Pacific woman at the helm of Tuna Commission grateful to lead the multilateral organisation


By Pita Ligaiula in Da Nang, Vietnam

One of the strong Pacific women leaders in Fisheries says news of her appointment to head the Pacific Tuna Commission (WCPFC) is still sinking in.

Rhea Moss-Christian, told Journalists in Da Nang, she was well prepared when she decided to apply for the position, a multilateral organisation she is no stranger to.

She was the former chair of WCPF and served a two- year terms.

“I’ve always, I think, just been pulled into this work. Because it doesn’t feel like work because I love it so much. So, you know, getting to have this opportunity and to be in this moment. It’s still, it’s still hard for me to put into words, because it just means so much to me. And I did, I started, I decided last year that I was going to apply. And starting in January, I just started taking steps to try and prepare myself for the interview. And for this moment, and I just kept visualising that outcome.

“I started a MBA programme in early 2021, to boost this application, I wanted to show that my learning my education was recent and relevant. This is just all to say that all of these actions and steps I’ve been taking have been to contribute to my chances of getting this position,” said Ross – Christian.

She said her career began when she was only 22 when she was a delegate with the Marshall Islands.

“I started with the negotiating conferences for this convention. They were known as the multilateral high level conferences(HLC). So MHLC two took place in Majuro. And that’s where we adopted the Majuro declaration that would track us through the remaining negotiating conferences. So I went up through MHLC seven, and seven was the concluding conference in Honolulu. I came back into fisheries in 2005.

“So it’s just been it’s been an incredible journey with so many amazing opportunities to do this work from different angles and viewpoints. And up until getting to chair the commission and I’ve been an independent consultant for a couple years now. And so everything is revolving my life is revolving around this work.

Rhea Moss-Christian said as head of the new Tuna Commission she would like to see the secretariat work smarter.

“So this role, the secretariat is very much the foundation of this commission. The Secretariat provides the operational foundation, so that the Commission can carry out its mandate. And the Secretariat has done an incredible job in it’s very young life doing that. And I want to continue that work.

“I also want to bring my own ideas. And in the areas of trying to work smarter work more efficiently, we are getting so busy. There’s so much paper at this meeting, and so many and so many, just really difficult and detailed discussions. And we’re not the best at prioritising in this commission.

“Unfortunately, we talk about it a lot, but we tend to just try to do everything all at once. I would love to see if we could try to do our work in different ways and be a little bit more creative.

“And anytime you have a change in leadership, you have an opportunity to do something different. And I think members are willing and wanting to come with me on that effort and see what we can do together,” she explained.

Rhea Moss-Christian has also refuted media reports alluding to geopolitical impacts on the choice of the vote from 26 member states for her to be appointed to the top job.

“I think it’s really unfortunate framing to be quite honest, I think it’s unfair to both myself and the other candidate that were part of this process. I know that Lara has spent also her career in this space and was a very strong contender. And to put it down to what happened at the Forum, really diminishes what we bring as individuals and what our career has meant to us. And so I was I was quite disappointed to see that framing, especially because that those differences were largely resolved, especially for the Marshall Islands. Well, before this meeting took place.

“It is purely coincidental that there was an RMI and a Cook Islands candidate involved. But the WCPFC is an international organisation, it’s not part of the Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific( CROP) family of organisations. So there’s, there’s a real distinction there.

“I just think that that that sort of framing is is really unfair to us and what we have committed in our careers and what we’ve contributed to this space, and just how deeply, both of us care about this work and wanted to be in this position,” Ross –Christian stressed.

She also praised her rival candidate from Cook Islands Dr Lara Manarangi-Trott.

“I’ve worked with Laura for over 10 years. And I, I watched her go from FFA, to SPC and seeing her contributions over the years to the work of this commission. And it’s been incredible, immense contribution, not just in the compliance space where she’s mainly been working. But just to strengthening the foundation of this commission in terms of its the information that’s come available.

“She’s dealing with a lot of technical issues and a lot of detailed information and managing the Commission’s monitoring programmes. These aren’t easy things to do. And she’s a big part of that development and evolution over the years. And so yeah, I think she’s just had an incredible career. You know it’s tough it’s tough when you have two women going up against each other you know our careers have not been the same or parallel but one similarities well,” said Rhea Ross Christian.

This week’s WCPFC 19 saw many women participating in the meeting and some as head of their delegation- a testament of Pacific women in leadership and empowering women.

“I I feel so lucky and happy that I get to witness the evolution of women involved in this space. Because when I started at the age of 22, I was a novelty, there were very few women in the room. And I was always the youngest in the room at the time. And watching how much this space has grown to be so much more inclusive, is just a really, it’s an incredible moment today and what to look in the room and see that we’re seeing more women than men. In some cases, we’re about to have our third consecutive female chair of this commission.

“I mean, I’m so excited, I get goosebumps. I’m so excited about that. I just think that’s incredible. And I think that women, I don’t like to be too focused on gender. I want to also appreciate what it means for us to break through some barriers. But I think individuals have a lot to do with it as well. But I do and I also do think that we do have different perspectives, you know, men and women and to have the opportunity to share those perspectives, but more importantly for people to be willing to accept and go along with, the new emerging women leadership is really great,” she said.

Rhea Moss Christian also paid tribute to her late mom for her great support as beacon of hope to where she is today.

“My mother is Marshallese and she’s not with us anymore. She passed away about 12 years ago. And, you know, these are my roots.

“My career is rooted as a Marshall Islands delegate in the fisheries space, so I would not have been able to have the success that I’ve had without the support of the Marshall Islands government, not only this year in this bid, but my entire career, just to have the government, my family members just backing me and supporting me and believing in me. I don’t think you can accomplish many things on your own. And so yeah, I am so grateful for the support,” she said with a teary voice.

Meanwhile, the Director General of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Dr Manumatavai Tupou- Roosen has welcomed the news of many Pacific women in leadership role in the region, especially in the fisheries sector.

She also welcomed Rhea Moss-Christian appointment as the new executive director of WCPFC.

Director General of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Dr Manumatavai Tupou- Roosen : Photo: Pita LIGAIULA

“It is very humbling to be in this position and entrusted as Director General. And I look forward to many more women coming into this role, alongside other male leaders.

“It is so encouraging to see that the chair Jungre Riley Kim Riley continues excellent leadership of the commission. As she moves on, there’ll be another great person coming in. So I’m just so proud of all of our women and all of our people. And then also the incoming Executive Director, just so …so proud of her and looking forward to her leadership and stewardship of the commission secretary,” said Dr Tupou –Roosen.

There are three strong Pacific women leading the regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) which includes Dr Sangaa Clark from Kiribati heading Parties to Nauru Agreement (PNA,), Dr Manumatavai Tupou- Roosen from Tonga as Director General (FFA) and incoming executive director of WCPFC, a Marshallese- American, Rhea Moss-Christian.

As the outgoing Chair of WCPFC, Korean Jungre Riley Kim completes her term another woman is expected to take up the role, Niue’s Josie Tamatea.