9 Sep 2016

Decision looms in Hawaii on ambitious conservation motion

4:46 pm on 9 September 2016

By Cain Nunns

Decision time is approaching for members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature on a controversial motion on fisheries protection.

Representatives from around 180 countries are meeting at the IUCN's four-yearly summit in Hawaii this week.

Tomorrow they are due to vote on Motion 53 which could potentially close 30% of exclusive economic zones in the Pacific to the wider region's powerful fishing industry, particularly those from Asia.

Large-scale and small-scale fishing in the waters off Madang in Papua New Guinea.

Large-scale and small-scale fishing in the waters off Madang in Papua New Guinea. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

The motion seeks to eliminate harmful human activities in order to help build resilience to climate change, boost fisheries productivity, and help protect traditional cultures closely linked to the sea.

The Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association has raised concern that there has not been enough consultation with governments and industry people over the motion.

However Motion 53 recognises that pollution, over-exploitation, warming, acidification and biodiversity loss are occurring at rapid rates because of human activities which can be reduced.


There is strong scientific evidence supporting full protection of at least 30% of the ocean to reverse those impacts and sustain long-term health.

Pacific tuna industry figures are opposed to Motion 53, warning it would devastate fragile island economies if implemented.

But environmentalists say that Pacific tuna stocks have plummeted to critical levels and rigid conservation efforts need to be undertaken immediately to secure the survival of some species.

The Marshalls fisheries department director Glen Joseph said he is happy to see that the purse seine fishing industry has begun taking action to modify fishing gear to reduce by catch of bigeye tuna. Here, a purse seiner off loads its tuna catch in Majuro.

A purse seiner tranships its bigeye tuna catch in Marshall Islands waters Photo: RNZI / Giff Johnson

"There's already data showing that some species of tuna in particular are in danger of being extinct," said the director-general of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional environment programme, Kosi Latu.

"So it's a balance thing, we're not saying you shouldn't eat fish, it's been part of our diet for many many years, but it's about sustainability and that's the key underpinning principle."

The Pacific Ocean is the world's largest tuna fishing ground, accounting for almost 60 percent of the global catch. But much of that figure comes on the back of collapsed tuna fishing in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

SPREP Director-General, Kosi Latu.

SPREP Director-General, Kosi Latu. Photo: RNZI / Sally Round

Driving the sustainability crisis are the parasitical fishing fleets from Taiwan, Korea, and China which are too large to be economically viable and only manage profitability because of heavy government subsidies from Taipei, Beijing and Seoul.

This is a distinct lack of political will among the fishing nations to do something about it, as was evidenced at another major summit this week in Fukuoka, Japan.

Following several days of talks at the Northern Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission annual conference, distant water fishing nations and Pacific Islands members failed to strike a deal to protect shrinking supplies of Bluefin tuna and adopt cutbacks.

This sparked condemnation from conservationists, with many blaming Japan for blocking the deal.

Japan, which imports about 80% of the global bluefin tuna catch, had suggested introducing cutbacks only if stocks dropped for three years in a row.


The eight-member bloc known as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) has shown in the past six years that Pacific Islands nations can leverage far greater returns from fisheries if they stand together.

They are yet to channel that leveraging power into an outcome for sustainable management of threatened fish stocks, and their fisheries windfall won't last forever.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace pointed to a 2016 report on fish stocks that found that Pacific Bluefin had crashed to only 2.6% of its size following early a century of unchecked overfishing.

For its part, the IUCN said the species had dropped off by up to 33 percent over the past 22 years, as demand for sushi and sashimi skyrocketed.

Pacific Bluefin Tuna

Pacific Bluefin Tuna Photo: Supplied/ aes256 CC BY 2.1 jp

The IUCN's Oceania Regional director, Taholo Kami said an essential discussion about this issue was still needed at the highest levels in the Pacific.

"This is about owning the solution," he explained.

"With the PNA, that's a Pacific owned creative solution and we need more solutions that start to embrace our priorities, our values, and then the long term sustainability of fishing."

This was echoed by the president of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of French Polynesia, Winiki Sage.

"Today Polynesian leaders understand we have to do something because we are not small countries - all those EEZs together to make like a big blue zone all over and it's possible because we have the same culture and we can talk to each other, the same values, Polynesian values."

Greenpeace activists prepare to board illegal fishing vessel Shuen De Ching No 888. The Rainbow Warrior travels in the Pacific to expose out of control tuna fisheries. Tuna fishing has been linked to shark finning, overfishing and human rights abuses.
9 Sep, 2015

Greenpeace activists prepare to board illegal fishing vessel Shuen De Ching No 888. The Rainbow Warrior travels in the Pacific to expose out of control tuna fisheries. Tuna fishing has been linked to shark finning, overfishing and human rights abuses. Photo: Paul Hilton / Greenpeace

While they seek to put some brakes on the overfishing in their ocean, Pacific Islands delegates are also concerned about the need to protect the rights and access of local small-scale fishermen to coastal fisheries.

The tuna industry, and its argument about holding up the economies of small island nations, is not easily dismissed

Although an IUCN motion isn't legally binding in itself, the IUCN does carry a fair amount of weight.

Taholo Kami said there is a new sustainability balance that is urgently required.

"There are areas that need to be shut off, some temporarily, some just to keep the fishery moving," he said.

"The Pacific tuna associations, they come from a tuna perspective and that's one picture, but on the other side in terms of total fisheries it actually makes sense to have management that includes some protection."

Conservationists hope that Motion 53 will pass and will then be taken to the Convention on Biological Diversity review of its Aichi targets later this year.

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