FFA takes stock of progress on World Tuna Day



 FFA HQ, Honiara, SOLOMON ISLANDS.May 2 is World Tuna Day, and provides an opportunity to celebrate some of the achievements of Pacific Island Countries, who own a large part of the world’s resources of these fish. In the three years since the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) declared World Tuna Day in 2011, there have been some great outcomes in fisheries across the region. Many of these stem from support provided by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) to its members.

 There are more jobs in Pacific fisheries. Information collected recently shows that the number of people with full-time jobs in fisheries has now reached a new high of over 16,000. Between 2010 and 2013 over 2,000 new jobs were created in tuna processing (many of them for women), and more than 400 as fishing crew. Under its investment facilitation programme, FFA is helping member countries build their domestic industries.

At the same time, there’s been a boost in tuna exports. The value of tuna exports from Pacific Island countries increased by 45% between 2010 and 2013, reaching US$350 million. Most of the growth is in canned tuna and cooked tuna loins, produced for the European Union. FFA programmes have helped Fiji, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea maintain market access to the EU and we expect other countries will soon be able to share this opportunity.

Revenues from Tuna are at record levels. While not all countries can hope to have tuna canneries, many of the smaller island nations rely on fisheries access fees for government revenue. Fees paid by purse seine fishing boats under the PNA Vessel Day Scheme, in particular, are at record levels. Revenue from the US Tuna Treaty, a unique regional access arrangement managed by FFA, has trebled from US$21 million to US$63 million per year.   Even in the long line fishery, where there is huge potential for the Pacific to increase its returns, there has been a more than doubling (130%) in revenue over the last several years.

 Monitoring and information work has improved in the growing Pacific fishery.  FFA, working closely with SPC, has supported the training of over 700 fisheries observers from almost every member country. These national programmes now provide observers for every purse seiner for every trip, providing much better information on fishing activities, improving compliance with regional management measures, and creating employment for young Pacific Islanders. Enhanced monitoring of fishing vessels by satellite, in addition to the FFA vessel monitoring system, has allowed improved detection of suspected poachers.  Cooperation with the “quadrilateral” surveillance providers (Australia, France, New Zealand and the US) is also at an all-time high, complementing the ability of FFA members to deploy assets for on the water presence.

 There has been progress on ensuring stocks remain sustainable. Overfishing of big eye tuna will require further management action but the stocks that provide 95% of tuna catches are being harvested within the maximum sustainable yield. This is evident in the certification by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) of a large part of the fishery for skipjack as a sustainable fishery. More recently, FFA has assisted in the MSC certification of the Fiji Albacore fishery, creating new market opportunities.

Looking ahead, how will the scorecard look by World Tuna Day in 2015? With new canneries under construction in Papua New Guinea, and a range of large and small-scale projects on the way for other FFA countries, exports and employment seem likely to grow further. Recently the prices of tuna for canning have fallen sharply because of good catches in the purse seine fishery and strong supply, which seems likely to reduce catch values. In contrast, catch rates have been low in the albacore fishery, with many domestic fleets finding it hard to compete against too many subsidised foreign vessels. “Pacific Island countries really need to take control of this fishery” says FFA Director General James Movick “and we hope to have a regional harvest strategy in place before the end of the year.” FFA are also expecting to see electronic reporting in use by more of the fishing vessels in the region, and better information systems in member countries to keep track of fishing activities in their waters.

 “FFA members have a right to feel proud of the achievements they have secured over the last 30 years and even more so over the last 5.  While we undoubtedly still have much ground to cover, FFA congratulates the members for their achievements.  At the same time, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the important role played by the donor community in assisting FFA as a regional agency and members through bilateral programs.  We look forward to strengthening these relationships further in the future.”

 And how should Pacific Islanders celebrate World Tuna Day? “Eat tuna” recommends Movick “it is healthy, nutritious, tastes good - and it’s ours.”

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