April 8, 2013

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

April 2, 1013 Pohnpei, FSM -For several years the Pacific Island Nations that are the Parties to the Nauru Agreement have required fisheries observers to be present on every purse seiner that drops a net in its EEZ. NORMA, the FSM's National Oceanic Resource Management Agency employs 75 fisheries observers whose job it is to observe and report any fishing irregularities that might happen aboard a purse seiner.

The signatories to PNA are Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. The eight signatories collectively control 25-30% of the world's tuna supply and approximately 60% of the western and central Pacific tuna supply.

Before the Nauru Agreement, fishing companies negotiated separate agreements with each country. If they didn't like the terms in one country they would simply negotiate better terms with another. Pacific Island Nations had no bargaining power. The Nauru Agreement changed all that and shifted the balance of power in the fishing world giving islanders control over their own waters.

PNA nations have been able to mandate restrictions in their waters that no other fisheries agency or commission has been able to accomplish. In 2007 PNA introduced the vessel day scheme to limit the number of boats fishing their waters and to limit the number of days that those boats could fish. Now, fishing days are sold to the highest bidder.

All vessels fishing in PNA waters must carry and operate a satellite vessel monitoring system that is monitored by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission popularly known as the Tuna Commission. By 2010 PNA mandated that 100 percent of purse seiners in PNA waters must carry official observers to limit any fishing hanky-panky that might otherwise happen while vessels are far from land.

In 2010 the Tuna Commission discussed the possibility of closing down the pockets of high seas to fishing in the Western and Central Pacific. The high seas are international waters that are not part of any Exclusive Economic Zone. But the Tuna Commission was unable to obtain unanimous agreement on that goal.

PNA stepped in and told the fishing world that fishing licenses would be granted in their substantial EEZ's only to fishing vessels that do not also fish the high seas pockets. Though the PNA nations have no legal authority in the high seas pockets, that announcement effectively shut down fishing there.

Of course enforcement is an altogether different matter. None of the eight PNA nations have sufficient resources to do much at all about enforcement in the millions of square kilometers of ocean they control, and they have no authority whatsoever in the high seas.

Because of their handling of their combined EEZ's, in 2011 the Marine Stewardship Council certified the PNA fishery as a sustainable fishery.

"The PNA free school skipjack fishery was certified in December 2011. The certification is for 5 years. The holder of the certification is the PNA Office on behalf of the eight PNA member countries whose EEZs are subject to the MSC certification," Dr. Transform Aqorau, Executive Director of PNA explained. "Most if not all MSC certifications are held by boat owners whereas the PNA is a first in that it is held by the owners of the resources. This is indeed a first and is a testament to the measures that PNA have in place."

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an internationally recognized nonprofit organization that sets standards for sustainable fishing. The MSC logo on a fish product means that the chain of custody for that product from catch to market is known, the fish was caught using sustainable methods, and processed in a socially responsible way.

In part, "sustainable methods" means that the fish was caught wild and free, it was not caught at a Fish Aggregating Device (FAD), it was not caught by setting nets near whale sharks, it was caught legally, and the catch was properly reported. MSC certification of a fish product means that the origin of the fish and the method by which it was caught can be traced back to the time and place it was caught and by which fishing vessel.

For an increasing number of consumers, the MSC logo certifying sustainably caught and processed fish is valuable. Some fisheries and some processing plants will only accept MSC certified fish. MSC certification of a catch makes the catch available to a wider market.

The Pacifical website says that PNA ministers issued a statement in March urging all fleets operating in PNA waters to start fishing MSC free school (meaning without using FAD's).

Pacifical is a global marketing company jointly set up by the PNA countries in 2011 to promote PNA and actively trade their MSC certified sustainably caught free school skipjack tuna.

Their article said that PNG has taken the matter beyond simple encouragement and is requiring all fleets licensed in its waters to start offloading MSC eligible free school catch to PNG based onshore processing plants.

"To stimulate and support boat owners in this switch, PNG offers a discount on the access fees for the 2014 licensing period for those cooperating on Pacifical MSC skipjack tuna. This significant discount, along with the premium that fleet operators will receive from canners for their MSC school, should remove the obstacles for purse seiners to switch to sustainable practices, and at the same time reduce their fishing with the destructive FADs," the Pacifical article says.

Last week, Peter Sharples of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community based in Noumea, New Caledonia, and Marcelo Hidalgo from Pacifical conducted training in Pohnpei for 24 participants from PNA nations. Fifteen fisheries observers from the FSM attended the training. Most of them passed the examination at the end of the course. They are now MSC certified observers.

Of the 75 purse seiner observers that FSM employs, only two had previously been MSC certified. Now there are 17 observers who can accommodate the needs of purse seiner vessels that want to have their catch MSC certified. It makes the FSM's EEZ even more valuable.

Better still, as a result of last week's training, FSM now has an MSC certified trainer who can provide training to others in the FSM.

Other PNA nations sent potential trainers to Pohnpei so that they could return to their homes to teach and certify others. The other nations that sent potential trainers to the class are Solomon Islands, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

FSM's NORMA said that several donors made the recent training possible: