By NETANI RIKA, Pasay City, the Philippines
AS the self-nominated representative for Small Island Developing States, Fiji has found itself in a position where it may have to fight a lone battle for tuna conservation.
The 14th Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting this year appears no closer to agreeing on uniform conservation measures as national priorities outweigh regional obligations.
Fiji – as a signatory to the Tokelau Agreement on South Pacific Albacore – has agreed to limit its catch to 12,000 tonnes per year, a drop of 2000 tonnes.
“That is our commitment to the region and the need to ensure sustainable fisheries so that all countries can benefit,” said Fiji Fisheries Minister, Commander Semi Koroilavesau.
“Fiji has taken drastic measures to reduce our catch. We’ve accepted the cuts because they are necessary but (other countries) do not agree to cuts.
“We understand their difficulties. Their budgets are based on their fisheries industry which can make up 50 to 60 per cent of annual national budgets.”
In the spirit of the Tuna Commission (WCPFC), Koroilavesau is reluctant to name the offending nations but his reference is to Tuvalu and Kiribati, tuna-rich countries to Fiji’s north.
In 2015 year the Fiji fleet caught 7608 tonnes worth USD30 million.
By comparison over the same period Kiribati took in 149,314 tonnes worth USD233 million.
The total catch in Kiribati’s waters, including that caught by its foreign fleet, came to 641,119 tonnes worth a staggering $911million.
Tuvalu’s fleet caught 5175 tonnes worth USD9 million while the total catch in its waters came to 80,205 tonnes worth USD103 million.
“On the side lines of this and other meetings Fiji has been asking for some consideration so that we can also benefit from tuna fisheries but we can’t force anyone,” Koroilavesau said.
“The tuna that comes into Fiji waters travels from the north so we fully support the closure of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADS) for three months and a cap on the harvests by national fleets.’’
A FAD is a man-made object used to attract ocean going pelagic fish. Over 300 species of fish gather around FADs.
Some countries at the WCPFC have expressed reluctance to adhere to catch limitations and the closure of FADs, among them Kiribati.
Koroilavesau admitted that there was tension within the membership over the issue of FADs and harvesting.
“These issues have been pending for some years and we are hoping for a conclusion and some compromise,” the former navy officer said.
“We need consensus to agree on the basic facts of issues facing the commission.”
Koroilavesau said that despite the strong objections of other nations he remained optimistic.
“It’s important that there is support for limits, especially for a country like Fiji which relies on fish which travel through the waters of other sovereign nations before reaching us,” he said.
“If our neighbour agreed to limitations that would lead to an increase in the number of fish which we can harvest.
“A three-month FAD closure – and it looks like Kiribati has agreed to that – will have a huge impact on our stocks and the fisheries industry at home.”
That closure signals a shift in Kiribati’s stance on day one at the 14th WCPFC when Fisheries Minister, Tetabo Nakara highlighted the impact such a limitation would have on his country.
"Access fees from tuna fishing contributes more than 80 per cent toward the total government's annual expenditure that supports, amongst others, crucial funding for our education system, medical care, other basic needs that the government is obligated to deliver as services to its 110,000 inhabitants, as well as salaries of civil servants," he said.
With two days of talks remaining, it’s unclear how many other countries will be willing to make concessions.
By NETANI RIKA, Pasay City, the Philippines
FIJI will seek approval to conduct exploratory tuna fishing in Kiribati and Tuvalu waters for the next five years.
The move comes as Fiji notes a decrease in tuna stocks within its 1.3million square kilometre Exclusive Economic Zone.
Fiji’s Fisheries Minister, Commander Semi Koroilavesau, met his Tuvalu and Kiribati counterparts at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission here today (Tuesday).
But there is some resistance from Kiribati towards Fiji’s approach while Tuvalu has been more receptive.
“We have asked for a trial period starting with one boat fishing in Tuvalu and Kiribati waters for 12 months initially,” Koroilavesau said.
“Kiribati wants USD12,000 a day per vessel and we believe that’s too much for a boat which must sail from Fiji to the Northern Pacific before returning to off-load its catch.
“Indications from Tuvalu are a little friendlier but this is work in progress and we’ll just have to see where it goes.”
