Fisheries and climate change: A Pacific perspective

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By Fatu Tauafiafi

As resource owners of the world’s largest and most valuable tuna fisheries, Pacific members zoomed into the 18th annual Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC18) meeting in December 2021 with the principal objective to pass the tropical tuna measure (TTM).

The TTM is the crown jewels of the WCPFC fisheries, as it establishes the mechanisms and fishing limits for harvesting the tropical tunas (bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin). These tunas accounted for 80% of the total Pacific Ocean catch and 55 percent of the global tuna harvest in 2020.

By taking the TTM position, Pacific negotiators were well aware it meant all other priorities and pieces of work that go into managing the world’s largest tuna fisheries would be pushed forward as work in progress in 2022.

At a pre-WCPFC press conference held on 30 November, the Head of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, fronted a panel with the Pacific’s lead negotiators, with smoke still billowing in the background from burned Chinatown buildings, businesses and a police station in central Honiara.

They admitted their position was not ideal, but the world is not ideal in the era of COVID-19. Their take is that in such a world, the TTM is the best option compared to various scenarios if the Commission failed to agree on a new TTM.

It was therefore not a big surprise when at the end of the 7-day virtual meeting, Pacific negotiators were in a celebratory mood; the Commission had voted unanimously to pass the new TTM. It came into force on 16 February 2022.

But during the emotional applause, came word of more unexpected good news.

The Commission had also endorsed a climate change resolution, tabled by Pacific members, to be included in the TTM preamble. Even though it is non-binding, the resolution strengthens the Pacific members’ positions to negotiate the many thorny issues in the coming years. It formally adds an internationally sanctioned mechanism that:

*maximises their revenue and conservation priorities at WCPFC
*makes them potential recipients to adaptation and mitigation funding, and
*entitles them to potential recompense in the ‘Loss and Damage’ and climate justice negotiations at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks.

If the Paris Agreement talks continue to underwhelm, the TTM can be used as a regional negotiations framework to maintain the current fisheries economy of tuna-dependent Pacific countries in a climate change influenced world. This is covered in more detail later in the article.

Tuna is a species that roam throughout the world’s oceans. For thousands of years they have become a familiar feature in many different cultures and livelihoods, their image stamped on ancient coins and their stories incorporated into music and art. Tuna are often central characters in Pacific proverbs, cultural references, and legends carrying traditional knowledge from generation to generation (like the story of how the skipjack came to Tonga from Samoa in the legend of Hina and Nganatatafu).

Tuna numbers – unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic – have become even more valuable as one of the world’s most sought-after and staple food source. Its industry monikers (the ‘billion dollars’ fish and the ‘oil of the sea’) well earned.

In 2018, before the onset of the pandemic, tuna brought in US$40.8 billion globally. Of that total, US$26.2 billion came from tuna caught in the waters of Pacific island countries, their dock value US$7.1 billion according to Netting Billions 2020: A Global Tuna Valuation, a report by United States-based research group The Pew Charitable Trusts.

In 2020, the dock value of Pacific-caught tuna had declined to US$4.9 billion; this was driven by a 20% drop in the longline fishery, primarily due to COVID-19 mitigation measures.

On the socio-economic front, tuna fisheries support 260 million jobs in more than 70 countries. For the Pacific, it translates to jobs for more than 20,000 people, and significant revenue for 22 Pacific island countries and territories (PICTs).

In fact, ten of these PICTs have been labelled tuna-dependent by a Johann Bell-led analysis published by Nature journal last year, Pathways to sustaining tuna-dependent Pacific Island economies during climate change. Five of the PICTs: Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, and Tokelau are highly dependent, deriving 47–83% of their national income directly from tuna fishing licenses and access fees.

Average annual tuna-fishing access fees (US$) for the period 2015−2018 earned by the ten tuna-dependent Pacific SIDS, and the average contribution (%) of access fees to total government revenue (excluding grants). Image: Tuna-dependent economies and climate change, in Nature Sustainability, 4(10), October 2021.

PNA plus Tokelau

The 8-member ‘Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) plus Tokelau’ bloc is a special case. Their combined 14.3 million square kilometres of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) are home to the largest sustainable tuna purse-seine fishery in the world. An estimated 80–90% of the purse-seine harvest in the Pacific comes from their EEZs. Their approach is also a special case – likened to an OPEC-type cartel for tuna-producing countries of the Pacific – and it works splendidly.

