Fishery changes proposed for Pacific

  • 11/09/2015
John Key (AAP)
John Key (AAP)

By Sarah Robson

Without a change to how its fisheries are managed, the Pacific could put the sustainability of its fish stocks, particularly tuna, at risk.

Leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Port Moresby have agreed to look at shifting to a quota management system to ensure struggling island nations can unlock more of the economic benefits from the huge resource in their backyards.

At the moment, fishing vessels pay a daily fee to catch as much fish as they like.

But that has the potential to do more harm than good, Prime Minister John Key says.

"As technology's changing, boats are larger, they're becoming more efficient, so a greater catch is occurring," he said.

"If that continues as a trend, then there's real risk about the sustainability of particularly the tuna fishery.

"If there was a transition to quota management, as there is in New Zealand, then ultimately you pay for what you catch, not the amount of time you spend on the water seeking to catch those fish.

"That potentially is very valuable for the Pacific countries because they will actually get paid for the value of their fishery, not just as a gatekeeper."

Kiribati President Anote Tong says Pacific nations like his need to take greater control of the fishing industry, including processing more fish within the region, rather than sending it elsewhere.

"If we can do that, we can be assured the rate of return from our fishery would be significantly more than we are getting today," he said.

Mr Key says fisheries ministers from across the Pacific will be invited to New Zealand to look at how its quota management system operates.

There is no timeline for the possible transition to a new system.

Earlier this week, the chairman of the forum's fisheries ministerial group, Tuvalu's Elisala Pita, told leaders that while there have been improvements, "our countries and our people are still not deriving the economic benefits that we had hoped for from our huge tuna resources".

"Most of our tuna is still being caught by foreign vessels, and 90 percent is taken out of the region for processing," Mr Pita said.

"Our inshore fisheries - vital for the food security of our coastal communities - are threatened by overfishing and, in the longer term, the effects of ocean acidification and climate change."

New Zealand already plays an important role helping Pacific Islands with fisheries enforcement and surveillance.