Fisheries Ministers from member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) have expressed serious concern about the unprecedented impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their domestic economies.
Their comments came during the 17th FFC Ministers meeting, which concluded yesterday.
In his opening remarks, the Honourable Kandhi Eleisiar, Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Federated State of Micronesia (FSM) and FFCMIN17 Chair, emphasised “tuna as our only natural resource and the breadwinner of our national economies. Therefore, understanding its impact and how we may adapt [and] minimise the impact [COVID] may have on us is important.”
Commending Pacific Leaders for swift action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the region, Ministers have expressed strengthened commitments to regional solidarity and collaboration as central to confronting the impacts of the pandemic in the Pacific. They have also emphasised the importance of protecting the fisheries sector, given its important economic and food security benefits.
FFA Director General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, in her opening comments, spoke of the "adaptability and resilience" of Members in the face of COVID-19, noting that "more than ever, our cooperation is needed to see us through this unprecedented challenge."
Measures to address the impact of the pandemic
Ministers asked FFA to undertake a regional study on how Members can harness their comparative advantage with respect to regional tuna resources and maximise the benefits flowing from strengthened cooperation in areas such as processing, value-adding, cross-border investment, increased regional trade, improved transportation links, and improved labour mobility.
With disruptions to airfreight impacting the export of fresh fish outside the region, Ministers welcomed the work being undertaken by FFA to explore market opportunities within the region.
The Ministers also commended the measures taken by the FFA and officials to mitigate health risks posed by the pandemic, including development of health-related safety protocols for crew members, observers and others interacting with fishing vessels. These protocols will minimise the risk of contracting or spreading the disease and enable fishing operations to continue safely.
Work by the FFA Secretariat to improve observer safety and maintain observer livelihoods by using their analytical fisheries knowledge and skills on-shore was welcomed by the Ministers.
The pandemic has resulted in an increased risk of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, due to the limitations on the use of human observers and port inspections.
Ministers highlighted the increased importance of FFA’s integrated Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) framework during these times, including the satellite vessel monitoring system, vessel of interest information and the overall regional surveillance picture, as well as the aerial surveillance programme managed by FFA on behalf of Members.
While the impact of the pandemic was front of mind for Ministers, they emphasised the importance of not losing sight of biggest threat to the region – that of climate change.
Ministers encouraged FFA to continue to prioritise work looking at the impacts of climate change on tuna fisheries and ensuring the region can adapt to the challenges this will bring.
In this regard, Ministers called for closer collaboration among regional organisations to respond to the specific needs of the region and to ensure that fisheries issues are firmly placed onto the wider climate change agenda, including in the context of the Pacific’s engagement in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
At the conclusion of the meeting, FFA Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen expressed appreciation “for the continued support and trust that Members place in the Secretariat as we continue to facilitate stronger regional cooperation, adaptability, caution and resilience in fisheries.”
The 17th Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC) Ministerial meeting, was attended by Ministers representing Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa and Solomon Islands. Cook Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Vanuatu were represented at senior official level.