The PNA Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) system brings in an estimated US$500 million annually, and prevents the overfishing that blights other regions by forcing foreign fishing fleets from nations like Japan, Korea and the U.S to pay for access to their waters. And on top of that, to abide by the rules and regulations they have set in order to maintain the health of their tuna stock.

Many of the PNA’s conservation measures are world firsts; high seas closures to fishing, controls on Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs), protection for whale sharks, and the 100% observer coverage for purse-seine fishing vessels (currently suspended because of COVID-19). No dolphins are caught in PNA waters and the PNA is actively involved in limiting bycatch of other species.

In 2011, PNA skipjack tuna (caught without FADs) was certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), creating the world’s largest sustainable tuna purse-seine fishery.

But despite the achievements and power of the Pacific’s fishing nations, they can all be undermined by the threat of climate change.

Rating the climate change risk

Conservation International’s Senior Director of Tuna Fisheries, Dr Johann Bell, told this writer in a 2019 interview that the risk posed by high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to Pacific tuna-dependent economies is “substantial”.

Two years later Dr Bell, commenting on their recent analysis, said, “although considerable uncertainty remains, our modelling provides sufficient information to indicate that it is not a question of if tuna biomass will shift from the combined EEZs of the ten Pacific SIDS but when, how quickly and to what extent.”

The modelling found that such a redistribution of tuna could cut the average catch by 20% in 10 PICTs, from Palau in the west to Kiribati in the east. With the exception of the Cook Islands, nine of these countries form the ‘PNA plus Tokelau’ bloc.

If the analysis by Dr Bell’s team turns out to be accurate, then catch reductions of the stated magnitude could result in a collective loss of US$140 million per year by 2050 and cost a number of PICTs up to 17% of their annual government revenue.

Also of concern is the larger proportion of the harvest expected to be made on the high seas. That scenario will mean a larger percentage of the stock has fallen outside of PNA’s world-leading management jurisdiction, jeopardising the health of the stock.

But now, these risks and vulnerabilities could be mitigated by the passage of two climate change resolutions that can help build climate resilience into the fisheries.

Climate resolutions part 1: Tokelau and the first steps

The architect and driver of the 2021 resolution was Tokelau – the ‘plus’ that boosts the fisheries clout of PNA.

Fisheries advisor, Stan Crothers, speaking for both Tokelau and PNA, recalled it was around seven to eight years ago that Tokelau fisheries officials began talking about the dangers of climate change to the region’s fisheries.

Back then, “our fisheries people were saying, ‘It [climate change] has nothing to do with us’,” Mr Crothers said in a Zoom interview at the end of December 2021. “That is done by other departments.”

But Crothers and Tokelau’s director for fisheries, Feleti Tulafono, took their cue from Tokelau’s fisheries minister, Mose Pelasio, who was persistent in raising the issue of climate justice with his fellow ministers.

“I recall Mohe talking to some of his ministerial colleagues and making the point that fisheries are important, and are going to be negatively impacted by climate change. At the time it was becoming clearer from the science that probably Tokelau’s fisheries revenues will drop by 20 per cent over the next 25 years,” said Crothers.

“He would tell ministers that the projected drop in revenue would be caused by the actions of others. And it follows that if they caused the damage then they caused the loss. His point was in cases such as these, what normally happens is they [the perpetrator] compensate you [the victim] for the damage they caused to your property.

“So we have taken that as a cue from our minister, and making it clear that climate change is an important issue for us.”

Climate justice

Dr Bell supported the position in the 2021 Nature study. “This is a climate justice issue. Pacific Island states charge access fees to other countries that catch tuna in their jurisdictions. But as the tuna move progressively to high-seas areas, the revenues will decline because less fishing will occur in their waters – and tuna-dependent economies will suffer.”

The Director-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), when asked about the “climate justice issue”, was very clear in her reply.

“Absolutely, we recognize that our small island countries did not create these climate change impacts that we are facing today. But we are bearing the brunt of it,” Dr Tupou-Roosen told a post-WCPFC18 zoom media conference.

The agency provides advice, technical assistance and other services to help drive agreement amongst FFA members on proposed measures to be negotiated within the WCPFC each year.

“We are at the forefront of this climate change challenge, especially for our low-lying atoll countries. And so it is absolutely critical when we look at the importance of the ocean to us, the importance of tuna fisheries, the importance of our identity in our countries, that all of that is interlinked,” she said.

“And how do we tackle that from our FFA perspective? Our ministers have highlighted how important it is. And that we continue to work on understanding well those impacts and how exactly we respond to that.”