The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates Fiji's annual marine fisheries to be 36,400 tonnes.
Given the introduction of on-shore processing facilities in Kiribati, Tarawa may be reluctant to open more of its waters to regional and international fishing fleets.
Koroilavesau said there was a possibility of Free Trade Agreements or Preferred Nation Status arrangements to benefit Fiji, Tuvalu and Kiribati.
“Some of those arrangements fall outside the mandate of the Fisheries Ministry but we need to look at how as Pacific island communities we can maximise benefits to regional communities,” he said.
If Fiji’s northern neighbours do not open their EEZs, Fiji will explore the option of accessing high seas pockets beyond Tuvalu and Kiribati in order to catch Albacore Tuna.
Fiji borders Vanuatu to the West, Solomon Islands to the North-west, Tuvalu to the North and the French territory of Wallis and Futuna to the North-east.
Forty per cent of the Fijian EEZ borders international waters.
Koroilavesau said rapidly falling fish stocks were of a major concern to Fiji operators.
“We have some small operators in Suva (the capital) and Lautoka who are heavily reliant on catches from local boats so we need to get out of Fiji waters to access resources.” he said.
“Ideally we would trial one boat for 12 months in Kiribati and Tuvalu national waters and based on catch results look at increasing that to two or three vessels in the following year.
“Fiji is willing to look at what it can do to accommodate our neighbours in terms of business opportunities in return for access to the fisheries.”
Fiji has opted to find creative ways to support its fishing fleet including the distribution of USD1.6 million in fuel rebate to seven companies.
Named the Tuna Support Fund, four cents per litre of imported fuel was transferred to a State account for distribution to selected fishing companies.
The action was taken ostensibly to allow Fiji-owned firms to compete withforeign fishing which received fuel subsidies from their governments.
Fiji Fish Marketing Group Ltd executive chairman Grahame Southwick said the rebate might not solve all their problems.
“This gives us a bit of breathing space. We are happy now; this will take us through to the next critical years as we try and solve other problems,” he said.
With 30 years of experience in the industry, Southwick said the main problem affecting Fiji fisheries was overfishing due to excessive licensing.
“Controls within Fiji waters are quite strong but it can be a little bit better,” Southwick said.
“But it’s the foreign fleet fishing around Fiji on our perimeters, which is not sustainable.
“Too many boats are fishing in the high seas surrounding us preventing fish from coming into Fiji.
“Before the situation can improve, the regional over fishing and the fleet has to be slashed by at least 50 per cent.’’
Southwick estimated this problem would take five to 10 years to resolve.
Enter Koroilavesau and the Fisheries Ministry which now wants to take the Fijian fleet into foreign waters.
Koroilavesau said talks between Fiji, Tuvalu and Kiribati would continue over the next three days and he looked forward to a positive outcome.
By NETANI RIKA, Pasay City, Philippines
DIRECT flights from Fiji to Japan are expected to boost sales of tuna from the Pacific and create larger profits for regional exporters
Fiji Airways is expected to announce the resumption of its Narita flights on Wednesday.
In 2009 Fiji’s national carrier withdrew its service to Japan, citing a downturn in the tourism market.
The news of the resumption was greeted with enthusiasm at the 14th Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting today (Monday).
Fiji’s Permanent Secretary for Fisheries, Sanaila Naqali, described the Narita service – due to start in mid-2018 – as critical to the industry.
“Direct flights should translate into lower costs for Fijian exporters so that is good news,” Naqali said.
“Access – and we mean affordable access – to key markets is an absolute necessity for a successful export operation.
“There are a number of Pacific countries which will now be able to send their product through Fiji for transportation to Japan. So it’s good for the region as a whole.”
Naqali said new strategies – including transport links and cost-effective business plans were essential if the tuna industry for Fiji and the Pacific is to remain viable.
Until 2009 tuna loins were exported from Fiji on the (then) Air Pacific service to the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo.
When the service was withdrawn, most of the tuna export traffic was picked up by Air New Zealand which uplifts freight from Nadi and transfers it to Tokyo through its Auckland hub.
Since then Kiribati has brought its national processing plant on-line in Tarawa and exports loins to the European Union. Most of this product is flown by Solomon Airlines which recently introduced flights to Tarawa from Honiara with onward connections to Brisbane.
