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At the just concluded Pacific Islands Leaders Forum summit in Tuvalu, Leaders welcomed the adoption of the Regional Longline Strategy from Forum Fisheries Ministers and accepted the report card of the Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Fisheries. But an emerging issue that is of concern to countries with abundance tuna stock in the region is the impact of climate change on the movement of tuna stock within and out of fishing waters managed by Pacific Island Countries. Director General of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Dr Manu Tupou Roosen explains these concerns to PACNEWS Editor, Makereta Komai in Funafuti last week.
Dr Manu: It’s a great concern on our members. The Pacific Community (SPC) has been doing fantastic work in this area and science is telling us that climate change would impact the distribution and abundance of tuna stock. What it tells us as fisheries manager is that, our existing fisheries management regimes will need to adapt. We are looking at the migration from West to East of tuna stock. So for countries in the West, will they look for opportunities to secure their existing rights in the current management regimes or will they look to the eastern high seas area for a greater share or allocation of fishing rights of those areas or will they be looking for compensation. The other point made at the Sautalaga was do we also need to consider the option of closing the high seas because if that is what it takes to protect our future and our fisheries. There is a need for the global community to recognise Pacific Small Island developing states as custodian of the tuna resources of our region and to develop adaptive fisheries management regimes. We need to continue to assert to protect our rights over our resources into the high seas.
MK: This option of closing the high seas – is it a radical option and can that be pushed through your members?
Dr Manu; It might sound radical but there is a precedent already set by the PNA membership, where they are conditioning access into their zones - essentially closing the western high seas pockets, as a condition of licenses for fishing in their waters. So basically they are not saying, you can’t fish in those waters at all but if you do fish in them you can’t access our waters that is the angle that they have taken. So the precedent is set and if that’s the strong line that our membership need to take to protect our resources then that’s a position they could seriously consider.
MK: Is that an option already on the table for your FFA members to consider?
Dr Manu: The discussion on closer of high seas or access to high sea as a condition of access into zones has been ongoing for quite sometimes. It’s not an unfamiliar concept to our members. In addition to closure of those western high seas pockets, there is an area of high seas in the east which had been closed. The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) members were really the ones taking leadership on the discussion of what happens in the high seas. Over time that eastern high seas area was opened up, so to speak, it was no longer a condition of licence to the PNA members’ exclusive economic zone. The PNA membership need to be credited for this. Whilst it was led by the PNA group, it has been adopted by the wider FFA group and we are fully supportive of this position. It was taken to the Tuna Commission a few years ago, where they were successful in recognition of those closures.
MK: Your comment earlier that climate change will impact the distribution and abundance of tuna stock in our region – please explain what that means.
Dr Manu: This region provides a third of the world’s global supply of tuna. That comes from FFA members’ waters. 1.6 million tonnes is taken out as an estimate per year and equates to 3 billion a year, of which 2.1 billion is credited to the purse seiner fishing in PNA waters. So the other important point to note is the successful increase in economic returns is driven by the purse seine fishery. Not all of our FFA members are involved in this fishery which makes it even more crucial that we work together to address the under performance in the long line fishery. And that’s been the clear call from our leaders last year which led to the adoption by our Foreign Fisheries Ministers of a regional longline strategy to work on exactly that. The regional long line strategy is the overarching strategy and what it considers also those existing regimes like the Tokelau Arrangement where members are looking at how they calibrate around the management of the South Pacific albacore. There’s still a lot of work to be done in that space including members adopting in zone limits. The idea there is when you adopt clear binding limits in zone, that’s the base leverage to for going to the forum like the Tuna commission whose mandate is the high seas and forcing them to adopt combatable measures binding limits because at the moment there is unconstrained long line fishing efforts on the high seas. This is a big concern given its adjacency to our waters.
MK: Is that the way forward for FFA members?
Dr Manu: Yes, but there is a lot of ground work to be done in-house, to get our own house in order by establishing those binding limits in zone and then take that to the commission. Having said that there is also another fishery management regime that the PNA members are leading on in terms of long-line and that is the PNA long-line Vessel Day Scheme (VDS). Separate from that is another sub-regional group within the FFA which comes under the Tokelau Arrangement - some of them are PNA members and some are from the Southern countries that are not part of the PNA membership and they are looking at South Pacific albacore and how best to manage it. That group needs to come together and see how best they can establish the binding limits and that’s an ongoing discussion. And once they do that, that’s the best platform for any broader work with the Tuna Commission.