The response facilitated by FFA and PNA has been swift and emphatic.

In 2018, Pacific Forum Leaders highlighted climate change as the greatest threat to the region. It wasn’t the first time they stated this position, but it was the first time they emphasised it from an offshore fisheries perspective; that climate change would affect the growth and migration of tuna, which would, in turn, affect fishing catch and revenues.

It is quite an achievement that in the world’s most powerful Tuna Commission (one that includes superpowers China and the US) Pacific members have, in the space of just three years (2019–2021), pushed through two climate change resolutions to an international convention.

Climate resolutions part 2: the need for science

The 2021 climate change resolution is specific to the tropical tuna measure.

The TTM is huge and complex. It covers, but is not limited to:

*technical and management parameters ranging from the spawning biomass depletion ratio
*target reference points
* the closure of FADs
*management conditions
*controls on fishing effort in the high seas
*and the use of biodegradable FAD materials.

It recognises that climate change has particularly negative impacts on SIDS, and therefore requires the application of the precautionary approach. It also compels the Commission to assess the impacts of fishing, other human activities and environmental factors on target stocks, non-target species, species in the same ecosystem, or species that depend upon target stocks.

While in 2019, Pacific members successfully pushed through the historic climate change resolution adopted by the 16th WCPFC meeting in Papua New Guinea. This resolution embeds climate change into all the conservation and management measures, as well as all other workings of the Commission, including scientific research.

On the day the 2019 resolution was passed, the writer and colleague, Bernadette Carreon from Palau, were granted an interview with Dr Bell. According to him, one of the key reasons the resolution was a landmark achievement for Pacific members was that “it promotes the need for more science”. Dr Bell said it wasn’t the science and the model that’s used to detect the effect of climate change (SEAPODYM) that need to be changed, but the way the model is applied.

At the moment, the model is being applied as “if each [tuna] species forms a big mixed stock across the whole region,” he added. However, new information out of the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) suggests that may not be the case. “It’s very unlikely that there’s one big mixed stock,” said Dr Bell.

“So our first job with the new science is to identify how many stocks there are, what area they are covering, and what is the size of the stock, how many fish are in it. And then we need to model how each stock is going to respond to climate change.”

This will be difficult. With the stocks occurring in different parts of the ocean, and different parts of the ocean responding differently to climate change, Dr Bell expects that “it will be a real jigsaw puzzle”.

Currently, that’s a task too large for scientists advising Pacific countries with very big EEZs; if they have two or three stocks represented in their EEZ, then the information is just not there. In that scenario “telling them how much tuna they are likely to have in the future is a matter of integrating the information for those different stocks as they respond in the way they are modelled to climate change.

“So it is really important to get this information because obviously, countries are concerned. They have got the message that climate change can change the distribution of the fish – that is almost certainly true. But we don’t know enough about how that’s going to play out.”

In order to get the information, a multi-disciplinary team will be needed to:

*Identify the spatial stock structure, i.e., number of self-replenishing populations (hereafter ‘stocks’), for each species of tuna
*Model the response of each stock under high and low GHG emission scenarios, and
*Compile integrated maps of the expected redistribution of each tuna species under both GHG emissions scenarios.

This highlights the importance of the 2019 resolution. Take, for instance, clause 2 which resolves to:

“Support further development of science on the relationship between climate change and target stocks non-target species, and species belonging to the same ecosystem or dependent on or associated with the target stocks, as well as interrelationships with other factors that affect these stocks and species, and estimates of the associated uncertainties.”

This clause enables the WCPFC to consider changing the way the modelling is applied. A move, according to Dr Bell, that will remove many of the uncertainties and allow scientists to confidently “know how much fish may be moving” eastward and out of the EEZs to the high seas.

For the ordinary Pacific weaver, planter and fisher, this should be a major concern. Many Pacific countries not only earn significant revenue from tuna but also, with fish stock numbers declining in their territorial waters, tuna is becoming an important component of their food security equation.

So far, scientists have not been able to predict with certainty where and how the new, climate change-driven distribution of tuna stocks will play out.

And that is the billion-dollar question, whose answer will allow some Pacific governments to capitalize on more tuna in their waters. But this is more than just about cash.

For countries that benefit, it is also about the changing nature of food security and population growth. Climate change’s negative impacts on coral reefs have shaken the assumption that territorial waters can sustain traditional ways of life and livelihoods. Four members of the PNA (Vanuatu, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea) now lead a booming regional population growth that is estimated to increase by more than 60% by 2050 (since 2014). When coupled with the general lack of land and infrastructure for alternative food sources, such as animal husbandry and crops, this will increase the reliance on tuna as their main protein source and demand for employment.

