At the Pacific Island Development Forum Leaders Summit yesterday, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) told the delegates sustainable management of fish was key to self-determination for Pacific peoples.
PNA CEO Dr Transform Aqorau challenged leaders to obtain what he called “true independence” by self determination, Indigenous management of ocean resources, South-South cooperation and ending donor dependency.
“We must manage our ocean resources to promote self determination and not perpetuate dependency on others. Let us manage our oceans and harness our natural resources to create a sense of self reliance. The PNA has transformed fisheries rights – from a market controlled by the others to a market where rights are firmly held in favour of our members,” said Dr Aqorau.
The PNA established the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) where a set number of fishing days are traded and sold. This enables control of tuna supply and increased revenue from tuna fishing.
Dr Aqorau gave an example of the benefits from the tiniest player in the PNA member countries – Tokelau, which was only getting $900,000 USD a year from foreign fishing vessels accessing their waters. Now, as part of the PNA, Tokelau has around $10 million a year in revenue from fisheries. Kiribati for a long time received around $26 million a year and now earns around $200 million USD per year in revenue.
“Rights create scarcity and value for our oceanic resources,” said Dr Aqorau. “The PNA Vessel Day Scheme has put power in the hands of island states, but now the Pacific must move away from donor dependency and subserviency to others who end up reaping the benefits from our resources.”
Dr Aqorau pointed to the US Treaty as an example of what happens when these issues interfere in the Pacific: “The region quibbled over a US grant of just $21 million, a very small amount when you consider the billion dollars worth of tuna resources. This is an arrangement we have with the largest superpower in the world, but we need to move away from these kind of arrangements that restrict our benefits and options.”
He said there were two risks for the leaders to consider – in the region, Pacific countries need to manage natural resources and oceans sustainably, and then there was threats from outside the region of powerful states who wanted to undermine the progress PNA had made so far.
“These threats also come from some of the Pacific countries’ major donors, and in the fisheries context there is often a lack of coherence on what they give as aid and then the restrictions they make on how we use our resources, “ Dr Aqorau commented.
South-South cooperation (or cooperation between island states) could help counter these factors, said Dr Aqorau: “True independence means all island countries help each other, rather than looking for help from outside, let us use the economic benefits we have and support each other.”