MK: Talk to me about the movement of tuna stocks from the east to the west as a result of climate change. Is it already happening now or will it happen ten years down the road where Pacific countries will experience the massive movement of stock out of their waters and to other countries waters or into the high seas?
Dr Manu: So the movement is from West to East and the scientists are best placed to answer it. But I will try and answer from what I understands from what we have been advised by SPC. Countries like the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Papua New Guinea (PNG), Solomon Islands and Nauru, countries in the West would be impacted by climate change. The movement to the East would benefit countries like Cook Islands and Kiribati and this expected impact government revenue and GDP contribution. So Kiribati and Cook Island, as I mentioned will benefit because of the movement while countries in the West will experience drop in revenues.
But what’s clear from Sautalaga and the messages from the leaders is that we cannot wait – whatever date this is expected to happen, whether its 2030 or 2050, what we do in the next few years to prepare ourselves for that is critical and its matter of priority. We recognise that FFA cannot do this work alone, our core work relates to the fisheries management and development but it’s the science that informs us of how best we adapt those regimes. It’s work that we also need to work closely with agencies like the PNA office. PNA is a sub-regional grouping within the FFA members and there are eight of them with an extra member that participates in the Vessel Day Scheme. It’s their prerogative on how they are going to adjust their fisheries management regime to respond to the threat of climate change.
MK: climate change will also affect maritime boundaries. How important is that in terms of fisheries in the region?
Dr Manu: The protection of our boundaries and the jurisdictional claims given the impacts of sea level rise is of keen interest to FFA members. FFA was established in 1979 at a time when the Law of the Sea Convention had not yet been adopted but there was anticipation of exclusive economic zone being embedded into that convention. So ahead of that when our Leaders made the decision at the 8th Pacific Islands Forum which established FFA, it was really to ensure that we assert and secure those sovereign rights which are specific to the EEZ. That was the greatest achievement of the UNCLOS, recognising the extended coastal states jurisdiction. Actively working to secure the rights within those areas by establishing boundaries are fundamental from FFA’s inception. This close work with SPC has been really important to us because members need to secure and protect their maritime boundaries. At the time the Laws of the Sea was adopted, they did not envisage the impacts of climate change. While it is a new area for us, it’s absolutely critical that our members first and foremost establish those baselines from which all corresponding maritime zones are measured and have it publicly declared, legislated and submitted to the United Nations, as required under the Law of the Sea Convention, so that it is protected in perpetuity. Whichever way this international processes pan out, there is a submission that’s been put out by our PSIDS missions in New York to the International Law Commission to provide a legal opinion in this. Whichever way it pans out, the most fundamental piece of work which is led by SPC is to ensure that these baselines are in place and to ensure that our members have indeed legislated the at the national level to protect those zones, plus fulfil whatever requirement needed under the International Law of the Sea.
From a fisheries management and compliance perspective, it’s critically important to have those clear boundaries and its key to our work. The Vessel Day Scheme operates off the FFA Vessel Monitoring System which is based on the boundaries and also with compliance, members need to be absolutely sure whether the operator is fishing within legal parameters or not and so the end goal is that all our stakeholders are working from one common data set.
MK: the issue of tuna migrating to the high seas is also a major concern for Pacific countries.
Dr Manu: With that migration from the West to East, 10 percent of what would normally be caught in national jurisdictions will now be available in the high seas. When it comes to the high seas, that’s the mandate of the Tuna Commission and there’s a duty between our countries to co-operate with fishing states in the region and those who fish in the high seas on how we best manage the stocks. It will require collaborative effort to see how allocation is done. That is the key question for the tuna commission, allocation of rights on the high seas and it’s one that is on the table right now. Next year December, our members will be faced with the discussion and decision on allocation of purse seiner fishery in the high seas and also bigger limits in the high seas. It’s going to be work to be done with non-FFA members.
The management currency is also something that is also needs to be determined. With the purse seine fishery, it is currently done from the Vessel Day Scheme through days. Another type of currency is through catch limits. Determining which currencies to be used is part of the discussion that is going to be done on the allocation in the high seas.
The Tuna Commission will make that decision but it will have to be a decision made by consensus, one of the few areas in the Convention which makes it clear that it cannot go to a vote. So it won’t be an easy discussion because everyone needs to be on board. Allocation is the most difficult question in any fishery. Allocation is not based on historical catch because that works against our membership but based on key criteria like the needs of SIDS, economic dependency of the resource, also that we don’t have much else to draw on. Many of our countries fisheries if the lifeline. For example, Tokelau, up to 98 percent of government revenue is from fisheries and even countries like Tuvalu, 62 percent come from fisheries
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