PNA CEO: PNA not selling out sustainability for cash

  Majuro 27 March 2015 — Contrary to criticism levied by fishing industry officials and a New Zealand MP, the PNA is not undermining sustainability of tuna resources in the western and central Pacific ocean because of short-term greed.

   The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), which control waters where over 50 percent of the global supply of skipjack tuna is caught, are leading the region in enforcement of effective conservation initiatives, while securing fair value for fish caught in their waters, said PNA CEO Dr. Transform Aqorau.

   “The number of days we sell is in accordance with a limit agreed at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) reflecting the scientific advice,” said Dr. Aqorau. “For the last four years the number of days we have sold for purse seining has been roughly the same, and there has been no significant increase in the catch in our waters over that time.

   As a result, he said, “the tuna resources targeted by these purse seine vessels, mainly skipjack, are healthy, catches are good, and vessels are prepared to pay high prices for fishing days for our waters.”

   Dr. Aqorau was responding to remarks made by Maori New Zealand Parliamentarian and Labour Party fisheries spokesman Rino Tirikatene to Radio New Zealand International critical of Dr. Aqorau’s response to American and New Zealand fishing industry officials who said PNA is allowing excessive fishing and increasing the days it sells for short-term financial gain.

   Mr. Tirikatene called Dr. Aqorau’s comments “rude.” But Dr. Aqorau said in light of the misplaced criticism of the PNA model by fisheries industry representatives in the New Zealand media, no one should be surprised by PNA’s “robust” response.

   “The Hon. Mr. Tirikatene has made the same mistake when he says that we are allowing short term profit to undermine sustainability,” Dr. Aqorau said Thursday. “That is untrue.” Emphasizing this point, Dr. Aqorau said here has been no significant increase in days sold or tuna catches in PNA waters in four years.

   While PNA maintains tight control of purse seiners in its waters, including onboard observers on every vessel and satellite tracking of every boat, “unfortunately, control outside our waters is much weaker, and catches there are increasing fast because boats want to fish in the high seas and other zones to avoid our high fees and tight controls,” he said.

   Because of this over-exploitation largely on the high seas, “other resources, especially bigeye tuna, targeted by longline vessels, are being overfished,” Dr. Aqorau said. “But the purse seine fleets in our waters are very tightly controlled.”

   A second point reported last week in the New Zealand media that Dr. Aqorau took issue with was the suggestion that PNA should be selling fishing days to the United States, not China, for political reasons.

   Mr. Tirikatene said Dr. Aqorau’s statement telling the U.S. and New Zealand tuna industry to “fish elsewhere if you don’t want to play by PNA rules” did “not reflect well on the PNA countries, a host of whom are significant recipients of NZ friendship and aid.”

   “Of course, there are important economic and political issues involved and we are fully aware of those issues,” said Dr. Aqorau. “But at the end of the day, these are commercial arrangements, and we are simply trying to secure fair value for our people for our fish.”

   PNA knows some fishing companies are facing challenges because of higher access fees and conservation requirements. But, he added, “for decades access to our fish was far too cheap, and our people lost. Now the returns for access have increased and are more reasonable. 

   “We understand that this (higher access fees) is a problem for some companies, and they are certainly free to criticize our management system, especially if they have constructive alternative proposals to offer. PNA has a long record of robust debate on the management of fishing for our tuna resources with a wide range of people in many countries.”

   But if the fishing industry resorts to the media to wrongly accuse PNA of not living up to its responsibilities and selling out sustainability for cash, “they have to expect a robust response,” said Dr. Aqorau.

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The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) are eight Pacific Island countries that control the world’s largest sustainable tuna purse seine fishery supplying over 50 percent of the world’s skipjack tuna (a popular tuna for canned products). They are Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.

PNA has been a champion for marine conservation and management, taking unilateral action to conserve overfished bigeye tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, including closures of high seas pockets, seasonal bans on use of Fish Aggregating Devices (FAD), satellite tracking of boats, in port transshipment, 100 percent observer coverage of purse seiners, closed areas for conservation, mesh size regulations, tuna catch retention requirements, hard limits on fishing effort, prohibitions against targeting whale sharks, shark action plans, and other conservation measures to protect the marine ecosystem.

For more information, contact Dr. Transform Aqorau, CEO, PNA Office, on email: transform@pnatuna.com or by phone, (692) 625-7626.