8 Aug 2013

Demand for sustainably caught tuna could increase Pacific-owned fisheries

5:14 pm on 8 August 2013

A new study says international consumer support for sustainably caught tuna could support Pacific nations moving towards a more locally owned and operated fishery.

The report is a collaborative effort between academic experts, tuna fisheries practitioners and Greenpeace.

The lead author of the report, Dr Kate Barclay from Sydney's University of Technology, researches the sociology of fisheries and she believes it's time to move away from solely relying on large-scale foreign fishing of the tuna resource. She spoke to Philippa Tolley.

KATE BARCLAY: It's been difficult for Pacific Islanders to be involved at all levels. So when there's been processing onshore in Pacific Island countries like Solomon Islands and Fiji and, in the last decade or so, in Papua New Guinea, certainly people have been working, Pacific Islanders have been working, in the factories. But many of the big boats that work offshore, Pacific Islanders don't work much on the boats. Generally, in most countries, there's limited involvement even at a worker level, and certainly in management or ownership, those kinds of levels, there's been very little Pacific Islander involvement. And it's partly because of the very scale of those operations of the large vessels. They're a huge investment and they require huge reserves of capital and they're generally transnational in the scale of operations. So in Pacific Island countries where there's a fairly small group of people involved in running businesses anyway, they need to start off in something smaller. At the moment it looks more feasible. People have been talking about this idea for a long time and it hasn't got off the ground for a range of reasons. It's certainly not an easy thing just to suggest that Pacific Islanders, if they want to, they can just do this. It's not that easy. At the moment, with demand for ethically sourced tuna seemingly commercially significant in some of the big markets round the world at the moment, there seems to be more opportunity for that, and the price has also been good enough to make it less difficult to get into fishing and make a profit out of it than it has been perhaps 10 or 15 years ago.

PHILIPPA TOLLEY: Because that has been the issue, hasn't it? There have been some spectacular failures when people have tried to establish more of the industry based in their islands. It's just has needed that economy of scale which has been provided by outside fishers. So the change here is that the markets are prepared to pay the premium for an ethically fished product.

KATE BARCLAY: That's an important thing in the current situation, the price premium that seems to be there at the moment. Another point is, yes, it's certainly very important to learn from those examples in the past, which tend mostly to have been government-owned. Whatever happens in this space needs to happen bearing in mind lessons from those past efforts.