October 27, 2008

By Bill Jayes
The Kaselehlie Press

(Pohnpei, FSM) - Citing the inability of the member nations of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, popularly known as the Tuna Commission to reach consensus on a plan to protect fisheries stocks in the area, eight Pacific Island nations have taken matters into their own hands. The nations are all parties to an agreement first signed into existence on April 23, 1983, commonly known as The Parties to the Nauru Agreement. The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) include the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, The Republic of the Marshall Islands, Palau, the Solomon Islands, Nauru, and Tuvalu.

Though the Nauru agreement has seen changes since its first implementation, the so called, "Third Arrangement implementing the Nauru Agreement setting forth additional terms and conditions of access to the fisheries Zones of the parties, the 3IA" is possibly the most restrictive yet.

Through international treaties the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) boundaries within the Pacific Ocean were established in 1982 as a result of UNCLOS II (United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea) which has yet to be ratified by the United States government.

Each island nation has its own EEZ and each nation sets its own regulations for fishing and commerce within those EEZ's. Aware that no country operates in a vacuum, island nations keep international agreements such as those made as part of the Tuna Commission when setting their fisheries regulations for licensing. There is nothing that keeps those nations from having more stringent regulations for areas under their national jurisdiction than international agreements may call for.

In the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) there are areas of water that are not under the economic control of any of the Pacific nations. For instance, in the waters between the Kiribati and FSM EEZ's there is a doughnut hole shaped area of water that is considered to be "high seas". There is another pocket of high seas that is bounded on the southwest by the Solomon Islands and the Northeast by FSM, Nauru, Kiribati, and Tuvalu.

The member nations of the Tuna Commission regulate the high seas pockets in the WCPO.

"We expected the Tuna Commission would do something to regulate fishing for the high seas areas but they didn't, so we (the PNA nations) took it upon ourselves to do something," said Eugene Pangelinan of the FSM's National Oceanographic Resources Management Agency. "Anything short of this decisive action implementing the 3IA, our fisheries stocks, particularly the bigeye stocks, may be in danger of reaching an overfishing state" Pangelinan added.

The abstract on the 3IA agreement says that a significant level of fishing in the WCPO is concentrated in the EEZ's of the Parties to the Nauru agreement.

Fisheries weights in the WCPO are measure in metric tons. One metric ton is 2204.16 pounds.

In 2007 a record high 2.4 million metric tons (approximately 2.6 million tons) of tuna was caught in the WCPO of which approximately 1.1 metric tons (1.2 million tons) was caught in the EEZ's of PNA nations, 44 percent of the 2007 WCPO catch.

Of the total WCPO catch, 1.7 million metric tons (1.9 million tons) was caught by the highly productive fishing vessels called purse seiners. Of the purse seiner catch 1 million metric tons (1.1 million tons) or 59 percent was caught in PNA waters.

The Tuna Commission's conservation and management measures for bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks currently limit fishing efforts in the WCPO to 2004 or the average of the 2001-2004 effort levels. Other measures on catch retention, Fish Aggregating Device (FAD) closures, further reduction in longline bigeye catch, monitoring and data provisions were proposed to the member nations of the Commission in 2007.

A FAD is an artificial environment hung and weighted below a buoy that is placed by fishermen to which fish are attracted. Fishermen later return to the artificial environment and scoop up the fish in huge nets that can hold many tons of fish at a time.

The Commission could not reach an agreement on limitation of FAD usage or any of the proposed measures in 2007.

According to Andy Richards of the Tuna Commission, the general voting standard is for consensus of the 27 member nations and seven territories of the Commission. All members must unanimously agree before measures are adopted by the Commission. He said that the chair of the Commission has the authority in certain limited circumstances to call for UN styled voting rules but that authority, as far as he was knew had never been utilized in the Commission's history..

Scientific reports submitted to the Scientific Committee of the Tuna Commission led to a recommendation to the Commission that fisheries efforts in the WCPO on yellowfin and bigeye stocks be reduced by 25% in 2007. In the August 2008 meeting scientists recommended a 30% reduction.

Still, there has been no consensus reached by Tuna Commission member nations on measures to preserve bigeye and yellowfin fish stocks in the WCPO.

The 3IA plan, a phased plan that is tentatively planned to be in full force by January 1, 2010 requires catch retention of all target caught fish except for those that are unfit for human consumption for any reason other than size. It makes an exception for the last set of a fishing voyage in which the catch might be larger than vessel holds can store.

PNA countries say that requiring vessels to retain small fish places an economic penalty on catching schools which include small fish. FAD fishing, they say, provides higher catches of small fish than free swimming schools.

3IA will require an annual three month FAD closure that would run from July 1 through September 30 in order to ease purse seiner fishing pressure on the EEZ's of PNA nations.

The changes in implementation of the PNA would require all purse seiner vessels authorized to operate in PNA EEZ's to carry an official observer to monitor activities of the vessel. The changes would also require PNA licensed vessels to have their Vessel Monitoring Systems switched on at all times during the period that their licenses are valid.

A 3IA requirement that has some eyebrows raised amongst Tuna Commission member nations is a closure of the high seas access to fishing vessels licensed to fish in the EEZ's of any of the PNA EEZ's. Essentially, the agreement would not allow fishing license holders to also fish in the two areas of high seas located within the geographic area of PNA nations as a condition of their licenses.

"The PNA consider the two highs seas pockets as potential havens for illegal fishing activities whereby misreporting of catches between the EEZs and adjacent high seas pockets could take place, as well as havens for other IUU activities."

The Third Implementing Arrangement of the Nauru Agreement was signed by the PNA Ministers in Palau on the 16th of May, 2008 and came into effect on the 15th of June, 2008.

"It is the hope of the PNA members who are also all members of the WCPFC that the upcoming Fifth Annual Session of the WCPFC in Busan Korea in December, compatible measures for the high seas can be agreed upon ensuring the future of our tuna resources, particularly bigeye and yellowfin. FSM, along with PNA and FFA countries, are preparing to push hard at WCPFC5 for a conservation and management measure that responds to the SC4 recommendations for the high seas areas." Pangelinan added.

Lagi Toribau, spokesman for Greenpeace had high words of praise for the new agreement. He said, "Greenpeace supports and is pleased with the recent move by the PNA countries in agreeing on a range of measures that will benefit and help reduce the overfishing occurring on the regional tuna stocks (particularly the overfishing on bigeye and yellowfin). We commend the bold steps and the solidarity of spirit shown by the 8 member countries and we call on other Pacific island countries and particularly fishing nations that are members of the Tuna Commission to support and adopt similar measures. We are particularly pleased with one of the measures agreed to by the PNA countries relating to the closure of the 2 high seas pockets that borders their national waters through a condition on fishing license that restricts access to the area. This is a great step in the right direction now for these areas of international waters that are known to be a pirate haven and a highly unregulated zone. We also recommend that these countries also start to move towards closing off these areas of high seas permanently to all activities and designate them as fully no-take Marine Reserves".