“None of us yet can put our hand on heart and make strong recommendations to governments to spend millions or tens of millions of dollars making investments to capitalize on more tuna in their waters, without being more certain about what climate change is going to do to the distribution of each stock,” said Dr Bell.

It is why the resolution was also strategic, added Dr Bell. It brings home the point raised by Hon. Mohe Pelasio and his Tokelau officials, that climate justice is a critical issue.

That Pacific countries will be “getting less revenue, through no fault of their own, because they haven’t made many of the emissions. And the distant water fishing nations which belong to the countries that have created many of the emissions, if they are catching more of their tuna on the high seas, and at lower cost, then they are the winners. And the tuna dependent economies like Tokelau are the losers. That is an unjust situation,” said Dr Bell.

For Pacific countries to negotiate climate justice, they need science-based evidence and data. This is another point where the climate change resolutions can play a pivotal role.

“To me the real challenge is, what do we need to do to make sure that the present-day benefits that Pacific countries receive from their tuna are maintained, regardless of where the tuna are redistributed due to climate change?” said Dr Bell.

Gulf of Alaska science showing the way: anticipating and adapting to climate change

The Gulf of Alaska’s diverse marine fisheries produce US$1.3–US$2.1 billion annually; first in wholesale value, and by sustaining important recreational and subsistence users. The system supports the largest fishery (Alaska pollock) in the United States of America and has, over the last three decades, sustained high yields despite considerable environmental variability and with few instances of overfishing.

However, concern over expected large changes in climate in the coming decades called for a response to future-proof, not just the Gulf’s fisheries economies, but also the societies that depend on them to make them more resilient.

Some of these challenges include: finding resilience with warming ocean waters; ocean acidification issues; rising sea levels; changes in ocean circulation and stratification; and potential changes in species distributions, ecosystem productivity and food-web structure.

These challenges led to the 2020 roll-out of a three-year study; the Gulf of Alaska climate integrated modelling socioeconomics: From climate to communities’ study is a multi-disciplinary modelling effort that applies a regional lens to global climate models.

Led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it aims to model projected impacts of greenhouse gas emissions scenarios on Gulf fisheries.

The study aims to answer three basic questions:

*How will fishing fleets respond to climate change?
*How will those responses affect fishing communities?
*What tools do stakeholders have and need to adapt to these challenges?

The team of economists and social scientists at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, the University of Washington and Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission plan to develop interrelated models to address these questions.

The principal objective for the scientists involved is to provide resource managers with insights about the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems and dependent communities, judge the effectiveness of existing fisheries management measures, and create adaptive tools to help them plan for the future.

Although the focus of the Gulf of Alaska modelling study is slightly different to that advocated by Dr Bell for the WCPFC fisheries, the two key reasons behind them are parallel: how best to anticipate and mitigate climate change impacts, and how best to forecast and adapt to climate change.

The Gulf of Alaska work shows the two climate change resolutions endorsed by the WCPFC have the potential to develop, for instance, a kind of early warning system for scientists to confidently forecast what could happen to the biomass of tuna in Pacific EEZs and the high seas.

Increased tuna biomass in the high seas will also need to be considered in the application of the new treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ Agreement) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Although the BBNJ Agreement has been designed to avoid undermining existing governance regimes on the high seas, questions remain regarding fisheries management and their interactions with area-based management, transfer of technology and capacity building.

But getting the modelling right and predictive systems in place succeeds only in providing better advice to adapt or mitigate climate change impacts. It would be much more effective if, in the first place, tuna habitats remained where they are, as they have for millennia, because there are no dangerous GHG emissions.

But it is what it is. The solutions to climate change require a united global undertaking to readjust and balance the complex interplay between biological and socio-economic systems.

Yet in simple terms, reducing GHG emissions to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C by the end of the century is the best part-of-the-way to the answer, not only to minimize impacts for tuna-dependent economies, but to the survival of the human species.

In August 2021, NOAA estimated that global temperatures have, on average, risen by 1.19°C since the pre-industrial period (1880–1900).

So where in this greenhouse gas-driven world is the Pacific voice? What has it been saying? How loud, and is anyone of note listening?

Pacific canaries: 29 years of the climate change song

One of the global defining images of 2021 was Tuvalu Foreign Affairs minister, Simon Kofe, delivering his country’s message to the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UNFCCC in Scotland, November last year.

