Tuna Tales: Interests of Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFNs) v the Interests of Pacific Island Countries (PICs)

cropped-yellow-fin-tuna-school3

This is one of those perennial topics that surfaces and subsides; surfaces and subsides…

I bring this up because in my tracking through the plethora of Atuna.com articles I came across an interesting that alleges that the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) were subject to the whims of the big business that resides in many of the distant water fishing nations (DWFNs).

This article from Islands Business (Big Tuna Business Interests Clash With PNA Goals published on 15 Jan, 2013) didn’t seem to fit its publication being pitched squarely on the left side of the field,  lead off with an eco-socialist statement from PNA chairwoman Nanette Malsol:

“It is the big fishing nations of the EU, US, Japan and Asia that have historically overfished bigeye tuna. It is their long-line fishing vessels that are responsible for much of the catch of adult bigeye tuna which is still fished 40% over the sustainable level.”

The article, Tackling Big Interests (Jan 2013) continues onward in the same eco-socialist vein

“In every issue that affects the world adversely in any substantial way, it is invariably the interests of wealthy, organized big business that stands in the way of the greater good of the world. Be it land, air or sea environment, their varied but unique ecosystems, rare and endangered species, peaceful relations between the common people of nations and regions or even the health of humans themselves, the interests of big business organizations always take precedence.

Big business owners and shareholders ultimately get their way with national governments, world organizations, financial institutions and politicians of every hue falling to their entreaties and kowtowing to their solely profit-driven motives, succumbing to their effective use of both power and pelf.

This is the reason why wars continue to happen despite all sorts of efforts to prevent them from happening. It is also the reason why the world is unable to come to any substantial agreement on what to do with climate change despite its effects staring us in the face and threatening the livelihoods and lives of millions of people in low-lying and developing countries around the world.

It is also the reason why the world, particularly the poorer nations are being overwhelmed by lifestyle diseases, which was never their lot throughout history, while their traditional foods are being consigned to oblivion. And, of course, big business greed is why the global financial crisis exploded on the world. Despite all that widespread suffering since the crisis unfolded, that same greed which drove the crisis in the first place is now coming in the way of finding a solution to put the world’s economies back on track.

No matter how economists, financial wizards and so-called experts rationalize and try to explain away with their mostly specious casuistry and spurious arguments, there is no denying that greed and big business interests are at the heart of much of the world’s problems today.”

[…]

“Big business owners and shareholders ultimately get their way with national governments, world organizations, financial institutions and politicians of every hue falling to their entreaties and kowtowing to their solely profit-driven motives, succumbing to their effective use of both power and pelf.”

Although this article reads a little like the musings of someone who is still waiting for a ‘decent suck of the sauce bottle;’ beneath all the leftist political-economic rhetoric,teh issues presented are very worthy of some pause. Are they right? Do you think? I guess the answer to this question depends on one’s position on the political-economic fence.

Personally I don’t think that asymmetric distribution is the principle driver behind wars, lifestyle diseases and the inability to reach agreement on things like climate change… But that said, it would seem to me that asymmetry is highly unlikely to give rise to positive buoyancy.

Albacore (Thunnus alalunga). Source: http://pna.atuna.com/ViewArticle.asp?ID=12335

Bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus). Source: Big Tuna Business Interests Clash With PNA Goals (see http://pna.atuna.com/)

The article continues on its eco-socialist tirade, but brings in WCPO governance, in particular the Western and Central Pacific Commission (WCPFC) and its relationship with the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA):

“The world’s inability to take the bull by the horns, that is, to tackle the greed of big business interests, is clearly what stands in the way of finding lasting solutions to these problems. The latest example of this brazen greed was seen in the Pacific Islands region early last month at the Western and Central Pacific Commission (WCPFC) meeting in Manila in the Philippines.”

The article informs us that:

“The WCPFC annually brings together the Pacific Islands nations and the big fishing nations to meet and decide the rules for fishing of tuna throughout the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, the world’s largest tuna fishery and often regarded as the last significant repository of the world’s tuna. The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), which is one of the more successful Pacific Islands regional initiatives of recent years and which manages the world’s largest sustainable tuna purse seine fishery, says the big fishing nations have yet again failed to cut their overfishing, potentially threatening fish stocks in Pacific waters.”

And finally the nature of the issue; the alleged overfishing of Bigeye Tuna by DWF fleets, or conversely the lack of agreement by the fleets of DWFNs to accept catch reductions significant enough to foster recovery:

The PNA, which manages half of the world’s skipjack tuna, the most commonly canned tuna species, is fished at sustainable levels. But bigeye tuna, a popular sashimi fish, is overfished. This is primarily caused because of the catching of juvenile fish around Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) and long-line fishing vessel catches by the big fishing nations such as the members of the European Union, big fishing corporations from the United States, Japan and other Asian nations.

Though it is well documented that bigeye tuna is overfished to the extent of more than 40 percent, the big fishing nations like Korea and Taiwan committed to cutting their bigeye tuna catches by a mere two percent at last month’s meeting, while China agreed to a 10 percent cut. Unfortunately, this year’s meeting concluded with only a temporary measure that allows big fishing nations to continue to overfish bigeye tuna, the PNA said in a communiqué released after the meeting.

