Majuro 26 April 2019: Innovative fisheries management has been the hallmark of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) since establishment of its office in the Marshall Islands in 2010, said the organization’s chief executive.

   “Thinking outside the box to benefit our islands as we strive for self-determination and control of our rights in our fishing zones has brought the PNA a long way the past 10 years,” said PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru. “We still have a lot to accomplish and we need to keep challenging the status quo for our benefit.”

   The PNA’s Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) is the foundation for the well-managed purse seine tuna industry in PNA waters, he said. Mr. Kumoru pointed out that although the VDS is now a globally recognized fisheries management tool, PNA had to withstand serious push-back from industry when it began full implementation 10 years ago.

   “There were lots of people in industry and in the islands who said we couldn’t or, more to the point, shouldn’t fully implement the VDS for purse seiners,” said Mr. Kumoru looking back to the start of the VDS. “Where would we be if we listened to this criticism and did not push the envelope?”

   Opposition to the VDS is understandable from those who in the past exploited the resources as if they owned them. Historically, there has been a perception of a “right” to cheap access for their fishing enterprises and economic benefits. PNA views the fishery differently.

   Revenue generated from the purse seine industry for the nine participating islands has gone from US$60 million in 2010 to close to US$500 million in 2018 because of the VDS, he said.

   The dual purpose of the VDS for conservation management is important and if sustainable fishing limits output and in turn generates better prices then it is good news for all, Mr. Kumoru said. It is not just control on fishing effort. Purse seine fishing in PNA waters is subject to numerous management measures including 100 percent observer coverage and required transshipment in PNA ports. The latest stock assessment issued by Pacific Community (SPC) scientists in March shows the four tuna species — skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye and albacore — in the central and Western Pacific are all healthy and in the “green.” “This is something no other Regional Fishery Management Organization can claim and yet we catch more than the other three oceans combined,” said Mr. Kumoru.

   Despite the tremendous success of the VDS in changing the revenue picture for PNA Parties, the VDS is a management tool that allows PNA Parties to do much more to innovate and engage throughout the fishery value chain, from the initial catch to distribution of final product to consumers. “But we can be much more than rent collectors,” he said, adding that some islands are using the VDS for benefits beyond revenue collected for fishing days.

   Mr. Kumoru highlighted several initiatives that are generating additional benefits to the Parties because of creative use of the VDS. These include:

   • Pooling fishing days: Over the past several years, five PNA Parties have pooled a portion of their allotted fishing days to take the seasonality out of their small exclusive economic zones by selling as a group, giving buyers the benefit of multi-zone access. “The pool day program has been a tremendous success for the cooperating Parties,” said Mr. Kumoru. They have been able to sell days for above the PNA-established US$8,000 per day minimum price. Other countries are increasingly selling days by competitive tender, which shows the true value of access when it is industry dictating the value of a fishing day.

   • Marine Stewardship Council certification of free school caught skipjack and yellowfin tuna purse seine fisheries in PNA waters: Being the first MSC-certified tuna fishery of its kind and traded through the Pacifical platform, it has brought numerous benefits to PNA. This is primarily the geographic indicator of the Pacifical logo that has put PNA on the global map, including the ability for private brands to associate with PNA nations and market and promote sustainably caught MSC-certified tuna from PNA waters, which commands a premium price globally.

   Gaining MSC certification has forced PNA to battle with industry, which attempted to prevent certification by repeatedly objecting to the certification that they perceived could erode their market share and raise the benchmark for sustainable trade, he said. PNA, however, withstood the challenges by implementing an independent chain of custody system and the concept of MSC eligibility until tuna is discharged and validated. This is coupled with ongoing audits and assessments that demonstrate it is working very successfully. Today, PNA has unrivaled traceability from the net to the store shelf and under Pacifical the blockchain traceability is also a global first in the trade.

   “It is good for conservation by encouraging more purse seiners to fish without using fish aggregating devices (FADs) while providing additional economic incentives for industry to participate,” he said.  

   “The VDS is an amazing fisheries management platform that we can use to gain many additional benefits for PNA Parties,” Mr. Kumoru said. “We need to keep thinking outside the box to do this.”

   Mr. Kumoru said it is understandable that the success of the VDS to date may leave the region’s leaders happy with the status quo and not pushing new business initiatives. But he believes in continuing innovation to be PNA’s role in fisheries management in the region for the benefit of island people.

   A number of current initiatives are on the table for PNA as a whole or for individual Parties to consider developing further:

   • Full implementation of the VDS for the longline industry. This has been launched and is moving ahead.

   • FAD tracking and management options are work in progress.

   • Bringing all bunkering of purse seiners from the high seas into PNA zones, which offers increasing options for participation.

   • Short-term investment options for Parties of their VDS revenue.

   • Interest in investing in vertical integration within the tuna value chain by individual Parties to diversify revenue streams by engaging in other aspects of the fishery beyond just selling fishing days.

   • Establish longer-term fishing day (“effort”) allocations for PNA to create greater stability for buyers and sellers — instead of the year-to-year system as is currently employed. Long-term decisions on what is known as “Parties Allowed Effort” could give the stability to open the VDS to new business initiatives for the long-term benefit of the Parties, he said.

   “Until PNA is involved in the entire tuna value chain, others will continue to reap all the benefits of our fishery,” said Mr. Kumoru. The many opportunities available in the fishery continue to motivate PNA Parties to do more to increase participation, jobs and commerce, said Mr. Kumoru. “PNA will keep thinking outside the box in order to keep increasing benefits for our islands — we are only limited by our vision.”