9 Oct 2012

Pacific Islands start to take ownership of important fishery resource

8:51 pm on 9 October 2012

Calls for Pacific islands to take more ownership of their significant fishery resources have begun translating into action.

With some recent reports showing 87 percent of global fish stocks are fully or over-exploited, the Pacific is viewed as one of the last regions with plentiful stocks of in-demand species like tuna.

However, as Johnny Blades reports, few regions have such little control on management of their fish stocks:

It's been described as one of the great heists of our time - the relentless plundering of the ocean's fish stocks through illegal fishing.

Palau's representative at the United Nations, Stuart Beck, says that global fisheries should be accountable.

"Global fisheries must be fair. If distant water vessels wish to come for fish that traverse Palau's waters, then they should respect our laws. Second, global fisheries should be sustainable. We should use every means at our disposal to achieve stocks levels that will ensure healthy fisheries for the long term."

New Zealand's government has estimated that Pacific countries lose - conservatively - upward of US$100 million a year to illegal fishing.

Papua New Guinea, whose waters are said to have more than 20 percent of the world's tuna stock, is failing to cash in adequately on a fishery, valued at US$2 billion a year.

The Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna also raised the issue at the recent Pacific Islands Forum leaders summit.

We don't have enough information to quantify just how much fish is being taken away through illegal fishing activities. But it is a concern that leaders have discussed at length because we need all the help we can have in addition to the help from our partners Australia and New Zealand to carry out surveillance of our exclusive economic zones.

Pacific islands lack the resources to fully monitor their waters, and foreign fleets can easily circumvent the rules by methods such as trans-shipment of catch before they reach the ports.

But the eight Pacific countries who make up the Parties to the Nauru Agreement have taken a united position when dealing with distant fishing nations.

The PNA's success in boosting the revenue from fisheries, for example by raising vessel day fees considerably, is seen as integral work by the Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak:

The PNA is very important for small countries here in the Pacific and we've worked hard to try to protect the resource, the only valuable resource we have at this time, and we'll continue to do that.

Until recently few Pacific countries seemed to have thought that fish caught in the islands should be processed in the islands.

Now, the owner of one of American Samoa's tuna canneries, has proposed the territory become the regional hub for fish processing.

Tri Marine International's managing director, Joe Hamby, says unlike American Samoa, many Pacific islands lack the land mass, population and infrastructure for processing.

So if they can allow American Samoa to be the regional hub where their fish is processed and where they can have people in American Samoa, have their fisheries people in American Samoa to be able to see what fish is being caught. Say, for example in Tuvalu, their scientists can be here, they can measure the tuna, they can monitor what's going on. They have a thing called monitoring, surveillance and control, that's good fishery management, you need that.

PNG is also looking to develop ports in Madang and Lae as a regional processing hub.

As to how many regional hubs can exist is unclear, but co-operation between the island countries is vital if they are to take ownership of their vast fishery resources.