The mice that roared: how eight tiny countries took on foreign fishing fleets | World news


It has been described as “the most remarkable achievement of the Pacific island countries in the last 50 years”.

In 1982, eight, largely minuscule Pacific island countries in whose waters a lot of the world’s skipjack tuna was caught bought collectively and determined to do one thing to get a share of the earnings, of which they obtained exactly nothing.

In a shining instance of regional cooperation, the group, referred to as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), successively outmanoeuvred the United States, Japan and Taiwan, and later mainland China and the European Union.


“It was a David versus Goliath situation from the start,” mentioned Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific Islands Program of the Lowy Institute in Sydney.

Over 4 many years of trial and error, they created a system that Pryke calls “revolutionary” that at this time not solely yields them half a billion {dollars} a yr but additionally prevents the overfishing that worldwide fishing fleets have carried out to deplete the waters off most poor countries.

They had been, from east to west, six micro-states made up largely of tiny islands (Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Nauru, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau) and two midsized countries, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.

The key to success, mentioned Ludwig Kumoru, the outgoing chief govt of the PNA, was to jettison a system wherein the PNA nations undercut one another in making an attempt to promote fishing rights of their waters to foreign fleets – and substitute it with one other, known as the Vessel-Day Scheme. That scheme sees them calculate how a lot tuna fishing is sustainable after which divides that quantity up into fishing days for which fishing firms bid.

“We set the minimum price of a day at US$8,000 a day, up from $2,500 at the beginning, but demand was so high that we’ve been getting $12,000 to $14,000 a day,” Kumoru mentioned.

“All our fish stocks are healthy,” mentioned Transform Aqorau, a Solomon Islands lawyer who grew to become the primary chief govt of the PNA in 2010, and was largely chargeable for introducing the scheme.

“And they are likely are likely to remain healthy if recent levels of exploitation continue,” confirmed John Hampton, chief scientist because the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, the area’s high fisheries scientist.

Ludwig Kumoru (left), Chief Executive Officer of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) Office Photograph: Chewy E Lin/Chewy E. Lin

‘Host countries weren’t getting a penny’

Sean Dorney, a veteran Pacific correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, remembers being current on the creation of the PNA in 1982 – a gathering on the phosphate-rich island nation of Nauru of the fisheries ministers of the 16-nation Forum Fisheries Agency, which oversees fishing within the Pacific and consists of Australia and New Zealand. Dorney flew in from Port Moresby as a result of he sensed one thing huge was about to occur.

“There was a palpable sense of frustration,” he mentioned. “None of the fish were being landed in any of the eight countries where they were fished, they were all trans-shipped to refrigerated ships and taken to Bangkok or Japan, and the host countries weren’t getting a penny.”

Local fishermen in Tuvalu with a foreign fishing vessel in the background
Local fishermen in Tuvalu see a well-known sight close by. Photograph: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images for Lumix

When the eight countries signed what would turn out to be the unique Nauru settlement – to coordinate their relations with the foreign fishing fleets – “They had no clear sense of what they realistically could expect,” Dorney mentioned. “All we knew was that this was a historic moment.”

Looking again, “the creation of PNA is probably the most remarkable achievement of the Pacific island countries in the last 50 years, a shining example of cooperation,” he added.

Lowy’s Pryke mentioned: “In today’s climate, it would be much harder to create a PNA, because regionalism is at a low ebb.”

The PNA took years to refine right into a system that generated vital revenue for the Pacific nations. Fees grew slowly within the decade after signing the PNA.

By the mid-Nineties, the huge growth of the worldwide tuna fleets was starting to peak, however the eight countries had been receiving a tiny fraction of the earnings realised by the fleets when the fish had been landed. “So there was no real cap, no competition and no scarcity, and the fees they collected were still way below 5% of the landed value of the fish,” mentioned Michael Lodge, a younger British lawyer, joined the Forum Fisheries Agency, the regional company that supervised Pacific fishing, as its authorized adviser in 1989.

It wasn’t till 2011 that the PNA hit on the profitable components. The Vessel Day Scheme, which had already been carried out, was refined to permit the secretariat to promote days legitimate in all eight countries, then invoice the fleet for the times fished in every nation and cross on these charges to the countries.

The system additionally allowed the countries momentarily with out fish – say the Western Pacific’s Federated States of Micronesia in an El Niño yr – to promote its days to the Central Pacific’s Kiribati, the place the fish had been, and Kiribati may resell them to the fishers, night out the yearly revenues of every state.

This buying and selling enormously elevated the worth of every day, mentioned Aqorau. “Now we’re getting 25% of the dockside sale price of the skipjack, up from 2% or 3% a decade ago.”

For Kiribati, which has the group’s largest Exclusive Economic Zone (larger than the land space of India) however one of many smallest economies (it has simply 113,000 individuals), the scheme has raised fishing revenues from $25m a decade in the past to $160m, or $1,400 per capita, permitting for all method of social spending and infrastructure work, notably to boost the continuously flooded, overpopulated elements of Tarawa, the capital, in addition to to offer authorities funding for college kids, individuals with disabilities, those that are unemployed, and aged individuals.

“It’s hugely improved the life of the people,” mentioned former president Teburoro Tito.

In Papua New Guinea, the most important nation and economic system within the Pacific Islands, the rise in charges revenue from $20m to $80m a yr has been largely earmarked to develop sustainable coastal fisheries and cooperative fish farming.

“It’s made a big difference in coastal communities,” added Kumoru, the PNA’s appearing chief govt, who’s from PNG.

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