This ‘blocking’ of sustainability measures by the fleets of DWFNs is not a baseless accusation. There are a myriad of articles out there that denote a lack of consensus at the WCPFC and even accusations of actual ‘blocking’:

  • High Seas Drama: Pacific Islands Question Need for Tuna Commission: 07 February 2008 … Pacific Islands countries have questioned the need to include foreign nations in the Tuna Commission after they failed in a dramatic fashion to agree on ways to conserve their highly migratory tuna stocks in the high seas.
  • Big nations block curbs on tuna overfishing: 07 December 2012 … Efforts to curb overfishing of tuna in the Pacific were blocked by big countries that refused to cut their catch at a meeting of tuna-fishing nations in the Asia-Pacific, delegates said.
  • Int’l groups call to stop tuna overfishing urged: 10 December 2012 … WCPFC strongly suggested to the Phil­ippines to adopt pragmatic measures to di­minish, if not stop, overfishing in the region’s oceans.
  • Tensions high as tuna meet nears: 24 November 2012 … Tensions are high as Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting in Manila draws closer.This comes as powerful fishing nations across the globe like the US, Japan, European Union, Korea and Taiwan prepare  to face […] the Parties to the Nauru Agreement(PNA) and Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).
Environmental activists hold banners as others depict a school of tuna during a rally outside the South Korean Embassy in suburban Taguig, south of Manila, Philippines on Nov. 29, 2012. Efforts to curb overfishing of tuna in the Pacific were blocked by big countries that refused to cut their catch at a meeting of tuna-fishing nations in the Asia-Pacific. Photo: Aaron Favilahttp://globalnation.inquirer.net/59013/big-nations-block-curbs-on-tuna-overfishing

Environmental activists hold banners as others depict a school of tuna during a rally outside the South Korean Embassy in suburban Taguig, south of Manila, Philippines on Nov. 29, 2012. Efforts to curb overfishing of tuna in the Pacific were blocked by big countries that refused to cut their catch at a meeting of tuna-fishing nations in the Asia-Pacific. Photo: Aaron Favila
http://globalnation.inquirer.net/59013/big-nations-block-curbs-on-tuna-overfishing

The reason for this ability to essentially block measures because states parties are able to exploit the voting rules that are provided for in the WCPFC convention. Simply the convention requires:

  • Consensus and voting: Universal agreement, or consensus, is the general rule for decision making by commission members during their annual meetings. What’s more the Commission is divided into two voting blocs – FFA members who form one block in the commission (consisting of Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, & Vanuatu); the DWFNs of Canada, China, Chinese-Taipei, European Commission, France, Japan, Korea, Philippines and the United States form the other bloc. Consequently the WCPFC is plagued by disagreement and an inability to reach consensus.
  • Voting and mediation: If consensus cannot be reached, voting, grounds for  appealing decisions, conciliation and review are all part of the decision making process, as described in Article 20 of the Convention. Voting on issues can only be done by member countries and they have to vote in person, not by proxy, on the issue of contention.

So as you can see the governance framework throws down significant challenges for effective resource management from the get go.

The article (Big Tuna Business Interests Clash With PNA Goals) continues on with its eco-socialist rhetoric, cynically asserting that the measures where consensus was reached where simply concessions or “sops”:

[…] [A]s is usual in the case of such high profile meetings, big business interests concede a little by way of sops in the interests of public relations and their own image management—and of course to take the bite out of conservationist organizations’ activism. Last month’s meeting did notch up a success or two and one of the measures agreed upon has been hailed by fisheries authorities as having possible far reaching implications on the positive side of the ledger.

The ‘sops’ the author was referring to are:

(1) A conservation and management measure on tuna, which will be applied until the end of 2013, which included the banning of setting nets on whale sharks in the waters from 20 degrees South to 30 degrees North.

 (2) A ‘flick the switch’ measure was passed which will allow greater transparency between vessels fishing in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of PICs. The measure provides for the monitoring authorities of the PICs to be able to see all fishing vessels in their territorial waters that are on the commission vessel monitoring system, Thereby effectively closing one loophole for IUU fishing. The closing of this IUU loophole is significant because in the past vessels moving from water beyond any national jurisdiction (the high seas) to jurisdictional waters of WCPFC PICs were no longer monitored. Because the WCPFC could no longer track these vessels and advise the member countries where they were, they were essentially giving the vessels unfettered access to the marine resources within the EEZs. This ‘flick the switch’ measure essentially removes this unfettered access.

The article finishes somewhat divergent from where it began… as the reader I felt like the article started out in a tantrum, and as a consequence of a cathartic outpouring of eco-socialist rhetoric the fire in the author’s pen subsided. The article calmly finished:

“The regional fisheries authorities must be congratulated for last month’s achievement. Continuing on this track, they must do everything they can to rein in the big fishing nations to cut their bigeye fishing targets to sustainable levels as prescribed by marine scientists’ research.”

What’s My Point?

In my opinion, this inability for RFMOs (Regional Fisheries Management Organisations) like the WCPFC to agree on the hard stuff is problematic.

DWFNs that are home to large fisheries markets like Japan, Taiwan and even distant Spain, wield a lot of economic power vis-à-vis smaller states that supply the resource for market, because (quite literally) the buck stops with them. So this explains their control of the supply into the market… but what of the demand? I am talking about the demand that will come from any of those markets when supplies quieten and subside? Or when suppliers stop supplying to those markets due to sustainability concerns? Will they control the price then?

Fish is the most traded commodity of earth… there is no shortage of trade stories… and since many of these involve the lucrative tuna trade… there is no shortage of tuna tales.

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One thought on “Tuna Tales: Interests of Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFNs) v the Interests of Pacific Island Countries (PICs)

  1. Pingback: IUU Fishing: “J’accuse!” – China Accused Of Grossly Underreporting Its Catches | Green Fish Blue Fish

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