Kiritimati Island, Kiribati 29 July 2016: Ministers and officials from eight Pacific islands met on Kiritimati Island, Kiribati from 22 to 26 July at the annual PNA Ministers Meeting to address conservation and business management issues for the multi-billion dollar western and central Pacific tuna fishery.
Decisions covered everything from the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) for purse seiners and long liners to recognition of outgoing CEO Dr. Transform Aqorau and confirmation of the appointment of Ludwig Kumoru of Papua New Guinea as the new CEO of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA).
The fisheries leaders expressed “great satisfaction at the increased in economic returns from their tuna resources” that has resulted largely from the VDS management system for purse seine fishing. Laying to rest debate over the past two years about the VDS, they endorsed the conclusion of a VDS task force that “there is no need to change the management of the purse seine VDS in the foreseeable future.”
A key point noted by the ministers is that the PNA Office’s business model has enabled it to be financially independent, avoiding dependence on either financial contributions from PNA members or outside donors.
Among the actions of the meeting:
• Conservation: The ministers welcomed progress by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in adopting a Target Reference Point for the skipjack tuna stock and agreed that it is essential that the skipjack stock be maintained at this level for the sustainable development of the PNA Parties and other Pacific Island countries. But the meeting stressed the need to rebuild the depleted stock of bigeye tuna. Ministers also expressed disappointment over the WCPFC’s “continuing shortfalls in the management of high seas fishing in the purse seine and longline fisheries that undermine the measure being taken by PNA members and other Pacific Island countries in their waters.” Ministers agreed that management of fishing within PNA waters “will be further improved by the programs for fish aggregating device (FAD) charging and tracking” and decided that FAD tracking, monitoring and charging trials, launched earlier this year, will continue through 2018 to improve management and control of FADs and fishing on FADs. A report on trends in the PNA tuna fishery showed that the VDS had effectively controlled the number of purse seine vessels while promoting growth of domestic fleets. It was noted that fishing effort had been held with the agreed limit at the 2010 level and relatively stable catches within exclusive economic zones had been maintained.
• Vessel Day Scheme (VDS): The ministers expressed appreciation that the purse seine VDS is running increasingly smoothly and the longline VDS is now in force with eight VDS participants committed to implementing the scheme. Ministers agreed to the fishing day allocation known as the “Parties Allowed Effort” (PAE) for 2017 and 2018, which for the eight PNA nations and Tokelau is capped at 45,590 fishing days. The PNA Office was tasked with developing a framework for allocation of longer-term PAEs from 2018. Ministers agreed to maintain the US$8,000 per fishing day price for purse seine vessels. In regards to the recently negotiated new fee and access arrangement for US purse seine vessels, the PNA ministers noted that the outcome of the negotiations with the US “were largely driven by the VDS and the efforts and solidarity of PNA Members and other Pacific Island Parties.” They also adopted PAEs for the longline VDS for the five year period of 2017-2021 that is limited to 165,132 fishing days per year for the nine islands implementing it.
• Commercial developments: Ministers agreed on the need to build on the power of the VDS to leverage domestic development to secure more benefits from wider participation in the value chain for tuna products. The ministers endorsed a plan for further study of the potential benefits and costs of transforming the value of the VDS PAEs into capital assets and establishing a PNA-owned company to cost effectively manage PNA’s Fisheries Information Management System along the lines of Fishserve in New Zealand. The ministers supported the endorsement by Forum Fisheries Agency ministers of the new fee and access arrangement for the fishing treaty with the United States. They welcomed the new agreement with the US for increasing the scope for American companies to buy vessel days bilaterally or through pooling arrangements directly negotiated with the PNA Members and other Pacific Island Parties. Ministers were delighted with confirmation of the first dividend of US$500,000 from Pacifical, the PNA joint venture that is the vehicle for vertical integration in the processing and marketing of fish from the region.
• Domestic development: The ministers “expressed concern over continuing abuse of WCPFC measures by some fishing states to obstruct the domestic tuna development of Small Island Developing States,” and called on the WCPFC to ensure that “conservation measures do not transfer a disproportionate burden to Small Island Developing States in accordance with the WCPFC Convention and the Conservation Management Measure on the Special Requirements of Small Island Developing States.” Two encouraging developments were noted: Consultations with Taiwan regarding the abuse of capacity controls to obstruct the Parties’ domestic tuna development have resulted in approval for construction of Tuvalu’s second purse seine vessel; and progress to resolve issues with the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation that has resulted in the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding between ISSF and the PNA Office.
• Fisheries observer safety: Ministers endorsed a proposal by the Marshall Islands for the PNA Office to provide support to proposals for improving fisheries observer safety. This includes working with the Forum Fisheries Commission at the ministerial level on the issue and providing comments to a draft proposal from the United States on observer safety that is to be presented to the WCPFC Annual Meeting in December.
• Other issues: Ministers recognized the efforts to improve the effectiveness of the WCPFC by the new Chairperson Rhea Moss-Christian and the Executive Director Feleti Teo. They considered a proposal from Tuvalu for mandatory engagement of PNA nationals as crew on foreign purse seiners operating in PNA waters and referred this to officials and the PNA Office for further work and consideration. Ministers expressed appreciation for progress by the Marshall Islands on relocating and expanding PNA Office facilities, and tasked officials to develop options for funding to assist the project. Marshall Islands will host the 2017 Ministerial Meeting in Majuro.
The Ministerial Meeting in Kiritimati Island included ministers from the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu, and officials from Papua New Guinea, Palau and Tokelau.