Tuna Commission fails to deliver on overfishing
The Tuna Commission has come under scrutiny after little progress on saving dwindling tuna stocks at its meeting in Apia last week.
Pacific rim countries have been accused of railroading the interests of smaller island nations at a major meeting last week aimed at protecting the region's tuna stocks.
And NGOs like Greenpeace have slammed the Tuna Commission gathering as a talkfest which achieved little.
Sally Round reports.
The five-day Apia meeting was seen as crucial for managing dwindling stocks but it resulted in no agreement on the Pacific island countries' big ticket proposals to relieve the threat to certain species of tuna. Among measures agreed were new rules to reduce shark by-catch, a step towards rebuilding bluefin stocks and the partial provision of catch information by distant water nations. The Parties to the Nauru Agreement say the interests of Pacific Island countries were railroaded and the largest bloc at the Commission, the Forum Fisheries Agency talked of obstruction, as its deputy director general Wez Norris explains.
WEZ NORRIS: FFA members and PNA members walked in with a range of proposals that we expected co-operation and support on and of course we expected to have to negotiate them forward but what we faced rather was a lack of sense of urgency and a lack of willingness to even engage in the debate that will have pushed these issues forward.
Lagi Toribau of Greenpeace says there was frustration at the narrow-minded concerns of distant water fishing nations like China, Taiwan and Korea which shot down the conservation proposals put up by Pacific Island countries. He says tuna consumers, traders and investors must now step in to make up for the inaction and shun fleets which are exacerbating the plunder of Pacific fisheries.
LAGI TORIBAU: We cannot expect this Tuna Commission to deliver these fisheries out of the doomsday that they're in. I think this is about time that we take extra measures outside of this Commission and that this also extends to consumers. I think that we all fundamentally now have a responsibility to be able to take action to save this fishery.
New Zealand's Ambassador for Pacific Economic Development Shane Jones describes the forces at play in the Commission which involves 40 plus countries and territories co-operating on management of high seas fisheries.
SHANE JONES: You have island nation states and they are absolutely doing a legitimate thing in seeking to expand the revenue from the resources of their region and then you have the international fishing fleet and they are hard-nosed businessmen and businesswomen. For every bit of fish they get they want a good return.
Amanda Nickson of the Pew Charitable Trusts says the lack of agreement was phenomenally disappointing after a year between sessions.
AMANDA NICKSON: It leaves you to wonder how long they're going to wait before they put in place appropriate management action. Are we looking at a situation where they're going to let these other fish stocks get to a severely depleted situation before they take action? Overall it was very disappointing.
But Shane Jones says parties shouldn't expect to strike el Dorado on the basis of one meeting.
SHANE JONES: The commission is a compromise body so that when we do make progress, I know that it doesn't suit the agenda of the environmental advocates and I understand where they're coming from but at the end of the day we are dealing with powerful distant fishing nations including the EU, small island nation states with their neighbours Australia and New Zealand so we have to take the wins as they are presented to us.
Wez Norris of the Forum Fisheries Agency says the critical thing to remember is that the Pacific island countries are developing states.
WEZ NORRIS: For many of them they are almost completely reliant on the resources that we're talking about. So the attitude that exists in other parts of the world where every single player can simply tighten their belt a notch really doesn't apply in the Pacific.
A fisheries scientist with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community John Hampton says Beijing's subsidies to China's fishing fleet hampered sensible decision-making over the need to set catch limits on the albacore fishery.
JOHN HAMPTON: I guess countries in these multilateral fora are always a little bit hesitant to engage about these things with China. They're a very influential country obviously. I guess nobody at this point is prepared to really strongly take them on this regard.
The European Commission was disappointed too saying an opportunity was lost although there were important steps forward like the adoption of a harvest control strategy for Albacore and an agreement to set up a working group on the man-made fish attracting tools known as FADs. But it's hoped new blood at the Tuna Commission and its secretariat will bring better results in future. Feleti Teo who is its new executive director says there needs to be more discussion in the run up to annual sessions.
FELETI TEO: And I think I will encourage more dialogue. More honest and frank dialogue leading up to the commission rather than relying just on the five days that the commission meet at the end of the year and expect everything to be agreed to. Because, obviously there seem to be a vast difference in position and perspective on some of the measures that are being tabled this week.
The new chair of the Tuna Commission, Rhea Ross Christian says it is unacceptable no consensus was reached.
RHENA ROSS CHRISTIAN: I'm not really satisfied with just an agreement to disagree so I am going to be working hard with members to try and get us at least one step forward if not several steps forward. I don't think the [Tuna] Commission should be satisfied with going away and not accomplishing anything, simply because there's disagreement on both sides.
Meanwhile the powerful Parties to the Nauru Agreement bloc of fishing nations in the Pacific says it will just have to work outside the ambit of the Commission to address overfishing. It says its lucrative Vessel Day Scheme where fishing days are auctioned off for thousands of dollars has already proved to be a game changer.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: