POHNPEI TUNA HEADQUARTERS STILL IN QUESTION

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Feb. 10) - Fewer than three months since a vote confirmed Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia as the headquarters for a new tuna management commission headquarters, Radio Australia quoted an official in Fiji as indicating that the vote was only a "recommendation" and that there is still significant disagreement among South Pacific nations about the choice.

"That’s absurd," Danny Wase, director of the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority, said on Friday. "The decision (for Pohnpei) was made at the (preparatory conference) in Manila in November. It’s time to move onto other things."

The proposed tuna commission is an outgrowth of more than six years of fisheries negotiations involving island and fishing nations. The aim is to establish an agency that will be the management and conservation authority for tuna caught in the region to avoid over fishing and depletion of resources as has happened to other fisheries throughout the world. But whichever nation hosts the tuna commission gains economically through employment opportunities, donor funds for the headquarters, conferences and workshops.

Late last month, Dr. Sandra Tarte of the University of the South Pacific in Fiji said the Manila conference agreed to "recommend" Pohnpei as the headquarters of the new tuna commission but this decision still has to be finalized when the convention is actually established.

"At the moment it (the decision for Pohnpei) is a recommendation," Tarte said. She added that Pohnpei is expected to prevail, but that some of the Pacific island nations don’t believe Pohnpei meets the criteria.

"In other words, it’s a fairly costly location, it is difficult to get to in terms of flights and so on," she said. She alluded to long-standing rivalries among Pacific islands that want to host regional organizations.

"Unfortunately, some countries have taken it rather badly in the sense they don’t feel the decision was a good one," Tarte said.

Pohnpei is the first island in the north Pacific area to get the nod to host a regional organization.

Wase, who has been involved in the tuna commission issue since the first meeting that launched conservation and management plan in Majuro in 1997, said that at a Forum Fisheries Countries meeting prior to the Manila meeting last November, it was agreed that all island nations would support one candidate at the preparatory conference—which includes Pacific rim countries such as the United States and Taiwan—as a way to insure that the headquarters stayed in the islands.

Pohnpei edged out Papua New Guinea 9-7 at the FFC meeting early last year to be the Pacific’s nominee for the commission, he said.

After all countries agreed to this strategy, a number of Pacific islands then broke ranks to submit their own bids to host the new headquarters for the new tuna commission, he said.

Early on in the process, the Marshall Islands had lobbied heavily to bring the tuna commission to Majuro. But when the Marshall Islands was bumped from consideration, it threw its support behind Pohnpei.

When the issue went to another vote at the full preparatory conference in Manila last November, Fiji, Tonga and Papua New Guinea, in addition to the Federated States of Micronesia, put in separate bids to host the headquarters, and agreed to abide by the decision of the prep-con, Wase said.

After two days of voting, Pohnpei was selected.

"Once the vote was taken, there were no objections to Pohnpei," he said. "My view is it was by consensus."

February 10, 2003

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com 

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