The significance of the image was that, via the power of technology, world leaders gathered in Glasgow were connected live to Kofe, standing knee-deep in seawater some 14,500 kilometres away, on a place in Tuvalu that, 29 years ago, was dry land.

The image captured the reality of human-induced climate change in place – over time and weather conditions – highlighting two things.

First, it showed that over a period of 29 years, Pacific SIDS have been canaries in the climate change coal mine, calling out the existential threat it posed to their nations and existence. Secondly, the image provided hard evidence that the gas levels in the coal mine have risen to beyond extremely dangerous levels – that the time for action has passed.

Twenty-nine years before Kofe’s address, Pacific Forum leaders composed a song for a United Nations gathering in Brazil 1992, the occasion the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change opened for signature. Their chorus, “global warming and sea-level rise are the most serious threats to the Pacific region”.

The lyrics of that 1992 song is as prophetic today as it was unheeded by global leaders then:

“The Forum noted however that, according to the latest advice from the IPCC (the scientific body set up to advise the negotiations of the Convention) the commitments contained in the Framework Convention would not be sufficient to arrest the threat of global warming.

“Therefore the Forum also urged the early commencement of negotiations of protocols to implement and elaborate the Convention, consistent with its objective of ‘stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to a level which would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’ (Article 2).

“These protocols should address, in particular, the issue of targets and timetables for the reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions and give effect to the other elements of the Convention.”

It took 21 years for the UNFCCC to finally take the warnings seriously and effect a response when the conference of the parties passed the Paris Treaty in 2015. Although just 12 months later a melancholy note pitched in when President Trump won the White House, the Pacific song nevertheless remained hopeful as the next generation of Pacific leaders evolved in tandem with climate change impacts manifesting daily in the lives of their peoples. Their message stayed the same reflecting an unbowed spirit – ‘We are not drowning. We are fighting’.

And so there he was, wearing his ‘sulu’, hands on a podium with 29 years’ worth of sea-level pumped up to his knees by rich industrial nations’ fossil fuel-powered lifestyles, and a sea littered with broken remedial promises.

He repeated the canary’s song of his forefathers calling out world leaders and major greenhouse gas emitters to do the right thing: “Save Tuvalu; save the world.”

Implicit in Kofe’s message is concern about the projected negative influence of climate change on Tuvalu and the wider region’s fisheries. The fact that more than 50% of his government’s annual budget comes from fisheries access fees speaks to the nationwide significance of climate change.

If projected climate change impacts on Tuvalu’s fisheries revenue come to pass, it will be a national crisis. If their fisheries fail, their economy fails. It is the same song-sheet for at least nine others of the 22 PICTs of the region.

Did Kofe’s message resonate at COP26 in Glasgow? Did it make a difference? What came out of the meeting and the Pacific’s summation of it?

Before COP26, the world was on track to heat up by 2.7℃ by the end of the century. Now, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that, even if countries actually follow through on the new commitments announced at COP26, global warming could be limited to 2.4℃ by 2100, that is, it will still shoot way past the 1.5℃ goal of the Paris Agreement.

In summary then, the new COP26 deal falls short of the meeting’s objectives which were:

*to keep alive the hope of limiting human-caused global warming to 1.5℃
*to set more ambitious goals to cut emissions, adapt to climate change
*to provide aid to developing countries suffering the worst climate impacts.

And as pointed out by various media, the agreement is still unclear on how much and how quickly each nation should cut its emissions. It does not provide a clear plan to limit warming to 1.5℃, or even 2℃, and critics say it does not do enough to help vulnerable countries.

But while commitments fell short, every nation agreed to return to COP27 in Cairo with more aggressive goals, keeping the 1.5℃ goal alive – by a thread at least.

Out of the summit, the most insightful comments from the Pacific came from two women negotiators, Galumalemana Anne Rasmussen and Tina Stege, Climate Envoy for the Marshall Islands. Both echoing the Pacific’s ‘profound disappointment’.

Galumalemana, the SIDS representative to the COP bureau, said the Pacific can only do so much. “The Alliance of Small Island States and Pacific SIDS really pushed hard, everyone engaged, but unfortunately it is always up to the developed and rich to determine the fate and direction of these pledges and outcomes.”

If there is a hint of cynicism in Galumalemana’s statement, it’s understandable. More than 10 years ago, rich countries promised to mobilize US$100 billion annually by 2020 to help developing countries transition to renewable energy and prepare for the effects of climate change. That promise was not fulfilled and still isn’t. And despite past commitments from governments and businesses, emissions are still rising.

