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China, the Pacific and sustainable fisheries

Speech to China-Pacific Islands “21st Century Maritime Silk Road Fisheries Seminar, July 11, 2017

At the United Nations Oceans Conference in New York on June 9, 2017, world leaders committed to conserve and sustainably use our oceans and marine resources for sustainable development. It was an important recognition of the importance of our oceans, which cover three quarters of the planet that we call earth.  But which we should call water.

The Pacific Ocean is the super connector.  It not only affects the world’s climate, provides our oxygen supply and absorbs our carbon dioxide. 

It is also the source of critically important resources and it is the water that joins major economies, allowing trade and movement of people between all the nations of the Asia-Pacific across to the Americas.

The wellbeing of the Pacific Ocean is therefore essential for the wellbeing of people, from China to Oceania.

Fisheries is the largest resource of all the island nations of Oceania.  While small in population, the member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum are giant ocean states.  We are committed to working together as a region to sustainably manage our fisheries for the benefit of future generations and, indeed, to encourage investment in the industry to bring more value and more economic benefit to the developing nations of the region, while strengthening food security for our key partners including China.

There are some very real challenges. Some of our ocean is being overfished.  The Pacific Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Pacific Fisheries warns that bigeye tuna is overfished, yellowfin tuna could be heading in the same direction and the region’s longline fisheries – although targeting the highest value tuna species – are barely economic. Unfairly subsidised international fleets are part of the problem, but also part of the solution as their increased activity has generated ship servicing opportunities for the Pacific Islands.

China has recently pledged to reduce its fleet of medium and large-sized vessels. Concerns have been raised at the Western and Central Pacific Fishing Commission about over-fishing by the Distant Water Fishing Nations, including Japan, the EU and others as well as China.

The efforts of the Forum Fisheries Agency to enforce sustainability measures notwithstanding, purse seine fishing, with large nets, also continues to increase, driving down the value of the catch.

We are appreciative of the efforts of the Chinese Government to help in preventing illegal fishing.  Indeed, recently the Chinese Government fined and deregistered a fishing company that was caught illegally catching southern bluefin tuna in waters between Fiji and New Zealand.  That company’s vessels have been permanently banned from all deep sea fishing activities.  This strong action by the Chinese Government sends an important signal that we must have compliance with the laws that have been put in place by the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to ensure the sustainability of our tuna resources.

With Mike Batty, Director of Fisheries, Forum Fisheries Agency, and Li Hongtao, Deputy Director, Foreign Economic Cooperation, Chinese Ministry of Agriculture

The Pacific Island Countries have this significant resource in their exclusive economic zones, yet the opportunity for economic development has not been realised.  The Pacific tuna fishery is worth an estimated $4 billion a year but only 15 per cent of that amount accrues to the Pacific Island Countries, in whose Exclusive Economic Zones the fish are caught.

The main source of revenue for the island economies is from the sale of fishing licenses.  Two thirds of the tuna is harvested by foreign fishing boats and nearly 90 per cent is transported out of the region to be processed.  Chinese fishing fleets based in Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati often transship tuna on huge mother ships on the high seas.

Some Pacific Island Countries have begun to take action to address this problem.  Papua New Guinea recently announced that it will be reviewing all of its tuna fishing contracts to ensure landing and processing of the catch will take place in PNG, creating jobs and capturing more value for the nation than simply selling fishing licenses.

Inshore fisheries are also under threat from population growth and, in time, the effects of climate change.  High value species such as sea cucumber have been driven almost to extinction.

In 2015 the fisheries sector was identified by the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders as a regional priority under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.  In the Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Fisheries, also endorsed by the Leaders, there are four key goals:

1. Achieve a sustainable catch, including end the overfishing of bigeye tuna, reduced impacts on by-catch species such as sharks, turtles and sea birds and a reduction of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

2. Double the value of the tuna catch in five years to 2019, by eliminating oversupply and increasing value adding and new markets.

3. Create new jobs in the tuna industry, in processing, vessel crew, observers and fisheries management.

4. Increased food security, especially for domestic populations to improve nutrition and health and reduce pressure on inshore fisheries.

The strategies to achieve this include:

1. Regional cooperation on zone management to enforce limits and implementation of formal harvest strategies.

2. Monitoring and surveillance to detect, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

3. Progressively restrict fishing on the high seas through the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and promote fish caught in well managed national zones as higher standard deserving higher market value.

4. Development of more domestic tuna processing including through mandatory offloading of a proportion of each catch and increased transshipment fees to reduce low-cost processing in South East Asia (which relies on supplies from the Pacific region).

5. Improved standards and training in the fishing and processing industry.

6. Establish regional processing hubs, including in partnership with other countries such as China, and creation of more economic opportunities for Pacific Islanders from branding, eco-labelling, services such as insurance and employment on fishing vessels in all categories, including increasing numbers of engineers and captains.

There are therefore real opportunities in the fisheries industry for mutually beneficial cooperation between China and the Pacific region.  Indeed, the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road envisages win win cooperation in sustainable development of the blue economy.

While there are limits on the tuna catch available to foreign fishing fleets, there are opportunities to partner with local Pacific companies to access under-utilized national fishing quotas, to conduct processing and other value-added activities to increase the value of the resource.

Papua New Guinea business delegate in discussion with a potential Chinese investor in tuna processing

Everything we do in the ocean must be sustainable.

There has been a markedly lower catch in the last year.  If we continue overfishing the oceans, these lean years will become more common.  Yet at the same time there is rising demand for the products of the world’s fisheries.  Especially here in the Asia Pacific, where economic growth is feeding demand for quality seafood for restaurants from Shanghai to Sydney.

The Chinese Government has recognised these pressures and has invested in aquaculture development. China has also recently significantly reduced import duties on seafood products, which will lead to greater diversification of supply.  We hope trade barriers will further reduce in future.

At the UN Ocean Conference in New York the Tuna 2020 Traceability Declaration was announced, an industry alliance of canned tuna industry leaders to fight against illegal fishing.  I am delighted that Shenzhen-based Liancheng Overseas Fishery, a company with which PTI China works closely, is a founding member of the industry alliance backing the Traceability Declaration.  We would be pleased to welcome Fujian companies to join this important alliance.

Seafood consumers around the world are demanding sustainable practices, fair trade and assurances that the products they buy are directly benefiting traditional fishing communities.  There is great potential to not only value add in the Pacific, but to brand seafood products as coming from the Pacific – which tells the consumer it is pure, natural, sustainable and assisting the traditional inhabitants of the Pacific Islands, a part of the world that we all want to help succeed and prosper.

We look forward to working with the Chinese Government and Chinese businesses to bring into reality the future potential for a more sustainable fishery, higher value returned to the island nations and food security and high quality products for the restaurant tables of Fujian and beyond!

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