GEF support for oceanic fisheries in transition in the Western and Central Pacific

by Claire Heath | 14 July 2021 | News

Hugh Walton, in his home office, has been the stalwart of the OFMP since 2015. Photo supplied by Hugh Walton.

Hugh Walton, in his home office, has been the stalwart of the OFMP since 2015. Photo supplied by Hugh Walton.


After six years, the second Oceanic Fisheries Management Project in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) has come to an end.

The project coordinator and Chief Technical Adviser at the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Hugh Walton, said the countries of the WCPO had “covered a lot of ground” in six years.

The aim of the project was to help the small island developing states of the WCPO ensure the sustainable management of their oceanic fisheries and to better understand the impacts of climate change on these fisheries and in the ocean. The initiatives the island states have put in place also include the means of enforcing fishing and conservation and management rules.

OFMP, which is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), has been implemented by the FFA and managed under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN. Important partners have included the Pacific Community’s  Oceanic Fisheries Programme, the Office of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNAO), WWF Pacific and the Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association (PITIA).


A David and Goliath story of small states setting their own rules

“The story of the tuna fisheries of the WCPO is a David and Goliath story, with the tiny populations and economies of the small island developing states together transforming fisheries management in the face of the great powers of the global fisheries operators, both countries and companies,” Mr Walton said.

“OFMP2 has made a significant contribution to helping the Pacific small island states set their own rules and strongly influence the management framework of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). The Western and Central Pacific is the only one of the world’s main oceans where the four main tuna species are harvested at sustainable levels”.

Mr Walton has worked in and around the fishing industry since 1978, initially as a fisherman in different fisheries and then in research, training, consultancy, government administration and project management. He has been with FFA in various roles since 2010.

“With working in different areas and roles across the sector, I have been able to observe things from different perspectives. That has been an advantage in this job,” Mr Walton said.

In Rarotonga May 2018: Hugh Walton on the right with Perry Head, then acting DDG for FFA (left) and David Vousden (centre). Photo: Toss Gascoigne.

“Looking back over the duration of the project, there have been a few stand out events and activities that I will always feel good about.

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

“We were fortunate to have Professor David Vousden come on board to lead the work on this. I did the information gathering and he did the analysis and drafted the report. It was then presented to our FFA governing body, the Forum Fisheries Committee, endorsed and submitted to GEF. That led to our moving forward with the next stage.

“Well, we had identified the challenges and the risks and issues to address in the TDA, so then we moved forward with the Strategic Action Programme, the SAP. That is about what we need to do to solve these problems and address the challenges.”

These studies have played quite a role in Mr Walton’s working life. They featured when he met the head of GEF’s International Waters Programme at a conference in Marrakesh. And getting all the Ministers of Fisheries among the countries that are members of FFA was another feat.

“Another event that was a real highlight for me was being part of the FFA team that won the 2019 Global Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Network’s Stop IUU Fishing Prize in Bangkok in 2018,” Mr Walton said.

FFA current and former staff with partners with the stop IUU fishing prize.

Praise from the region

Hugh Walton is as well respected in the WCPO fisheries as he is well known.

Magele Etuati Ropeti, the assistant chief executive of the Fisheries Division of the Samoan Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, said OFMP2 had helped Samoa realign its fisheries management to meet national and regional priorities, and develop a national fisheries policy.

“And I personally acknowledge the coordinator of the project. Hugh will always have time to assist you. He will always have a way of explaining things and how to access assistance from the project. This is very different from some other projects, where you have to find your own information,” Mr Ropeti said.

“Hugh’s project coordination was so hands-on and so up to date with the issues. He understands the issues because he works in the industry. He knows the countries and our national issues.

“I just hope that, if there’s another OFMP, we have the same person coordinating it, or a photocopy of that person to run it.”

Pamela Maru, Secretary for the Ministry of Marine Resources of Cook Islands, echoed Mr Ropeti’s words.

“OFMP has provided excellent support that has enabled the Cook Islands – and other Pacific island countries, particularly as small island developing states and coastal states – to really exert our rights in the fisheries,” Ms Maru said.

“Over time, we have changed from just trying to set up licensing and to derive some sort of economic benefit like licensing and revenues – implementing basic information or data collection systems. Now we are progressing to the space where we’re analysing what’s happening in the fishery, including the economics, and translating that into management measures that respond to sustainability, economic, environmental and social objectives.

“The project has provided that necessary support without being too restrictive, so we can be creative in this space. It’s also meant we can be a bit more flexible, so that we’re not being told necessarily how to do things, so we can make things work that fit our context.

“The project and the project coordinator have provided a lot of support for us in the Cooks. Hugh Walton is amazing.”

Russell Dunham, who was with the Fiji Tuna Industry Association and now with Tri Marine, said he had worked closely with Hugh Walton and FFA for a long time.

“Recently, we’ve been involved in the electronic monitoring projects, particularly with the longline vessels,” Mr Dunham said.

“We’ve been in close consultation with FFA, and in particular Hugh, on that project. Hugh and I go back 20-odd years.

“I was involved when the Fiji Albacore Fishery got MSC [Marine Stewardship Council] certification. Without FFA’s assistance, there’s no way industry would have been able to achieve certification in the time we had, if ever. That was a real positive for the program (OFMP), for industry.”


Presence in the WCPO since the 1990s

Mr Walton has coordinated the OFMP2 project from the beginning in 2015.

“Of course, it has taken a team to manage this project. It’s been a willing team. The executive of FFA, and Fisheries Management and Fisheries Operations teams have been there every step of the way. And Sireta Laore, who has managed the finances of the project, has been a stand-out performer,” Mr Walton said.

The OFMP2 project is the second FFA-based OFMP project. It followed the highly regarded original OFMP, which ran from 2005 to 2010 and, in turn, was preceded by a pilot project of GEF, UNDP and Pacific small island developing states that commenced in the mid 1990s.

“Over the past two years, we have been working with UNDP and a team of specialist consultants to work through the GEF process to identify and develop a follow-on OFMP3 project. This process is now all but complete and we are hopeful that it will commence in the near future,” Mr Walton said.

People working in the tuna fisheries of the WCPO will be watching this space.