In recent years, Pacific ACP countries have made significant efforts to gain Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for several Pacific tuna fisheries. Most notably, in 2012, Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) received the MSC label for their free school caught skipjack tuna.
Similarly, at the end of 2012, the Fiji Tuna Boat Owners Association (FTBOA) was granted the MSC label for their albacore longline fishery – becoming the first in the world to be MSC certified. In June 2013, the first consignment of MSC-labelled tuna left Fiji for Spain. In addition to gaining access to new markets, FTBOA members have also been able to add value to their tuna products to increase competitiveness and export earnings. The MSC-certified albacore loins are sold directly to Europe – either fresh or frozen to be served as steaks – rather than exported frozen whole for canning as before. This creates more jobs locally for loin processing, and the net return is higher.
From 2007, Fiji tuna products were banned from the EU markets for lack of compliance with EU sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS). However, the MSC-labelling process requires compliance of strict handling processes: fish must be stored at the right temperature, and high hygiene standards respected on the vessel and by the staff handling the fish. The whole approval process, which lasted 3 years, helped Fiji to address EU SPS issues. But it was costly and FTBOA had to obtain financial assistance from the Forum Fisheries Agency EU-funded DevFish Project.
The MSC-certified PNA skipjack fishery has also been given a boost in recent months. In April, in an unprecedented move, Papua New Guinea (PNG), which accounts for 18% of the world tuna supply, issued a circular calling on all tuna purse seining fleets to start landing MSC-certified skipjack to processing plants associated with the PNA initiative Pacifical, which markets PNA MSC tuna internationally. It is the first PNA member to give such an instruction to fleet owners operating within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The eco-certification of some Pacific tuna fisheries has triggered innovation and compliance by the private sector, and has helped address long-standing issues for Fiji’s access to the EU market, such as compliance with EU SPS and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) requirements. The success of such initiatives in the Pacific is also due to the public support received: financial support for the certification process in Fiji; PNA involvement for the MSC certification of skipjack; and PNG’s decision to increase MSC-certified tuna landings in PNG. Lessons could be drawn from this Pacific experience by other ACP countries in terms of how public support should be provided to private sector initiatives for improving the sustainability and quality of their production.