Collaboration and cooperation are key to sustaining the Pacific Ocean’s fisheries, along with transparency and accountability. Speaking at the Pacific-New Zealand Fisheries Forum hosted by Pacific Cooperation Foundation and PITIA, WWF’s Alfred “Bubba” Cook says it is not too late to save the Pacific’s resources.
While there are pressing issues in the region, such as the near exhaustion of at least two species, bigeye tuna (only 16% of its population remains) and Pacific bluefin tuna (2.6% percent of its population remains), along with increasing pressure on yellowfin , which are currently seen as the “money maker” tuna species – the Pacific is reasonably robust as far as the world’s oceans go, according to Cook.
“I truly believe the industry and governments in the Pacific region are genuinely interested in fixing the problem and ensuring a sustainable resource,” he added. “People such as Charles Hufflett (former PITIA President and Director of Solander Pacific Ltd – who was a panelist at the May forum) have a vision for the Pacific, and have seen what can be done in places like New Zealand.”
The biggest challenge facing the region when it comes to ensuring a sustainable resource is getting all 33 member-countries and participating territories of the WCPFC to agree on a system that works for them all, Cook says.
“They each have their own agenda, and the challenge is to overcome this, and not give in to the distant water fleets.”
Distant water fleets dominate fishing in the Pacific, with 1,659 vessels from a total of 4,646 vessels licensed [AC1] to fish in the Pacific coming from Chinese-Taipei, 818 from Japan and 616 from China (according to Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission).
“There are entrenched interests, and many in the industry have been operating virtually without restriction or adequate oversight, and want to continue doing so, especially with respect to those fleets dependent on at-sea transshipment,” he explains.
Technology and the electronic monitoring of illegal fishing is part of the solution of overfishing; as is market traceability and, fundamentally, accountability.
The public also has a part to play in sustaining the Pacific’s resources, says Cook. “The more the likes of Coles and Countdown hear demand from the public to know where their fish is coming from, the better.”
Consumers want confidence from the market, and assurance that they are not contributing to illegal fishing, slave labor, or people or drug trafficking.
The public can use their voice to demand to see evidence of where their food is coming from, and insist on transparency and traceability. Depending on the issue most important to them, they can also purchase MSC-certified or Fair Trade certified products.
Around 100 delegates attended the May forum, which saw a Who’s Who from Pacific and NZ fisheries listen to guest speakers and engage in discussion on topics including sustainability; opportunities for Pacific and Maori iwi to collaborate; and labor and skills training.
Keynote speakers included the hugely influential and experienced Matua Shane Jones, NZ’s Ambassador for Pacific Economic Development, who provided an overview on fisheries in the Pacific and the situation in New Zealand.
Director General of Forum Fisheries Association James Movick followed Matua, and addressed delegates about the work FFA is currently doing and its goals to ensure Pacific people enjoy the highest levels of social and economic benefits through the sustainable use of our offshore fisheries resources.
Ngati Whatua Chief Executive Officer and Director,
Te Ohu Kaimoana (Maori Fisheries Commission) Rangimarie Hunia provided the final keynote address, She provided delegates an overview of the Maori iwi economy, and how important fisheries is to it, while also outlining potential areas for Pacific and Maori to establish partnerships.
Panel discussions followed the guest speakers, further exploring issues raised throughout the day.
The PITIA annual general meeting on May 16th concluded the talks around fisheries, providing food for thought for the region’s industry leaders and all those interested in the Pacific’s most valuable resource.