Climate activist Vanessa Nakate speaking on the penultimate day of COP26 was more direct, voicing scepticism about the ability or willingness of those making pledges to implement them: “We don’t believe you…but I am here to say, prove us wrong.”

Instead, a mere three months later she was proven correct.

On 11 February 2022, Bloomberg News declared: “Turns out the world was right to be sceptical.” Governments’ “Great Climate Backslide” has begun, with Bloomberg detailing how, in the United States, China, Europe, India, and Japan, fossil fuels are making a comeback. That is even without factoring in recent news of big banks multi-billion-dollar funding to new oil and gas – despite net zero pledges.

Future outlook

With consistently underwhelming progress on Pacific priorities at the UN’s climate talks, Pacific leaders have called on more regional effort to build resilience and strengthen recovery in the fisheries sector. Key amongst the list of three priorities at the 2021 Regional Fisheries Ministers Meeting was “addressing the impact of climate change across the fisheries sector”.

At the same time, international media coverage focusing on the climate change risk to Pacific fisheries have become more frequent.

Regular features of today’s feeds are headlines such as: Warming oceans expected to ruin Pacific tuna industry; Pathways to sustaining tuna-dependent Pacific Island economies during climate change; or Shifting tuna populations could trigger ‘climate justice issues’: study.

The thing with increased coverage and information is that it is the start of a reservoir; collecting a plethora of thoughts, innovative ideas and outlier suggestions from which can emerge potential and possible solutions.

One possible solution worthy of discussion is detailed by the Dr Bell-led 2021 analysis. It provides an alternative regional negotiations pathway that predicts whether Pacific tuna economies can be sustained at current levels if there is a lack of progress in the Paris Agreement.

It involves negotiations through the WCPFC convention by using conservation management measures as the negotiations framework, guided by the WCPFC 2019 climate change resolution.

“If there is inadequate progress in attaining the goals of the Paris Agreement then negotiations through the WCPFC Convention enable Pacific SIDS to retain the socioeconomic benefits they now receive from tuna, regardless of climate-driven redistribution of the fish.

“And that is possible because it is based on the important principles of international cooperation and long-term sustainability established under the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement. Such negotiations should recognise the injustice of climate-driven tuna redistribution for Pacific SIDS, be guided by WCPFC Resolution 2019-01 on Climate Change and consider conferring more responsibility for management of tuna in high-seas areas of the WCPO to Pacific SIDS.

“A WCPFC member (South Korea) has already suggested exploring the possibility of making PNA vessel days transferable to high-seas areas, under present-day conditions when fish are more abundant there, in ways that do not jeopardize the sovereign rights or aspirations of PNA members. Such an arrangement could lay the foundation for enabling distant water fishing fleets to continue paying revenue to PNA members for access to their EEZs but use the vessel days to fish on the high seas when catch rates are better there.

“It is a prime example of a possible equitable solution within the ‘negotiation’ pathway.”

At the pre-WCPFC18 press conference in Honiara, smoke still billowing in the distance, Dr Tupou-Roosen was joined by the Immediate Past Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC), FSM’s Mathew Chigiyal.

Chigiyal was asked about the climate change issue. He responded: “on climate change, I think in terms of fish we have done well.”

Chigiyal’s “done well” describes raising the link between climate change impacts and fisheries to the relevant officials that deal with climate change negotiations.

“Instead of just speaking amongst ourselves within the fisheries sector… but to also enlighten those that represent us into the right forum, to ensure that the impacts of climate change on fishery is actually a discussion within the climate change forum,” he added.

A list of queries was sent in December 2021 to the Pacific’s climate change lead agency, the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP), seeking comments on the endorsed WCPFC climate change resolutions; and if fisheries are part of the discussion on climate justice, loss and damage within the climate change forum. Three months later, still no reply.

It is ironic, but perhaps it could be worthwhile for climate change officials to look at promoting the Pacific’s climate change positions through the fisheries forum – results there have been reported to be achieved at warp speed in comparison.

Fatu Tauafiafi is Based in Wellington where he operates his Pacific Guardians news hub as well as his media consultancy work, Lealaiauloto Aigaletaulealea Fatu Tauafiafi, or Fatu for short, is from Samoa. He is a former regional communication head for SPREP, and founding publisher of the former Tapu Magazine

SOURCE: TUNA PACIFIC/PACNEWS