Hard decisions now: Fiji sets sights on distant water fishing nations

by Netani Rika | 4 December 2017 | News

The final plenary for the Pacific Tuna Commission annual general session is where nations fishing in the region, alongside members of the FFA/PNA bloc, decide on the management and conservation rules for the world's largest tuna fishery. (Photo: FFAMedia)

by Netani Rika, Islands Business

Dec 3, 2017, WCPFC14, Manila–PACIFIC tuna is under threat from the world’s largest fishing nations including China, Japan and South Korea.

And the inaction of the Western and Central Pacific Fishing Commission to control over-fishing in the high seas and low catches within regional fisheries zones.

That’s the view of Fiji’s Fisheries Minister, Commander Semi Koroilavesau.

“(This) inaction of the commission is negatively contributing to over-capacity in the high seas resulting in low catches in the zone,” he told the 14th Tuna Commission Meeting at Pasay City in the Philippines.

“We do not want to see this continue as our fishery may collapse under the pressure that is being forcefully exerted upon us by distant water fishing nations.

Koroilavesau – a former navy officer responsible for patrolling Fiji’s Exclusive Economic Zone – said previous commission meetings lingered on the need to control fishing in the high seas.

“Frankly speaking, this has not been successfully addressed,” Koroilavesau said.

“We do not need to dwell too much on this since it is well-known that the continuous failure of members to adopt relevant measures on sustainable harvesting of key tuna species is due to the decision-making process of the commission.”

For several years the Pacific has tried to control fishing in the region through sustainable fisheries measures which have been treated with scepticism and sometimes outright contempt by China and Japan.

The Tuna Commission makes its decision by consensus among members so is easily deadlocked by recalcitrant fishing nations.

Because of this, it is seen as a toothless tiger by members and non-members alike.

Forum Fisheries Agency Director-General, James Movick, said however there was a need for the region to confront distant water fishing nations.

“(They must) reconcile their narrow fishing interests with their broader role as key strategic and development partners of this region,” Movick said.

“The time has come to step up the conversations around the economics of tuna and what countries, thinking regionally, are prepared to take — and give — so that we, as a region, can protect our fisheries resource, while achieving our economic aspirations.”

Experts have consistently warned the Pacific of a risk of over fishing but individual countries have not been able to agree on effective management measures of the southern albacore fishery.

“Our lack of unity and resolve has allowed distant water fishing nations to expand their own fisheries and to favour their own fleets,” Movick said.

Koroilavesau’s  call at the beginning of the 14th Tuna Commission appeared to be an attempt to galvanise support for a united stand against the big fishing nations.

But those same nations control the purse strings which fund much of the development in the region from roads and wharves to hospitals, schools and clean water.

“My delegation believes in the system and processes currently in place to allow us to efficiently discuss matters,” Koroilavesau said in his opening remarks.

“This might mean making hard decisions, foregoing certain benefits but hard decisions need to be made now.”

Over the next four days we will see how serious Pacific islands countries are about the protection of their fisheries and whether they can stand up against the might of the distant water fishing nations.–ENDS