It has been described as “the most remarkable achievement of the Pacific island countries in the last 50 years.”
In 1982, eight mostly tiny Pacific island countries, in whose waters much of the world’s skipjack tuna was caught, got together and decided to do something to get a share of the proceeds, from which they received precisely nothing.
In a shining example of regional cooperation, the group, known as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (ANP), successively overtook the United States, Japan and Taiwan, and later mainland China and the European Union.
“It was a David versus Goliath situation from the beginning,” said Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific Islands Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney.
Through four decades of trial and error, they created a system that Pryke calls “revolutionary” that today not only earns them $ 500 million a year but also avoids overfishing by international fishing fleets to deplete fish stocks. waters of most poor countries. .
There were, from east to west, six microstates made up mostly of small islands (Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Nauru, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau) and two medium-sized countries, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
The key to success, said Ludwig Kumoru, the ANP’s outgoing executive director, was to ditch a system in which ANP nations undermined each other by trying to sell fishing rights in their waters to foreign fleets, and replace it. on the other, called the Ship’s Day Plan. That scheme sees them calculate how much tuna fishing is sustainable and then divide that amount into fishing days that the fishing companies bid for.
“We set the one-day minimum price at $ 8,000 a day, up from $ 2,500 at the beginning, but the demand was so high that we’ve been getting between $ 12,000 and $ 14,000 a day,” Kumoru said.
“All of our fish stocks are healthy,” said Transform Aqorau, a Solomon Islands lawyer who became the first executive director of the ANP in 2010 and was largely responsible for introducing the plan.
“And they are likely to remain healthy if recent levels of exploitation continue,” confirmed John Hampton, chief scientist for the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, the region’s leading fisheries scientist.
‘Host countries didn’t get a penny’
Sean Dorney, a veteran Pacific correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, recalls being present at the founding of the PNA in 1982. – a meeting in the phosphate-rich island nation of Nauru of fisheries ministers from the 16-nation Forum Fisheries Agency, which oversees fisheries in the Pacific and includes Australia and New Zealand. Dorney flew in from Port Moresby because he sensed something big was about to happen.
“There was a palpable sense of frustration,” he said. “None of the fish was landed in any of the eight countries where it was fished, all were transshipped to refrigerated ships and taken to Bangkok or Japan, and the host countries did not receive a penny.”
When the eight countries signed what would become the original Nauru agreement to coordinate their relations with foreign fishing fleets, “they had no clear idea of what they could realistically expect,” Dorney said. “All we knew was that this was a historic moment.”
Looking back, “the creation of the ANP 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 said: “In the current climate, it would be much more difficult to create an ANP, because regionalism is at a low point.”
The ANP took years to perfect itself into a system that generated significant gains for Pacific nations. Rates grew slowly in the decade after the ANP was signed.
By the mid-1990s, the massive expansion of international tuna fleets was beginning to peak, but all eight countries were receiving a small fraction of the gains made by the fleets when the fish were landed. “So there was no real cap, no competition, no shortage, and the fees they were collecting were still well below 5% of the landed value of the fish,” said Michael Lodge, a young British lawyer, who joined the Forum Fisheries Agency. , the regional agency that oversaw the Pacific fisheries, as his legal advisor in 1989.
It was not until 2011 that the PNA came up with the winning formula. The Vessel Days Program, which had already been implemented, was refined to allow the secretariat to sell valid days in all eight countries, then bill the fleet for fishing days in each country and transfer those fees to the countries.
The system also allowed momentarily fishless countries, say the Western Pacific Federated States of Micronesia in an El Niño year, to sell their days to Central Pacific Kiribati, where the fish was, and Kiribati could resell them to fishermen. the annual income of each state.
This trade greatly increased the value of each day, Aqorau said. “We are now getting 25% of the listing price on the dock, up from 2% or 3% a decade ago.”
For Kiribati, which has the largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the group (larger than the land area of India) but one of the smallest economies (it has only 113,000 inhabitants), the scheme has raised fishing revenues by 25 million dollars a decade ago to $ 160 million. , or $ 1,400 per capita, allowing all kinds of social spending and infrastructure work, in particular to augment the frequently flooded and overcrowded areas of Tarawa, the capital, as well as to provide government funding for students, people with disabilities, those who are unemployed and elderly.
“It has greatly improved people’s lives,” said former President Teburoro Tito.
In Papua New Guinea, the Pacific Islands’ largest country and economy, the increase in fee revenue from $ 20 million to $ 80 million a year has been directed primarily to the development of sustainable coastal fisheries and cooperative fish farming.
“It has made a huge difference to coastal communities,” added Kumoru, the ANP’s interim executive director, who is from PNG.