By Pita Ligaiula in Waikiki, Hawaii
Papua New Guinea’s Fishing Industry Association (FIA) has warned delegates at the Tuna Commission to ensure their national interests are protected from the threat posed by Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFNs) wanting to extend the jurisdiction of fishing rules.
Chairman Sylvester Pokajam said members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission must fight for their rights.
“The biggest threat that I keep telling the members of the PNA and the FFA is that DWFNs have now encroached into managing our exclusive economic zones and they try to also exercise the mandate of the commission into our internal archipelagic waters.
“And we said no, that is non-negotiable and it’s going to remain non-negotiable because that’s our territory, so our members should not lose sight of that.
Pokajam said the WCPFC was formed to manage the high seas but external fisheries interests had encroached into management of the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of some Pacific nations.
“That’s why they should remain alert to make sure that we remain dominant because the moment they have more numbers in the commission, they may exercise their right to vote we would lose our rights and I don’t think we’d allow that.
At the moment Pacific Island nations make up a slim majority of members of the WCPFC but with other countries interested in joining that advantage could be eroded. While decisions within the WCPFC are usually taken by consensus a vote can be called as a last resort.
Pokajam said it is important Pacific nations audit co-operating non-members carefully, to ensure that they are in compliance with commission regulations.
“I don’t think we should allow many (to join),” he said
Pokajam explained that members must ensure the interests of coastal states are protected.
“So (the) main objective of the coastal states – mostly the FFA members – is that we make sure that our interest is protected at all times, at all costs and at the same time the way we are seeing now is that DWFN are trying to take the power away from us.”
“They (have tried) as much as possible since day one to take that power away from the coastal states but for FFA member countries we will fight for it and I think we have been very successful to date,” Pokajam said.
Pokajam said the Pacific always remains united and nations had made some sacrifices for the sake of solidarity.
“We have been able to force our message through the purse seine industry, through the FFA and come up with our own measures through the three implementing arrangements to 100 percent observer coverage, High Seas closure – these are measures we put in place,” he said.
The VDS scheme- in which licensees pay a daily fee to operate in fishing zones – is the single most successful resource management model using rights-based control over fisheries resources.
“We have implemented the VDS. Purse seine, effect control, used to be by number of boats, that’s not the case since 2004. Effort has now shifted to days. What we are saying is you can have so many number of boats but you are limited to days,” Pokajam told journalists in Honolulu.
“And to our surprise a decade ago the value of the fisheries was about US$60 million now it’s more than US$400 million. That’s the case because we exercise our rights and our sovereignty over the EEZ”.
“The biggest threat that I can see is that they take away our rights to manage and to do whatever we want to do in our own National laws and at the same time through sub-regional and regional arrangements like the FFA, PNA and the Pacific Forum leaders,” he explained.
On Bigeye tuna, Pokajam said the Pacific must oppose U.S efforts to increase catch limits, saying the proposal did nothing to improve sustainable fishing.
Distant-water nations in Europe, China, the United States, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have traditionally been reluctant to curb their tuna catches.
“It’s just because they see the green in all our fishery at the moment, Big Eye, Yellowfin, Skipjack, Pacific Albacore are all now in green,” Pokajam said.
“Our stock assessment is telling us that all our stocks are in green, safe zone. Just because we attain that good management and they try to come in to write on it and I don’t I think we should agree with that.
“I think FFA member countries should reject that. I’m not part of the group that discuss this – I think I’ll leave it to them but I think we should not support that,” he said.