Better returns for Pacific is mantra at fisheries conference

The paltry economic returns that Pacific Islands countries get from the fisheries sector is simply unacceptable, says Shiu Raj, Director of Economic Governance at the Suva based Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS). 

About sixty delegates from around the region and beyond attended the workshop.

Speaking at the Pacific Regional Workshop for Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) titled Effective fish trade and sustainable development in Auckland last week Mr Raj said, “Everyone needs to work together to get better returns for the Pacific Islands from the fisheries sector.”

The workshop, that essentially brought together fisheries and trade officials in a bid to better understand each other’s work, was a collaboration between global and Pacific regional organisations including the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, PIFS, the Forum Fisheries Authority (FFA), the Pacific Community (formerly SPC) and was hosted by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).

Experts from across the fisheries sector addressed the different sessions that were a mix of information dissemination and open discussions over the three-day event. The over arching concern though was to discuss and evolve ways and means to maximise revenue for the Pacific Islands from the fisheries sector, which at $143 billion exceeds the value of all agricultural commodity exports.

WCPO (Western Central Pacific Ocean) region produces more tuna than all other oceans put together. Yet, other than a relatively low fee charged to fishing companies for being allowed to fish in the sovereign waters of Island nations, little accrues to them by way of processing and value addition, which is where the industry’s bulk of the revenue comes from.

Nearly all the speakers underscored the fact that increased efforts on all fronts were urgently needed to add value and capture economic benefits from fisheries. Due to the lack of sufficient processing infrastructure in the islands, islanders are having to import fish products made from fish caught in their own sovereign waters at high prices.

PIFS Director of Economic Governance addresses the workshops.

Though several problems such as lack of scale, human capacity, infrastructure and financial capital were often cited for the lack of fish processing facilities in the islands, they could possibly be overcome if all the countries and parties concerned could work together toward that gol, Mr Raj said.

He urged the officials to work closely with each other and the concerned agencies to look into the possibility of a processing hub that would not only bring in increased revenue to the islands where the fish is actually caught but also create jobs and encourage economic development across the Pacific Islands region.

There were several frameworks in place to make this happen including mechanisms like the Blue Pacific Initiative endorsed by all Pacific leaders to maximise economic benefits from oceanic resources and the office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, headed by the Secretary General of PIFS.

Fisheries is so important to Pacific Island nations that the leaders have adopted as a permanent standing agenda item along with climate change in their annual regional leaders’ meetings. A suggestion from the floor that was widely accepted was to make fisheries a standing agenda item also in the annual Forum trade Ministers Meeting (FTMM).

While efforts like the appointment of additional workforce on market access for Pacific fisheries around the region and beyond were welcome, much more was needed to be done in a business environment dominated by large, distant fishing nations that were far more well resourced in terms of finances and infrastructure as well as market access.

The lack of adequate data collection, documentation, analyses and information dissemination, traceability, the problem of illegal fishing and the challenges faced by Pacific Island nations in the international fisheries marketplace, were other topics that came up for discussions.

For instance, one slide showed the stark disparity in time required for merchandise to cross international customs borders. For OECD nations, it takes less than 20 hours to clear shipments; Europe and Central Asia between 20-40 hours; East Asia and the Pacific 60-80 hours; South Asia more than 100 hours and Sub Saharan Africa 100-140 hours. Trade facilitation practices impact time and cost to trade and a country’s performance both within and across the regions.

Among solutions proposed at the workshop were working together in a more concerted manner between all stakeholders, employing new methods for traceability like blockchain technology, improving data collection and analyses.

For more information email PTI NZ Marketing & Communications Manager and Pacific Periscope Editor Dev Nadkarni at dev.n@pacifictradeinvst.co.nz

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