Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna says the Pacific needs to move away from the heavy reliance on access revenues and move towards diversifying and future proofing the Tuna industry.

In his keynote address Wednesday at the two days Pacific Tuna Forum in Port Moresby, Puna believes that the future of prosperity lies in our ocean – its fishery and its resources.

“Some of you in this room are both partners or competitors, likely both, in the race to innovate and leverage our current capabilities to identify new streams and sources of financing using our fisheries resources.

“Tuna is the blue-gold of the blue Pacific.

“This shared resource has also demonstrated the value of collective strength, ensuring Western and Central Pacific Ocean has the healthiest tuna stocks of all the RFMOs.

“It is a resource too big for one country to handle alone.

“Working together can go beyond just managing this valuable resource, and the work of partners such as FFA, SPC, PNA alongside our Pacific nations and at the WCPFC level can only benefit the continued partnerships and participation for its sustainable development.

“Given its abundance and significant social and economic value, our tuna has attracted the attention of the world, making the need for sustainable management of tuna stocks even more crucial,” Puna emphasised.

He said the challenges the region face for sustainability are well known to this industry and are lived realities for the Pacific nations who manage the Blue Pacific tuna fishery.

“Today, I would like to focus on three (3) of the most complex of those challenges, which demand the strongest level of collective action, being:

(i) illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing;
(ii) the impacts of climate change on fish stocks; and
(iii) the flow-on impacts on trade and market dynamics.

He commended the regional agencies who work to ensure that the tuna stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean are in good health.

“But we must not be complacent. We lose too much revenue through IUU fishing, and we need to invest in innovative technologies to curb this issue.

“I therefore encourage all Members of the World Trade Organisation to undertake the necessary domestic processes to ratify and accede to the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement as soon as practical, including the FAO Agreement Port States Measures to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing.

“Second, the impacts of climate change pose unprecedented threats to our marine ecosystems. The risks posed by climate variations through the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events will significantly affect tuna stock movement and redistribution, fishing operations and economic returns for tuna-dependent Pacific Island countries,” said Puna.

Photo: SPC

He said scientific studies show significant economic losses for many Pacific Island economies.

“It is estimated by one such study that by 2050, Papua New Guinea’s catch will decline by 37 percent, its revenue will decline by 0.9 percent and a decrease in value by US$47.7 million.

“For the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) that rely on the purse seine vessel day scheme, the redistribution of tuna stocks caused by climate variation will be significant. It is estimated by another similar study that the average annual loss in regional tuna-fishing access fees of US$90 million and reductions in government revenue of up to 13 percent for some Pacific Island economies.

“Third, market dynamics and consumer preferences are also rapidly evolving, requiring us to adapt, to innovate and to respond to market signals. Market driven schemes such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) are already having an impact in shaping tropical tuna measures in our region,” Puna explained.

He said tuna, a highly migratory species that knows no boundaries, connects us in ways that transcend geography.

“It is a prized resource of immense value and serves as a common thread binding our island nation’s social fabric and economic development aspirations.

“The story of the tuna Industry and what it has meant for many of our Pacific nations is a story well-known.

“For many Pacific nations, tuna revenues fund roads, schools, hospitals, sovereign wealth, and jobs. For smaller tuna-dependent Pacific Island countries such as Kiribati, Tokelau and Tuvalu, the contribution of access and license fees as percentage of government revenue is at a combined averaged of 70 percent in 2019 on average. Individually, revenue from tuna make up 68 percent, 57 percent and 81 percent of government revenue in 2019 for Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Tokelau respectively,” Puna said.

‘Let us commit to enhanced regional cooperation through good governance and ocean management to combat and deter IUU fishing; to mitigate and adopt measures to address the challenges of climate change; and respond to the prevailing tuna trade and market dynamics through sound investments and trade practices, he said.

“The Tuna Forum provides us with a platform to forge a united front, demonstrating to the world our commitment to safeguarding the Blue Pacific’s most valuable resource. Together, we can ensure that the Blue Pacific remains a beacon of sustainable tuna management and a shining example of regional cooperation,” said SG Puna.