Small island developing states in the Pacific explore ways to make fisheries and other oceans economic sectors more sustainable

The challenges and opportunities that the ocean economy and sustainable fisheries trade bring to Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS) were the subject of a regional consultation organised by UNCTAD, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Vanuatu Department of Fisheries (VFD) and Papua New Guinea National Fisheries Authority (PNG NFA) in Port Vila, Vanuatu, on 5 August 2015.

In his opening remarks, James Matoriki, First Political Advisor speaking on behalf of Christophe Emelee, Vanuatu’s Minister of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity, said the fisheries sector was important as a source of food and employment and for government revenue. He said that Vanuatu enjoys a rich marine endowment and is an excellent location for tuna fishing. Vanuatu’s largest fish resource is Albacore Tuna with an estimated catch of 8,000 metric tonnes from a 75-vessel fishing fleet. This generates revenue and has the potential to support on-shore processing operations.

Mr. Matoriki said that in 2012 Vanuatu was penalised with a “yellow card” issued by the European Union (EU) on the basis that Vanuatu was not demonstrating sufficient effort in addressing potentially illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities taking place in its 680,000 km2 economic exclusive zone (EEZ), and by Vanuatu registered vessels. Vanuatu responded to this challenge by improving its IUU regulatory, surveillance, monitoring and enforcement systems. The EU “yellow card” was recently lifted in recognition of these efforts.

Stanley Wapot for the MSG presented its 2012 Green Growth Strategy which incorporates a roadmap for the development of regional inshore and inland fisheries so that harvesting practices are improved to sustain local livelihoods. An important aspect of this roadmap is the provision of technical support to educate fishermen and seafood-processing companies to better manage marine resources, environmental and social impacts, and ensure more economic benefit.

Pakoa Kalo of the VFA said that significant efforts had been deployed by Vanuatu to improve its regulatory framework, reduce the number of licensed vessels operating in their EEZ and Vanuatu-flag vessels operating elsewhere, and enhance its capacity to address IUU fishing. The number of licensed fishing vessels was reduced from 150 in 2013 to 75 in 2015. He also said that the IUU fishing compliance requirements imposed by the EU had significant costs in terms of institutional, human and financial resources for small, low-income countries like Vanuatu.

Mike Batty of the FFA indicated that the West and Central Pacific Region currently produced 60 per cent of the global tuna output for 2014, creating great opportunities for economic development. He noted that Pacific Island countries face a number of challenges for market access to the main markets for tuna products. In addition to various systems to ensure seafood meets sanitary requirements, exporting nations must now comply with the EU IUU fishing regulation; and the US is developing systems to prevent the importation of fish suspected of coming from IUU fishing.

While Pacific Island countries fully recognise and support the need to deter and eliminate IUU fishing, and have made positive changes in response to “yellow cards”, he suggested that evaluations need to be based on levels of risk, and take account of the costs and benefits of additional monitoring and enforcement efforts. He said that this would be appropriate in both addressing the IUU fishing problem as well as reducing the burden on small administrations in SIDS.

The topic of whether the IUU fishing regulations are being applied consistently and uniformly was also addressed by the meeting. Some observers suggested that small developing countries seem to be subject to stringent assessment and evaluation for compliance while larger fishing nations appear to receive less attention.

Several national projects to improve fishing port infrastructure, canning and aquaculture development in Papua New Guinea were presented by Paul Martin of the PNG NFA. He said that there was a need to not only develop tuna export capacity but also capacities for smaller fish farmers in farming freshwater fish species that have a significant potential on the internal market. He identified fishmeal and lack of proper coordination of the small fish farmers (estimated to number around 20,000 in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea) into formal cooperative societies to participate on a commercial basis.

Other issues discussed included World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations focused on improving market access for fish products, disciplines on fishing subsidies, and related services such as port and coastal tourism development. David Vivas Euguiof UNCTAD also noted that disciplining fishing subsidies in the WTO is a matter of priority for Pacific SIDS in order phase out unfair competition from distant water fleets. Policy space should be allowed for Pacific SIDS to develop their own fisheries sector and add value downstream in the fish processing industry.

Another issue of importance when looking at multilateral and regional trade negotiations is the coverage of environmental goods (EGs). Definitions and lists put forward to date mostly include energy efficient products and clean energy technologies, while excluding natural and sustainability produced goods such as sustainably harvested fish and organic agricultural products. Current thinking on environmental goods by extending EG lists and definitions to goods with sustainable production and consumption profiles needs to be revised, said Robert Hamwey of UNCTAD. Strengthening links between the fisheries sector and tourism should be further advanced in order to increase employment opportunities in fishing communities.

The consultations concluded by adopting a regional set of recommendations seeking to promote the development of sustainable fisheries and other oceans economic sectors in the region and addressed to Pacific SIDS, regional organizations and UN member States. Recommendations included the need to make better use of by-catch and fish waste, and expand sustainable harvesting of smaller species like sardines and mackerel as raw material for fishmeal production and baitfish fishery. A call was also made to adjust the application of EU and US IUU fishing standards to the actual levels of risk and the level of development of countries whose compliance is being assessed. Finally, calls were made regarding the need to explore options to regulate bio-prospecting and seabed mining activities in the region.