A Passion for Fisheries: Hon. Esa Sharon Mona Faitala-Ainu’u

by Lisa Williams-Lahari | 22 March 2022 | Moana Voices

Growing up in the Pacific, I was empowered by my grandmother Tapuakimokamailuga Faitala. She took the time to help me create strong self-belief and awareness of my community and family ties, and she has been a key part of where I am today. Of course, being from the Rock of Polynesia, surrounded by the ocean is a great way to learn first-hand just what an amazing resource we are surrounded by.

By the time I stepped into political life in 2017, I knew the importance of this sector was undeniable. Natural resources, the environment and the fisheries sector are now my most enthusiastic areas to work within, considering my passion for the sea. Fisheries also has strong links across all parts of the Ministry, and it’s important to ensure all sectors are prioritised. The Ministry of Natural Resources in Niue hosts the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Department of Meteorological Services and the Department of Environment including Climate Change. Increasingly, no matter what the portfolio, there’s usually a lead that takes you back to some aspect of oceans and oceanic fisheries.

I can definitely credit early awareness of the development issues around my current role, back to my early start as a journalist with a keen eye on the stories impacting the livelihoods of my people.
Through that work, I began to really appreciate the importance of oceans to my people, and our Pacific, beyond the traditions and customs connecting us to the sea, and as a source of income beyond food. Reporting stories and policies across tourism, the impacts of things like marine pollution, tuna fisheries, climate change – it all began to reel me in.

I have witnessed the considerable changes in the Pacific Fisheries sector and the impact of gender inclusivity. This is encouraging and can only enhance and strengthen the development of the sector. I am very fortunate to be involved in an area mostly accommodated by men. The world of tuna fisheries is a bit like the world of politics in that the numbers of women are still rising towards balance in representation and leadership. Being in a political role involving decision making, signing off, and championing policies and laws, both domestically and internationally is not something I take lightly. It is an honour and a privilege to serve my people, and if it’s seen as a great achievement for women, I will receive that compliment to what Niue has also achieved in respect of progress for its people.

I think there is an absolute need to invest and create laws to govern the ocean’s activities, not just domestically, but globally. Mutual commitments need to enable these mechanisms, to ensure the sustainability and conservation of our oceans is prioritised for the longevity of this critical resource to our people, especially our future generations. The only time I feel gender is an issue is when I told myself, I couldn’t do what most men do within the industry and allowing that mentality to restrict my involvement in decision making.

Most people ask, why I am so passionate about the oceans, and my response is immediate, how could anyone from this big blue world of ours not be passionate about this beautiful natural resource. It carried our founding ancestors to these islands. It affects and is affected by our global climate, it inspires artists and song, and feeds our families, our economies.  So, why not be passionate about giving back to our ocean? Being passionate about our ocean is driven by my belief in making a difference, and I am motivated because I have personally seen the negative changes and damages that have impacted the oceans, from man-made disasters to natural occurrences.

In 2020, the Government of Niue, under the former Premier, the late Sir Toke Talagi, committed 127,000 square kilometres, roughly 40% of its EEZ as a Marine Protected Area called Moana Mahu. Introducing robust legislation to enable us to bring one of the world’s largest MPAs into law, that was one of the highlights of my involvement in the Fisheries sector. I believe that this huge undertaking will encourage other countries to recognise the critical challenges our oceans are facing, and to make positive change to enable the longevity of this natural resource.

My favourite acronym is PPWIF – Passionate Pacific Women in Fisheries. Just kidding. It’s not in the books but it should be. There have been many memorable and gratifying moments during my term as the Minister for Marine and Natural Resources. This has included meeting and working with many of the most dynamic women in fisheries, including the FFA Director-General Dr Manumatavai Tupou Roosen, our own Director of Fisheries Dr Josephine Tamate, and Ms Coral Pasisi who is now with the Pacific Community. There are so many women rising to represent fisheries within the Pacific Region and globally.

My least favourite acronym would have to be IUU for Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fisheries because of the negative impact on our most vulnerable assets. IUU fishing is a constant challenge for our island nations. We grant fishing licenses to vessel owners and then must be vigilant against breaches of those conditions. Monitoring and surveillance work is important to counter the illegal activities of others, and the work of the regional fisheries agency helping our small islands states to monitor our waters is inspirational.

The most interesting fact for me personally, is the love and passion with which Pacific people treasure and value our oceans. I believe this is why the Pacific does so well as negotiators on these natural resources. Although for me, the fact we are always asked to amplify our voices for change could be taken to mean the world hasn’t yet heard our voices—or is choosing to ignore us. Climate-induced Sea level rise means our lands are disappearing through NO fault of ours, yet large carbon emitters – the industrialised countries who have brought our planet to the brink, seem wilfully blind to the fact that if we no longer exist, neither will they.

We live in a global ecosystem where actions such as the above will continue to impact on all of us, and all our oceans. For that reason, as Ministers and Leaders, we are planning for uncertain futures—or at least, the certainty of climate change creating uncertainty. That has major impacts on the future of fisheries. Sadly, and inevitably, there will continue to be huge economic impacts and consequences for us all.

It’s why, at this time more than any other, we have an opportunity to ensure our youth, especially our young women understand their value, and not let someone else determine their worth. Know your value, to empower the value of your resources. Enable our future generations. Larger nations fishing in our large oceans need to place a realistic value on our oceanic resources. It’s what we deserve and claim. Our environment is not the entitlement of the powerful, more developed states. We must stand on our ocean power, and our ocean ownership. Our ancestors fought for us, and the region we have today. We should and must continue to amplify their voices and their passion.

Kia fakamonuina mai he Atua a Niue mo e Atu Pasifika. May God Bless Niue, and all the Pacific.