Heavy Fishing May Lead To Tuna Fishery Closure In Pacific

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PNA fishing day limit could be reached in October in RMI

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, May 6, 2013) – Heavy tuna fishing during the first five months of the year could force closure of lucrative fishing grounds in the western and central Pacific by late 2013, a leading fisheries official predicted Friday.

The eight-member Parties to the Nauru Agreement, or PNA, which control waters where 70 percent of the Pacific’s skipjack tuna is caught, have set a limit on days for fishing in 2013.

PNA limits fishing days to manage the resource sustainably and maintain the price of tuna on the world market.

Based on fishing trends during the first part of this year, Marshall Islands fisheries Director Glen Joseph predicts, "PNA will likely be out of fishing days by October. Some parties will have to close their EEZs (exclusive economic zones)."

It won’t be the first time — in 2011, the Solomon Islands closed its lucrative ocean zone to fishing when it ran out of days, and only reopened after purchasing additional days from other PNA members. PNA manages the skipjack industry through a "vessel day scheme," which divides the days among the members. By agreement, when one country reaches its limit it is supposed to close its fishing grounds unless it trades for extra days from another PNA country.

The relatively new scheme worked in 2011, with several PNA members trading days to both maintain fishing and the limit set on fishing days. Last year, however, Kiribati broke from the pack to sell days beyond its limit. Kiribati received a slap on the wrist at PNA’s annual meeting in April, where all eight members — including Kiribati — signed an agreement recommitting all members to abide by fishing limits.

Pressure from American, Asian and European fishing fleets for fishing days will be intense.

But, said Joseph, if commercial fishermen use up their allotted days in the first six-to-eight months of the year, there may be no fishing days left and the boats will have to halt fishing.

"It is the nature of the situation," Joseph said. "We’ve agreed to apply limits and we have to maintain these limits — not only for the integrity of the VDS, but also for the compliance that is expected of us in the region and by the international community."

He confirmed that decisions about opening and closing fishing zones is "a sovereign issue for each island. But we have to meet the agreed-to requirements."

PNA is comprised of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Nauru, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu. The PNA area accounts for 50 percent of the world’s skipjack tuna catch, giving PNA leverage it has used over the past three years to nearly triple the fishing day-fees paid by distant water fishing nations for access to the region.

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