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MANILA, The Philippines (Nov. 20, 2002 - PINA Nius Online)---Fiji, the Philippines and Samoa have joined the race to host the headquarters of a new regulatory body known as the Tuna Commission, the Fish Information Service reported.

They join Papua New Guinea, Federated States of Micronesia and Tonga in vying to host the headquarters during a meeting now underway in Manila, it quoted the AFP news agency as saying.

Efforts by the Honiara-based Forum Fisheries Agency to get its members to agree on and then all support a single Pacific Islands candidate appear to have failed.

The Manila conference is working out the details for implementing a convention for the conservation and management of migratory fish stocks, particularly tuna.

The Preparatory Conference for the establishment of the Commission for Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Region opened on Monday.

The selection of the country that will host the headquarters is one of the biggest issues expected to be settled in Manila, said conference chairperson Michael Powles, of New Zealand.

The Philippines, Fiji, and Samoa sent their applications after the deadline for prospective hosts expired. But Powles did not believe this would be a drawback.

"I would not think it would count against them at all," Powles was quoted by AFP as saying.

He said the conference would work to reconcile "the interests of the coastal states and the fishing states," AFP reported.

Much of the migratory fish stocks pass near the territories of the coastal states, such as the Pacific islands nations. But the fishing industries are largely Asian, European and North American.

Philippine fisheries director Malcolm Sarmiento said the conference would formulate conservation measures to ensure there is a sustainable supply of tuna in the Pacific.

Powles said the western and central Pacific contained "the world's last great tuna resource." If properly managed, this bounty could be sustained, he said.

But he warned that "if it is not properly managed and protected ... the loss will be absolutely enormous," AFP reported.

The hosting of the commission secretariat is being competed for because of the benefits such a regional agency headquarters can bring the host country.

Tonga was unhappy with an earlier Forum Fisheries Agency vote to support the candidature of Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia. The Tongans said a study commissioned by the agency had recommended Nuku'alofa as best suited.

Papua New Guinea, another leading candidate, was also unhappy with the vote and circumstances surrounding it.

The Forum Fisheries Agency wanted its members to unite to ensure the headquarters is in the Pacific Islands.

If Pohnpei is confirmed as the headquarters, it will become the first North Pacific island to host a major regional organization.

Doreen deBrum-Jurelang, of Marshall Islands, earlier indicated that all Federated States of Micronesia’s immediate North Pacific neighbors and several South Pacific countries have pledged to again support Pohnpei.

The agreement establishing the Convention for the Conservation and Management of the Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean was adopted in September 2000 in Honolulu.

It came after four years of complex negotiations between the coastal states of the Western and Central Pacific and states fishing in the region.

The convention is one of the first regional fisheries agreements to be adopted since the conclusion in 1995 of the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement.

The convention's objective is to ensure, through effective management, the long-term conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory fish stocks in the western and central Pacific Ocean.

This would be done in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement.

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