“Pacific Island governments have a responsibility to control tuna fishing in their waters, and should be giving preference to local fishing fleets instead of granting more licences to foreign fishing vessels,” advised the Parties of Nauru Agreement (PNA) commercial manager, when asked about the current status of local fishing fleets in the South Pacific states.
The manager highlighted that there is a widespread misconception that “just one more licence issued is more revenue, when in reality one less licence issued means better catch rates, better catches and economics and higher market prices and a better prospect to survive for the domestic industry.” He suggested a good idea would be to receive a fair rent from foreign fleets to the advantage of domestic fleets.
This comes at a time when Fiji’s local tuna fishing industry announced its collapse, with the two main local fishing companies closing down, and others about to follow – around 8,000 people are likely to lose their jobs. The head of the Fiji Tuna Boat Owners Association said that the Fiji industry could not compete with heavily subsidised foreign vessels, particularly those from China.
Figures from the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) show that last year there was a 125% increase in the size of China’s South Pacific tuna fleet, which now counts 241 vessels, many of them newly built using subsidies. An FFA briefing paper warned that, without Pacific governments’ intervention, “the prospect for the survival of domestic non-Chinese-flagged vessels in the region would be extremely challenging.”
The Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) is one tool developed by PNA governments’ members to manage fishing efforts in the region. Pacific Islands’ leaders are critical of the EU opposition to the scheme. The Solomon Island’s Permanent Secretary for Fisheries and Marine Resources explained that his country has refused to ratify the FPA protocol, “in solidarity with PNA arrangement” because the EU refused to apply the VDS to its vessels.
Several aspects have to be taken into account to ensure the development of a local tuna industry in the Pacific. The VDS is a useful management tool for the fishing effort, and it needs to be recalled that the European Parliament, when voting “for a comprehensive EU Fishery Strategy in the Pacific” in 2013, recognised that future agreements with the EU should be based on the VDS, provided that measures are adopted to ensure its transparency, its implementation by all the parties and compliance with the best available scientific advice. The European Commission has reiterated that it has no problem in principle with an effort regime, provided that it is fully science based and allows for the conservation objective to be achieved, in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner. Currently, the EC considers that this is not the case of the VDS scheme, but welcomes the fact that PNA has launched an evaluation of its scheme and looks forward to the outcome.
Overall, there is still a need to cap the tuna fishing capacity in the region, by limiting the number of licensed fishing vessels. It is therefore important that the region’s countries carefully analyse the long-term socio-economic costs and benefits of licensing an increasing number of foreign vessels, which may jeopardise the development of a local fishing fleet – as shown in Fiji.