While enjoying the benefits of the current surge in fisheries revenue, PNA member countries need to prepare for future downturns in revenue to avoid shocks to government finances and services dependent on this new source of funds, said Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) CEO Dr. Transform Aqorau.
“We can’t be complacent about the income we’re receiving now,” said Dr. Transform Aqorau in Majuro this week. “One bad year of fishing will have a huge negative impact on our economies.”
The eight PNA member countries have seen revenue increase five times since 2010, going from $64 million to an estimated $350 million this year. “This is all related to PNA’s vessel day scheme (VDS) management system,” said Dr. Aqorau. “It wouldn’t be happening without implementation of the VDS and management of the system by the PNA Office.”
In practical terms, the skyrocketing tuna revenue means that in one country, revenues have increased from $30 million annually to nearly $150 million, while in others it has jumped from $20 to $60 million. In the Marshall Islands, VDS revenue has increased from around $3 million to over $15 million annually.
Climate and other environmental factors, an over-abundance of tuna stock depressing prices, or market forces out of the PNA’s control can all impact fishing in the western and central Pacific. Fishing tuna heavily every year will have an impact on the fishery, Dr. Aqorau said. “We need to guard against this.”
There are a range of threats — from unknown future environmental changes affecting fishing to market states using measures to undermine or weaken PNA efforts at developing domestic fishery capacity — that can impact future income for the eight PNA members. “We have to manage the risks,” he said.
The World Bank is presently supporting a fisheries project in the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands that is focusing on fisheries “governance” issues, including how to design an insurance trust fund to set up a buffer for island governments when they hit a “drought year” in terms of revenue.
“My message to the PNA Ministers (at the annual meeting in Pohnpei in mid-June) is that financially, we’ve done very well,” said Dr. Aqorau. “But there are many risks.”
With the additional revenues now available, PNA members need to look at setting up trust or insurance funds “so when revenue goes down, governments are insulated from the damage,” he said.
In addition to encouraging PNA members to establish insurance arrangements for “down market” years, Dr. Aqorau says PNA will be focusing on streamlining rules governing the VDS and working on compliance among PNA members. “The VDS is an arrangement that we hold out to the international community as a successful management system so we have to show we are discharging our obligations and responsibilities properly,” Dr. Aqorau said. “For ourselves, we need a process to audit compliance.”
Region-wide, PNA can demonstrate that tuna catches in PNA waters have remained stable, while catches on the high seas are escalating because there is no effective management system in place. He noted, for example, that while PNA enforces a three-month moratorium on the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) in PNA zones, Indonesia and the Philippines are not applying this closure to their waters.
PNA collection and use of fisheries data is now paying off. “The investments we made in our information management system is starting to bear fruit for us,” he said. “We can demonstrate that increased catches are coming from outside PNA zones.” This is a critical management tool that belongs to PNA parties, he said, adding that PNA needs to continue investing in electronic monitoring of the fishery, including port-to-port electronic reporting that “will give us a much better picture of the fishery.” The availability of this increasingly detailed fisheries data will bolster PNA proposals and measures for action at the regional level for high seas management.
The addition of FAD tracking starting in January 2016 will allow PNA to integrate into its information management system a greater range of fisheries information helpful for scientific analysis of stocks, he said.
Bottom line for the rest of 2015, said Dr. Aqorau, is PNA will continue to improve management of the VDS, expand its fisheries information management system, push for tighter control on high seas fishing, and urge its members to take steps to establish insurance against future years when fisheries revenue declines.
The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) are eight Pacific Island countries that control the world’s largest sustainable tuna purse seine fishery supplying a major portion of the world’s skipjack tuna (a popular tuna for canned products). They are Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.
PNA has been a champion for marine conservation and management, taking unilateral action to conserve overfished bigeye tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, including closures of high seas pockets, seasonal bans on use of Fish Aggregating Devices (FAD), satellite tracking of boats, in port transshipment, 100 percent observer coverage of purse seiners, closed areas for conservation, mesh size regulations, tuna catch retention requirements, hard limits on fishing effort, prohibitions against targeting whale sharks, shark action plans, and other conservation measures to protect the marine ecosystem.
For more information, contact Dr. Transform Aqorau, CEO, PNA Office, on email: email@example.com or by phone, (692) 625-7626.