Jobs, infrastructure, revenue: New initiative looks to maximise benefits of tuna fisheries for FFA member countries

by Ronald Toito'ona | 10 October 2023 | News

Officials working on the East New Britain Initiative at Kokopo

Tuna fishing holds significant importance to the economies and communities of many Pacific Island nations. However, the exploitation of this resource is often lopsided, with some countries reaping greater benefits than others.

Recognising this disparity, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) member countries have come together to address the issue and ensure a more equitable distribution of the benefits derived from tuna fishing.

Dubbed the ‘East New Britain Initiative’, the idea which was proposed by the government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) was to have all FFA member countries work together as a group and pursue opportunities from tuna fisheries.

To further discuss this new initiative, a special Pacific Islands Fisheries Ministerial Dialogue was held at Kokopo, East New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea, on 4th September 2023.  It was attended by ministers from Fiji, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Niue, Republic of Marshall Islands and officials from Australia, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, New Zealand, and Vanuatu.

Speaking at the dialogue, PNG’s Fisheries and Marine Resources Minister, Jelta Wong, said the dialogue is a testament to the Pacific Islands region’s commitment to the sustainable management of tuna and other straddling and highly migratory fish stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

He added, “it is incumbent on how to consider developing new strategies or development options that are geared towards encouraging deeper and more holistic cooperation amongst ourselves, by harnessing the unique strength each of us possess.

“Hence, a careful look at the global value chain of tuna comes to mind, and the need to empower the meaningful participation of all Pacific Island countries can be the best starting point,” Minister Wong said.

East New Britain, Papua New Guinea – where the initiative was born. Photo credit: Kahunapule Michael Johnson CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED

The communiqué – recognising the benefits of tuna, threats of climate change 

A joint communiqué developed following the meeting highlights the benefits of tuna fisheries to the Pacific Island Countries (PICs), threats caused by the impacts of climate change, and the need to work collaboratively as a block through the FFA to maximise the benefits of tuna as a resource.

“The Communiqué is based on the commitment of fisheries ministers of certain Pacific Island countries agreeing to achieve forum leaders vision in the 2050 Strategy by leveraging their shared tuna resources in finding collective and inclusive investment pathways,” the document states.

During the meeting, the Ministers and fisheries officials discussed the fact that tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) contribute significantly to the global tuna trade as well as the economies and livelihoods of the Pacific people. However, these countries are yet to realise the full potential of their tuna resources. 

The dialogue also deliberated on the impact of climate change on tuna stocks. This will result in a fall in tuna catches, with a loss of revenues and employment having the potential to negatively affect the economies and livelihoods of the people in the Pacific island countries. Therefore, working together in unity and cooperation as members of the FFA block is crucial at this stage.

Developing the regional fisheries development fund

In their discussions, the Ministers and fisheries officials also discussed the establishment of a regional fisheries development fund and agreed that a study be commissioned to assess the merits and mechanisms of the initiative.  

This fund would provide financial support for the establishment and operation of proposed fisheries ‘hubs and spokes’ countries. By pooling resources and sharing the financial burden, the member countries can overcome individual limitations and collectively invest in the development of a robust and sustainable tuna industry.

The member countries will now undertake further technical work on the initiative, conducting research and analysis to determine the most suitable locations for the hubs and appropriate models for their establishment and operation. Through a comprehensive and collaborative approach, the FFA member countries can ensure that these initiatives are based on sound scientific knowledge and expertise.

Establishing regional Fisheries hubs and spokes

One of the main purposes of the dialogue was to encourage a collective and coordinated approach towards the development of regional fisheries hubs and spokes.

The communiqué has noted the establishment of fisheries hubs and spokes throughout the region. These hubs would serve as central processing centers for tuna, allowing for increased efficiency and profitability. By identifying and acquiring suitable sites for these hubs, the member countries aim to create a network that optimises the processing and distribution of tuna.

Edward Honiwala, the Fisheries Director of the Solomon Islands Ministry of Fisheries & Marine Resources (MFMR) was also part of the special fisheries dialogue, representing his country’s government.

“These tuna hubs are where we want all regional tuna stocks to be processed. We have the healthiest tuna stocks and our region (WCPO), supplying about 60% of the world’s tuna supply. Just imagine if we create all these tuna hubs and that 60% of global tuna resources are processed in the region. There will be a lot of opportunities, such as more jobs for our people, improved infrastructure, improved livelihoods, good revenues. The list goes on,” he added.

The Solomon Islands Director of Fisheries further stated that when it comes to tuna processing plants, all the regional countries are not the same. So, if the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea (PNG), and Fiji can build processing plants, then Kiribati, Tuvalu, Republic of Mashall Islands (RMI), and other small atoll countries in the regions could supply fish to these regional plants.

In November 2023, the Ministers responsible for fisheries in the FFA member countries will present the communiqué to the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders for consideration.