Islands reject EU proposal for access to fishing trade information

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Denarau, Fiji 9 December 2016: Pacific islands rejected a proposal during this week’s Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission annual meeting in Fiji that would have given distant water fishing fleets an unfair competitive advantage in negotiating fishing access agreements.

   Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) CEO Ludwig Kumoru if the proposal moved forward, it would undermine the commercial interests of member islands. “We have nothing to gain by making trade information available to distant water fishing countries,” he said.

   The proposal was submitted by the European Union as a “conservation and management measure on fisheries access agreements information” to increase transparency of fisheries access agreements. It would have required the filing with the WCPFC of detailed access agreement information by all Commission members that allow foreign-flagged fishing fleets to fish in their waters for species managed by the Commission.

   Solomon Islands head of delegation Farrel Lasi told the WCPFC plenary that Forum Fisheries Agency members did not support the EU proposal, which also had support of the United States.

   Mr. Lasi said FFA members did not object to the proposal because they fear transparency. The islands are already adequately transparent, he said.

   “We provide transparency to the Commission in a number of ways,” he said. “(These include) through the provision of operational data on all the tuna fishing that occurs within our EEZs, through our publicly available laws and harmonized minimum terms and conditions, through practices that do not allow us to license vessels that are not in good standing on the FFA Register and on the WCPFC Record of Fishing Vessels, through sub-regional instruments like the PNA Third Implementing Arrangement, and through other provisions that go above and beyond the level of transparency offered by several other (Commission members).”

   Fundamentally, the proposal “is anti-competitive,” he said. “There is a long history in this region of distant water fishing states using their economic and political powers to protect the commercial interests of their fleets, including colluding to undermine the interests of FFA Small Island Developing States members.”

   He said the consequences of the EU proposal “would strengthen the position of distant water fleets in the process of bidding to secure commercial access to FFA member waters, particularly those of us who have competitive tender processes either in operation or in the process of development.”

   Mr. Kumoru said attempts by distant water fishing nations to gain access to commercial details of fishing day sales by PNA members has been an ongoing issue. In fact, he said, an independent review of PNA’s Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) issued last year said the benefits to PNA members of providing this information to distant water fishing nations “are not obvious.”

   “It appears that VDS partners have little if anything to gain by making trade information available to the distant water fishing companies and nations,” the 2015 VDS review said, adding: “The European Union has a long history of using its powers to protect the commercial interests of its fishing industry in distant waters worldwide.”

   Mr. Kumoru said the PNA, which manages the world’s largest sustainable tuna purse seine fishery supplying 50 percent of the world’s skipjack tuna, sees the proposal submitted to the WCPFC by the EU as “another attempt by distant water fishing nations to promote their commercial interests in our region. The fact is, the call for transparency serves to strengthen the bargaining position of EU fishing companies at our expense.”

   The objection by FFA members to the proposal halted further WCPFC consideration of the EU measure because the Commission operates by consensus.

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