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By Giff Johnson

POHNPEI, FSM (Marianas Variety, Dec. 14) – The Japanese parliament is expected to endorse membership early next year in a new convention that aims to conserve tuna resources in the Pacific region.

"We’re planning to seek approval during the Diet’s session between the end of December and March next year," Akira Nakamae, director general of Japan’s Resources Enhancement Promotion Department in the Fisheries Agency, said in an interview as the first meeting of members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Convention was wrapping up this weekend in Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia.

The convention has established a Tuna Commission that is soon to begin regulating tuna fishing on the high seas — an ocean area where fishing has never before been managed.

The new Tuna Commission "is very significant," Nakamae said. "(It is filling) the last vacuum area that had no management system for tuna and other fisheries resources."

Seventeen countries — 14 from the Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand, and China, S. Korea and Taiwan — are among the 17 founding members of the new Tuna Commission. By next year, the Tuna Commission will have significantly greater clout, with Japan and the United States expected to complete their approval processes early next year, while Indonesia, the European Commission and other countries are expected to follow shortly after.

It hasn’t always been this friendly in the preparatory meetings to establish the commission. Three years ago, Japan and Korea both voted against joining the convention, and pulled out of the negotiating process — a move that threatened to derail the process. But both nations resumed participation in the talks in 2002, at least in part, according to the Federated States of Micronesia’s fisheries director Bernard Thoulag, "because they didn’t want to be left out."

Nakamae said that the country’s fishing industry is solidly behind the government’s position on the new management regime for the high seas. "Fishing is an economic field," he said. "Profit for the short-term is meaningless. It must be sustained over the long-term to be meaningful."

He agreed with the sentiments expressed at the first Tuna Commission meeting that both big eye tuna and yellowfin tuna are resources in danger of being over-fished. He said that the big purse seiners now fishing are catching juvenile tuna, which is negatively affecting the yellowfin resources. "The total catch effort for purse seiners should be reduced," he said.

Federated States of Micronesia President Joseph Urusemal at the opening of the Tuna Commission meeting late last week called on the big fishing nations to assist islands to develop domestic fishing industries by basing vessels in the Pacific, using island ports for transshipment and other activities to increase employment and income-generating opportunities for the smaller islands. Nakamae said that he believes that fishing by countries whose fishing industry is in the developmental stage — a reference to the situation of most Pacific islands — should be allowed to expand. "But developed industries should not increase," Nakamae said.

"The role of the Tuna Commission is very important," he said.

He said that provided the Commission sets fair regulations for conserving tuna that are based on science "all member countries will follow the Tuna Commission’s regulations for managing the resources."

December 14, 2004

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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