moss for the position of WCPFC chair.“Rhea Moss, a Marshall Islander based in Pohnpei has been a fisheries adviser to the Federated States of Micronesia Congress since March this year and chairs the WCPFC’s Technical and Compliance Committee. Prior to working for the FSM Congress, she was Chief of Compliance with FSM's National Oceanic Resource Management Authority for four years,” wrote Johnson.(Pareti is Group Editor-in-Chief of Islands Business magazine and he’s coverage of the 11th Session of the WCPFC in Samoa is made possible through funding support from the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency.)