Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Nauru closes EEZ to purse-seine fishing

The small island nation of Nauru has closed its marine exclusive economic zone to fishing by bilaterally licenced foreign tuna purse-seiners until the end of December, in order to avoid exceeding its national allowable effort limit for the 2010 fishing season.

“This is not a complete closure of all purse-seining in Nauru waters” explained Nauru’s Oceanic Manager Terry Amram. “Purse-seiners licenced under the FSM Arrangement and the US Multilateral Treaty can still operate in Nauru because they are controlled by a different management system which is implemented regionally. Also, if nationally-licenced vessels are able to obtain effort allocations transferred from other Pacific Island countries with under-used quota they will still be allowed some fishing”.

Mr Amram said that 2010 had been an exceptionally good year for tuna fishing in Nauru, and purse-seiners had already caught at least as much fish up to the end of August as the catch from Nauru waters in the whole of 2009 or 2008.

Vessel Monitoring System shot of the Nauru
EEZ before the closure of the zone to
bilaterally licenced purse-seiners

Vessel Monitoring System shot of the Nauru
EEZ after the closure of the zone to
bilaterally licenced purse-seiners. The track
shown is of a vessel which had
purchased additional days fishing
transferred from the allocation of
another Pacific island country

“We are not being unfair. They have already had their money’s worth of opportunities to fish”, said the CEO of the Nauru Fisheries and Marine Resources Authority Charleston Deiye. “We have an obligation to apply the national Party Allowable Effort (PAE) limits agreed under the Palau Arrangement to conserve bigeye tuna, and we also have an obligation to the people of Nauru not to devalue fisheries resource rents from our EEZ.”

Mr Deiye explained that Nauru, like other members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), had agreed to keep purse-seine fishing capped at levels intended maintain the long-term sustainability of the western Pacific bigeye tuna stock, and that Nauru, like the other Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), was implementing this commitment through a subregional vessel-days scheme (VDS).

Vessel Days Scheme

The Palau Arrangement VDS sets a total allowable effort (TAE) for purse-seine fishing within the combined EEZs of the PNA countries (Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu), and this TAE is split among the PNA EEZs according to a formula based on historical fishing effort and the estimated tuna biomass in each zone.

The Palau Arrangement VDS also takes account of the highly migratory nature of tuna stocks and the shifts in availability of tuna across the region from year to year as a result of the El Nino Southern Oscillation. It allows PNA countries to transfer some of their PAE allocation to other PNA countries, depending on the year-to-year geographical variation in tuna fisheries and stocks, provided the overall regional TAE is not exceeded.

In previous years the Palau Arrangement also allowed PNA countries to “draw down” vessel days allocations from their future entitlements, but the Arrangement has now been tightened up and any national overruns now need to be made up by transfers from other countries with underused PAEs.

Mr Deiye said “Nauru has never run out of fishing days before. But there has been exceptional fishing effort in Nauru waters in 2010 and so we have had to stop open fishing and activate vessel-days trading for vessels that want to continue fishing”.

This is also the first time that vessel-days trading has occurred in the PNA region. The significance of this is not likely to be lost on the other members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission at its annual meeting in Honolulu in December, some of whom have cast doubt on the effectiveness of the PNA Vessel Days Scheme to manage purse-seine effort. This action by Nauru demonstrates that PNA countries can indeed make hard decisions not only collectively but also individually.

Increasing catch

There are likely to be more hard decisions to come. 2009 was a record year for the catch of tuna from the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, most of it taken by purse-seiners. Charleston Deiye says, “at the regional level we’ve already restricted fishing on the high seas. We’ve already restricted fishing on FADs. We’ve already restricted effort in PNA zones. If 2010 turns out to be another record catch year, which is looking likely, then we’re going to have to go even further with restrictions.”

Declining value

The bottom line for tiny Nauru – the smallest island member of the United Nations, and a country that is more dependent on national revenue from tuna fishing than any other – is not just maintaining the long-term sustainability of their key national resource, but also developing national income from that resource. As Terry Amram explains; “ever-expanding catches depress the world market price for tuna and reduce the ability of vessels to pay higher access fees. We rely on this revenue. It is clearly in our best interests to seek a higher rate of return for each unit of catch, when sustainability concerns require us to place hard limits on the level of fishing.”

Charleston Deiye adds “There are plenty of purse-seiners out there, but there is not plenty of fish. And the fact that the western tropical Pacific region has looked after its resource better than most means that more and more boats are knocking on our doors. If we had ignored our obligations and not closed the EEZ or not started vessel-days trading, the licence fees from the total of our bilateral access arrangements would have dropped to below 4% of the landed value of the estimated catch. This is at a time when we consider 8% to be the standard, and we are aiming for 10%”.
Mr Deiye explained that some fleets are providing a fairer return for fishing opportunities in Nauru, notably New Zealand, the European Union and Japan, but that these vessels are only a minor proportion of the total.

Defining the vessel-day
As if driving the national return on Nauru’s fish below 4% isn’t enough, some major fleets are trying to impose their own definition of a “fishing day” on Nauru, and claiming that the majority of the time that they spend within the Nauru EEZ is not actually fishing. Mr Deiye says that he has pointed out to them that they are not fishing in their own waters, they are fishing in Nauru’s EEZ, and that the Nauru definition of fishing applies. This definition has been in the Nauru Fisheries Act for 13 years and has always been included in the licencing agreements with these fleets. What is more, this is a definition that is taken from the Harmonised Minimum Terms and Conditions for access by foreign fishing vessels and agreed by all member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency for universal application across the FFA region.

He says “Essentially, if you drop your net in Nauru waters during any one calendar day then that is a fishing day. If you search for fish that is a fishing day. The only days that count as non-fishing days are if you are in transit or steaming home with your gear stowed, or if you are in port, or if there is a bona-fide emergency. This was known in advance, and I am getting impatient with the fleets that keep trying to persuade us to use their own definition and avoid paying for the transfer of fishing opportunities from other PNA countries. If we had used their definition when we designed the VDS in the first place then that would have been another matter. But we originally assessed sustainability using the regionally-agreed definition of fishing."

"Since the whole point of the VDS is to avoid overfishing, a more lenient definition of non-fishing days in the beginning would actually have resulted in a smaller number of fishing days being allocated under the PAE and they would have been back to square one. You can't use one definition to set the limit and then use another definition when accounting under it."

The future

When it comes to future fishing seasons, Nauru will be allocating the limited opportunities to fish in Nauru waters only to those foreign fleets that provide the best return to Nauru. “And I don’t just mean access revenue,” Mr Deiye says. “I am mean real development – about allowing us equity in fishing operations and onshore processing and about investment in Nauru-based operations, or even about using our ownership of fishing opportunities in Nauru waters as equity itself. We want to see Nauruans getting increasingly involved in the global tuna industry, processing fish for export and owning boats. This is a high capital business. It is a steep hill for a very small country like ours to climb, but if we organise joint ventures with our small-island neighbours and if we have the active support of our foreign fishing partners, then I believe we can get there. We’re not looking for free handouts. We’re looking to leverage our ownership of the fishing opportunities within Nauru waters to develop Nauruan business opportunities”.