Majuro, Marshall Islands 24 June 2017: Pacific tuna resource owners concluded their annual meeting Friday in the Marshall Islands by sending a strong message of their commitment to conserving and managing tuna resources, while increasing economic benefits for the nine islands in the western and central Pacific that use the globally-recognized “Vessel Day Scheme” (VDS) to manage their fishery.

   Ministers from the eight Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) members — Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau — and Tokelau recognized the successful implementation of the purse seine VDS, the development of the longline VDS and the progress in branding and vertical integration through the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the Pacifical marketing joint venture. 

   At the outset of the three-day meeting Kiribati Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development Tetabo Nakara handed over chairmanship of the PNA to his counterpart from the Marshall Islands, Minister of Resources and Development Alfred Alfred, Jr. The ministers thanked both new CEO Ludwig Kumoru and outgoing CEO Dr. Transform Aqorau for their work in furthering effective resource management and business initiatives of the PNA.

   Following Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine’s announcement at the opening of the 12th PNA Ministerial Meeting Wednesday of the Marshall Islands intention to build a new facility for the PNA Office in Majuro, ministers agreed to the plan, and committed to share the financing of the building.

   In addition, PNA called on members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to work with them on adopting a new conservation measure at the December annual meeting that will sustain tuna resources going forward, expressed concern about the delay in a scheduled payment by the United States government for fisheries access of its purse seine fleet, and set the “Total Allowed Effort” — the number of fishing days annually allowed for purse seine fishing 2017-2019 — as well as the “Parties Allowed Effort” — the division of the TAE for each of the nine islands implementing the VDS.

   Among key developments at this week’s annual PNA Ministers meeting:

   • A stock report on skipjack tuna, the primary target species for purse seiners, showed that this important stock is being maintained around the Target Reference Point, meaning skipjack is being fished at sustainable levels. Because fishing for tropical tuna stocks occurs mainly in the waters of the PNA and other Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) members, PNA Ministers called on other Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) members to work with the PNA and the other FFA Members to ensure the long term conservation and management of those stocks in ways that recognize the special requirements of Small Island Developing States that are highly dependent on these stocks, and do not transfer a disproportionate burden of conservation action onto SIDS in accordance with WCPFC Conservation and Management Measures 2013-06 and 2013-07.

   • Ministers expressed concern about the overfished status of bigeye tuna, which is important for the longline fishery, and called for the adoption of measures at the WCPFC meeting later this year to rebuild the bigeye stock within the agreed time frame of ten years.

   • From PNA business initiatives to date, the ministers see there is great scope for increasing benefits from PNA tuna resources. This includes such initiatives as having more of the tuna catch within PNA waters processed in PNA onshore facilities, and the PNA’s small scale tuna canning training and technical assistance program to members that is increasing food self-sufficiency through development of small and medium sized local enterprises.

   • Ministers viewed reports on trends in tuna catches in PNA waters, which confirm that the VDS is effectively controlling the number of purse seine vessels while promoting growth in domestic fleets. PNA has held effort within the agreed limit at 2010 catch levels and relatively stable catches have been maintained. In keeping with these limits, the ministers adopted VDS fishing day limits for 2017 and 2018, with a provisional total allowed effort agreed for 2019.

   • The increase in revenue from VDS implementation from about US$60 million annually seven years ago to between US$450-US$500 million in 2016 was welcomed by the ministers, who took note of the wide range of profitability and financial capacity to pay for days between purse seine fleets and between different vessels in the same fleet.

   • Ministers were encouraged by implementation of the revised fishing treaty with the United States in 2017, including the fact that all U.S. industry fees had been received. But the leaders expressed grave concern that the U.S. Government had not paid its 2017-18 contribution by the due date of 14 June 2017.  Ministers noted that this U.S. Government contribution is an integral part of the revised Treaty arrangement and this failure to meet the payment terms seriously affects the financial management of Pacific Island Governments that are dependent on fisheries access revenues for their budgets. The ministers called on the U.S. Department of State to overcome the apparent process-related difficulties that have caused this delay, and directed the FFA to provide an update to the Forum Fisheries Committee Ministerial meeting in early July.

   • For the PNA Trial Fish Aggregating Device (FAD) Tracking and Monitoring Program, the ministers welcomed the plan for a FAD workshop to progress FAD management. They also recommended the development of amendments of domestic legislation and PNA Implementing Arrangements to enforce compliance with FAD tracking and FAD management by 2018.

   • The ministers took steps to implement decisions by an earlier PNA Ministerial Meeting and last year’s Pacific Islands Forum Leaders to halt bunkering on the high seas. Ministers agreed that at the 2018 annual meeting, Parties will adopt a revision to appropriate legal instruments banning high seas bunkering by purse seine vessels as a condition of licenses to fish in Party waters.  The ministers also determined that this bunkering revision will take into account the geographical situation of Kiribati, which has three areas of EEZ separated by areas of high seas. 

Ministers also agreed that the PNA Office and FFA will conduct a review of the range of issues involved in bringing bunkering into zone, designated areas or ports, through closing high seas bunkering.

   Before concluding the 12th PNA Ministerial Meeting Friday afternoon, ministers agreed to accept Nauru’s invitation to host the 2018 annual Official and Ministerial Meetings.