Majuro, Marshall Islands 24 November 2017: Zone-based management of tuna fisheries in the western and central Pacific works effectively and there is no interest in replacing it with a different management arrangement, leaders of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) said this week.

   “Zone-based management works for conservation and business development,” said Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority Director Glen Joseph, who chairs the PNA.

   In addition, PNA Chief Executive Officer Ludwig Kumoru said: “PNA’s Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) is contributing to sustaining tuna stocks and is providing improved quality of data on fish stocks and harvests.” The VDS is the management mechanism adopted by PNA members to manage fishing in their exclusive economic zones. The VDS sets a “hard limit” on the number of fishing days allowed by purse seine fishing vessels in the region, and related measures enforced by PNA require all purse seine fishing vessels to have an independent fisheries observer on board to record catch data, an annual three-month moratorium on the use of fish aggregating devices, in-port transshipment for further monitoring, and other conservation measures.

   Although some distant water fishing nations are promoting “flag state” rights for the western and central Pacific, Mr. Joseph and Mr. Kumoru said this will not gain support from coastal island states “PNA members agree on the principle of zone-based management,” said Joseph. “Flag state rights are not appropriate or effective as a management tool in the western and central Pacific fishery. The VDS is effective in both conservation and economic development.”

   Mr. Kumoru added that revenue accruing to PNA islands has risen from US$60 million annually in 2010 to close to $500 million this year as a result of implementation of the VDS.

  Some see island expansion in the commercial tuna fishery as “a fight to be picked, but it’s a matter of survival for the islands,” said Mr. Joseph, who like Mr. Kumoru is based in Majuro. “From the increasing revenue, hospitals are being built, roads are being paved, government operations are being funded. It’s not about cutting out the distant water fishing nations. It’s about developing the capacity of our islands to fish our own waters and process the catch.”

   As part of zone-based management, PNA has successfully developed the VDS for purse seiners. It is well-established, said Mr. Joseph. “Now we are going to do the same for longline industry,” he said. “We recognize it is a different fishery, but it has been left un-managed for too long.”

 Mr. Joseph said PNA needs the support of the region’s fisheries management organization, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, on compatible management measures for the longline industry as it moves forward with implementing the VDS for longliners. He noted that island nations outside of the eight-member PNA are expressing interest in joining PNA to manage longline vessels through the VDS.

  One reason for the growing interest in VDS management of the region’s longline industry is the simple fact that the industry is not managed, said Mr. Kumoru. “We have to have management of longliners on the high seas,” he said. “A longline VDS would go a long way to address the current situation of longliners.” Both Mr. Kumoru and Mr. Joseph described the longline industry as a significant “gap” in the region’s improving management of its tuna fishery.

   “PNA’s management scheme — the VDS — has served us well,” said Mr. Joseph. “We see value in expanding it to longliners and tightening up certain areas for purse seiners.”

   Mr. Joseph believes that implementation of a longline VDS will increase domestication of the industry, with the goal of fully domesticating longliners. 

   Aside from the economic value of the VDS to participating members, it is a major contributor to fisheries data flow and stock assessments through the use of 100 percent observer coverage of purse seine vessels and port monitoring of transshipment, which combine to give PNA members a good handle on catch tonnage, particular species and by-catch, said Mr. Joseph. These are the reasons it is urgently needed for the longline industry, particularly on the high seas where there is almost no verification of catches by independent observers or other management systems.

   On the big picture behind the resource owners implementing zone-based management, Mr. Kumoru said the vision is to greatly expand participation of the islands in a fishery in which most islands have been bystanders for decades.

   “If we have an opportunity to exploit our fishery, we’ll do it,” he said. “Right now, we license distant water fishing nations, giving them opportunity to fish in our waters, because coastal states haven’t yet built the capacity to fish. There will come a time when the islands have the capacity to expand fishing in their own zones, and others must be prepared to give way.”

 Mr. Kumoru said developments in islands such as the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and the Marshall Islands — all of which are increasing their domestic “footprint” in the fishery — show the future of the fishery for the islands.

   The Solomon Islands now has trained fishing crews, from fishermen on deck to captains, and vessels that can feed product to their domestic canneries. “The benefits are huge,” said Mr. Kumoru. As tuna processing expands in the Solomons Western Province, plans are now under consideration for a new airport, and wharf expansion is moving forward to handle increased business.

   In Majuro, he said, a net repair facility that opened earlier this year is attracting ongoing business from the purse seine industry and expanding job opportunities for the local population.

   “Now we see national airlines in PNA nations expanding service to other members,” Mr. Kumoru said. Solomon Airlines is now flying to Tarawa, Kiribati, and Air Niugini has opened a new route into the Federated States of Micronesia. This is increasing business connections among PNA members, he said. “It’s a spinoff from domestic fisheries development,” said Mr. Kumoru. “Domestic development of the fishery is a catalyst for economic development.”

  Mr. Kumoru added that one of PNA’s primary goals “is to make sure our people are involved in the fishery, not spectators.”