Last month Fiji Airways began a campaign in the Japanese tourism industry to create awareness of its plans to operate the Narita route.
The First Secretary of the Fiji Embassy in Japan, Isikeli Nadolo, said the airline held a seminar in Tokyo for industry representatives.
“This is in anticipation of the direct flight, creating awareness and making the necessary connections and network with the people in the travel and tourism industry,” he said.
Meanwhile, Japanese seafood imports declined in the first half of 2017 on the back of rising costs of the product.
In the first six months of 2017, Japan imported USD6.2 billion worth of seafood – an increase of eight per cent over the same period in 2016, according to International Trade Centre.
The decreased tonnage and increased value of imports has been due to rising cost of fishing licences in the Pacific.
PACIFIC tuna is under threat from the world’s largest fishing nations including China, Japan and South Korea.
And the inaction of the Western and Central Pacific Fishing Commission to control overfishing in the high seas and low catches within regional fisheries zones.
That’s the view of Fiji’s Fisheries Minister, Commander Semi Koroilavesau.
“(This) inaction of the commission is negatively contributing to over-capacity in the high seas resulting in low catches in the zone,” he told the 14th Tuna Commission Meeting at Pasay City in the Philippines.
“We do not want to see this continue as our fishery may collapse under the pressure that is being forcefully exerted upon us by Distant water Fishing Nations.
Koroilavesau – a former navy officer responsible for patrolling Fiji’s Exclusive Economic Zone – said previous commission meetings lingered on the need to control fishing in the high seas.
“Frankly speaking, this has not been successfully addressed,” Koroilavesau said.
“We do not need to dwell too much on this since it is well known that the continuous failure of members to adopt relevant measures on sustainable harvesting of key tuna species due to the decision making process of the commission.”
For several years the Pacific has tried to control fishing in the region through sustainable fisheries measures which have been treated with scepticism and sometimes outright contempt by China and Japan.
The Tuna Commission – fully aware of the powers of these huge economies – has adopted an approach which calls for compromise by members before implementation of procedures.
Because of this, it is seen as a toothless tiger by members and non-members alike.
Forum Fisheries Agency Director-General, James Movick, said however there was a need for the region to confront distant water fishing nations.
“(They must) reconcile their narrow fishing interests with their broader role as key strategic and development partners of this region," Movick said.
“The time has come to step up the conversations around the economics of tuna and what countries, thinking regionally, are prepared to take — and give — so that we, as a region, can protect our fisheries resource, while achieving our economic aspirations."
Experts have consistently warned the Pacific of a risk of over fishing but individual countries have not been able to agree on effective management measures of the southern albacore fishery.
"Our lack of unity and resolve has allowed distant water fishing nations to expand their own fisheries and to favour their own fleets," Movick said.
Koroilavesau’s call at the beginning of the 14th Tuna Commission appeared to be an attempt to galvanise support for a united stand against the big fishing nations.
But those same nations control the purse strings which fund much of the development in the region from roads and wharves to hospitals, schools and clean water.
“My delegation believes in the system and processes currently in place to allow us to efficiently discuss matters,” Koroilavesau said in his opening remarks.
“This might mean making hard decisions, foregoing certain benefits but hard decisions need to be made now.”
Over the next four days how serious Pacific islands countries are about the protection of their fisheries and whether they can stand up against the might of the distant water fishing nations.
THE number of sexual violence reports in general and particularly against children in Fiji has skyrocketed, according to statistics released by the country’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) office. This year alone has seen 112 cases of children under 18-years-old being victims of rape and sexual abuse. Jarring statistics have also come to light in a report prepared under the Fiji Health Sector Support Programme (FHSSP) late last year, revealing 14,052 sexual offences reported to police between 2011 and 2015 involving adolescents.
This included 1259 rapes of girls and 212 rapes of boys under the age of 18. The report also noted a dramatic increase of rape of younger children aged between 6 and 12 years old age group from 146 victims in 2014 to 166 victims in 2015. These alarming figures no doubt leads one to question the surge of cases flooding Rise in sex crimes in Fiji media reports and with that, the current state of society when it comes to protecting children.
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