MAJURO—The Parties to the Nauru Agreement see 2014 as another groundbreaking year, with increased financial benefits for its eight island members, improved conservation of tuna, and expansion of its eco-label “Pacifical” in Europe and elsewhere.
On Jan. 1, fishing day fees rose to a minimum price of $6,000, up from $5,000 in 2012-13—although fishing days sold for more than $6,000 in 2013. The new minimum benchmark price is part of PNA’s vessel day scheme that limits the number of fishing days sold to domestic and distant water fishing nations as a two-prong measure to conserve tuna stocks while increasing their value.
“The minimum benchmark price has served a good purpose since 2012,” says PNA CEO Dr. Transform Aqorau, who is based at the PNA office in the Marshall Islands. “But it has also been used to hold the price down.”
In 2013, some fishing companies paid as much as $7,000 per day and Aqorau is of the view that letting the market set the price will result in a significantly increased fishing day price than the current benchmark.
PNA’s vessel day scheme has resulted in a quadrupling of revenue accruing to PNA members in four years. In 2010, skipjack tuna caught in this region of the Pacific was valued at US$1.9 billion, with only US$60 million of that going to PNA nations. The total skipjack revenue for 2013 is estimated at about $3.9 billion, with the PNA share rising to $249 million. With fishing day fees rising to $6,000 this year, PNA’s share of fishing revenue is expected to rise again.
But the vessel day scheme is only one part of PNA’s program for increasing benefits from the fishing industry for islands in the Pacific. Late in 2013, the first sustainably-caught PNA Pacifical-labeled canned tuna hit the market in Austria. This product will command a higher price because it meets strict sustainability requirements enforced by the Marine Stewardship Council, which certified “free school” caught skipjack tuna in PNA waters. Free school means tuna that is caught without using fish aggregating devices.
“PNA and has attained Marine Stewardship Council certification for free school skipjack that demonstrates that our fishery and ecosystem is sustainable,” said Aqorau. “This is a world first. The MSC eco-label is widely known as being the most rigorous, science based assessment of the sustainability of the whole fishery.”
With numerous wholesale and retail food importers in Europe wanting MSC-certified skipjack from PNA waters, PNA anticipates larger volumes of free school tuna being marketed in Europe in 2014, said Aqorau.
Concerns about overfishing of bigeye, a tuna prized for sashimi and sushi markets, led PNA to lobby the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to adopt cutbacks in fishing effort for bigeye at its December annual meeting. Although the Commission members, who include the major distant water fishing nations as well as Pacific members, did not endorse adoption of a PNA conservation measure, they did approve conservation measures that will reduce the bigeye catch, said Aqorau.
“Our objective was to halt over-fishing of bigeye,” he said. “We’re not there yet.”
But, he adds, there are new limits on the number of fishing vessels that can enter the Pacific, and agreements on reducing effort targeting bigeye.
A key concern for PNA members is what Aqorau describes as the “disproportionate burden” of conservation on the islands. Conservation measures such as the four-month ban on using fish aggregating devices in PNA waters impact domestic fleets of the islands more than distant water fishing nations because domestic fleets tend to fish within the islands’ 200 mile exclusive economic zones, while distant water fleets go elsewhere to fish.
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission adopted resolutions at its December meeting that require the Commission to take into account development aspirations of small island development states when it considers conservation measures. This includes the issue of disproportionate burden, which Aqorau believes will give the islands greater leverage in negotiating these issues with distant water fishing nations that are members of the Commission.
The Parties to the Nauru Agreement are eight Pacific Island countries that control the world’s largest sustainable tuna purse seine fishery supplying 50 percent 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)