FSM President to PNA: Be strong

Pohnpei, FSM 11 June 2015: The host nation of the Parties to Nauru Agreement (PNA) Ministerial Meeting has called on Ministers to be strong when making decisions given the circumstances in which they make them and the stakeholders involved.

Opening the two day meeting, Federated States of Micronesia's President His Excellency Peter Christian said limited resources, diminishing aid and the overarching threat of climate change and sea level rise would become a strong tide against efforts to better manage ocean resources.

"In some instances our strength of characters will be tested by inappropriate generosity by unscrupulous players.  I ask you to be strong," he said.

"You as Ministers for Fisheries are responsible custodians and managers of our tuna resources.

"I ask you to continue to be innovative and creative, be willfully strong and continue exploring ways in which to insure our most valuable asset can continue to be effectively useful now and for the future."

He said FSM being a founding member of the PNA is proud and still committed to the purpose for which PNA was formed. Ministers from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands are meeting at the FSM's capital Pohnpei from June 11 to 12 to discuss and endorse a number of important issues.

"You have the assurances of the FSM Government of our unwavering support of our collective efforts to manage and control our tuna fisheries," he said.

Mr Christian said no doubt the Vessel Day Scheme, the centerpiece of PNA management of its skipjack tuna fishery, had transformed perceptions of the value of fisheries and has shifted the balance of power slightly ever more in our favour.

"The PNA has become price sellers rather than price takers," he said. "I am pleased to see how revenues from VDS have increased many folds over the last five years.

"But while we are pleased about this, we must not lose sight of our other equally important task: To also manage our resources well in terms of sustainable conservation programs for long term benefits."

Mr Christian said the PNA and Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (Tuna Commission based in Pohnpei) must work collectively to ensure the high seas were also better managed; that they do not represent a loophole in the management of their tuna resources where bad boys claimed they were fishing, 'when caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

PNA Chief Executive Officer Doctor Transform Aqorau said discussions have begun in Palikir, FSM's capital and already they are experiencing a healthy exchange of ideas on these important issues.

  These issues include:

• The benchmark price for fishing days in 2016. Currently, the benchmark is US$8,000 per fishing day, but fishing days have been averaging about US$10,000 in 2015. “The benchmark continues to be effective in driving up the price of access fees and also provides a good basis from which to predict annual income for government,” said
Dr. Aqorau. He also pointed out that the move by some PNA members to a tender system in 2015 has resulted in very high prices offered for fishing days, which are beginning to reflect the true value of access to the PNA region.

• The fishing treaty with the United States. Despite a negotiating session in May, no agreement was reached on fishing days for 2016, creating uncertainty for U.S.-flagged purse seiner access to the PNA region. This situation, said Dr. Aqorau, reflects the fact that access to PNA waters is “increasingly valuable and competitive.” He expects
that fewer fishing days will be available for all foreign vessels as PNA domestic fleets expand.

• Discussion of conservation and management initiatives at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which will hold its annual meeting in December. PNA is putting a lower priority on WCPFC matters in 2015 as it concentrates on improvement of the VDS. Nevertheless, the ministers will address the need for greater bigeye
tuna conservation on the high seas by longliners and continue to emphasize the need for the WCPFC to support the aspirations of PNA countries to develop their own fisheries.

• Blocking of new purse seine vessel acquisition for PNA members by distant water fishing nations and an international fisheries organization. Ministers will address plans to take action against these countries, including the option of removing one-to-two vessels from fishing in PNA waters.

• Expansion of PNA crews on purse seiners. PNA is proposing to enforce mandatory crewing requirements from 1 January 2016 that would lead over a 10-year period to PNA nationals comprising 50 percent of purse seine crews.

• Proposed closure of Palau’s exclusive economic zone to fishing. Palau’s proposal for establishing a marine sanctuary in its waters will be delivered by officials from Palau.

This week’s annual policy meeting “will provide the venue for PNA ministers to continue to strengthen control and management of the PNA fishery, which accounts for 70-80 percent of the western and central Pacific tuna catch, and 30-40 percent of the global raw material for canning,” said Dr. Aqorau.

The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) are eight Pacific Island countries that control the world’s largest sustainable tuna purse seine fishery supplying a major portion 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