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13-14 September, 2017
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
The 6th INFOFISH Pacific Tuna Forum was convened at the Stanley Hotel in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea against the backdrop of high tuna prices, low catches globally and a concerted attack by a grouping of NGOs and academics on the MSC certification of the PNA’s free school skipjack.

Once again, Papua New Guinea hosted a well organised Pacific Tuna Forum with a kaleidoscope of speakers with a diverse range of experiences in the tuna world from fisheries management to development, traceability and eco-labeling. There were initial challenges with the electrical supply that impacted on the delivery of the Keynote Address by the Executive Director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and others, but that did not take away from the importance of those presentations to the current state of play of tuna in the Pacific.

The Forum was officially opened by the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea who issued a stern warning to the domestic industry in particular, and generally to the broader tuna industry operating in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean [WCPO]. He underlined the importance of ensuring the sustainability of the stocks and highlighted the recent agreement reached at the Pacific Forum Leaders Meeting in Apia, Samoa, earlier in the month where members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission [WCPFC] supported zone-based measures.

It was interesting to note this strong warning that the Prime Minister issued to their domestic industry, given the level of investments that have taken place in Papua New Guinea over the past 15 years. It was obvious that the Prime Minister was echoing a degree of frustration within certain quarters of the Papua New Guinean Government over the amount of tuna that is exported from PNG-licensed vessels that are associated with processing plants. Also noteworthy is the fact that Papua New Guinea has been able to successfully leverage access to its waters with the development of shore-based industries.
However, recent trends in effort and catch appear to show a shift in the 2005-2012 fishing patterns away from Papua New Guinea. It is not clear if it will become a permanent feature of the fishery where the effort over the past 3 to 4 years has been concentrated along a narrower band around the equator, further north from Papua New Guinea. This shift, in my humble view, might impinge upon the domestic industry and impact on the leverage that Papua New Guinea once had. The Prime Minister’s harsh warning to the domestic industry may come back to haunt them if indeed the changing fishing patterns that have been observed in the past three years become a permanent feature of the fishery.

The Keynote Address was given by Feleti Teo, Executive Director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WFCPF). Mr. Teo spoke about the role of the WCPFC, and the challenges and opportunities that it provides for its members to work collaboratively in the management of their shared stocks. One of the unique defining characteristics of the WCPFC is that it is responsible for the management and conservation of the world’s largest tuna stocks and involves the most range of countries in terms of their political economy. Mr. Teo highlighted the characteristics of the tuna fisheries coming under the purview of the WCPFC in 2016. A total tuna catch of 2 717 850 tonnes was recorded, of which 69% or 1 858 198 tonnes was caught by purse seine vessels, underlining the dominance of purse seine fishing in the region’s tuna fishery. In terms of the composition of the catch by species, 67% or 1 816 650 tonnes was skipjack tuna, followed by 650 491 tonnes of yellowfin and 152 806 tonnes of bigeye tuna.

Mr. Teo also highlighted the economic value of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) fishery which was worth US$5.28 billion in 2016 for all fisheries. The purse seine fishery was worth $2.84 billion while the longline fishery was worth $1.48 billion, signifying the balance of benefits clearly resting with the purse seine fishery. He underlined the importance of ensuring the sustainability of the tuna stocks and the need to put the biological health of the stocks at the heart of conservation and management efforts. It was a timely reminder to the Forum because there would be no industry to speak of if there were no healthy tuna stocks.

Session I: Resources and supply
It was only appropriate that Session 1 began the Forum, exploring the underlying issues pertaining to the health of the stocks and the impact of climate change, following on from the appeal by the Executive Director of the WCPFC to put the biological health of the stocks at the heart of the region’s conservation and management endeavours.

In this regard, the presentation on the development of harvest strategies underlined the key message by Mr. Teo in his Keynote Address of the work that the WCPFC was working on to develop well defined strategies and also harvest control rules for the WCPO tuna fisheries. The actual process involved in the development of the harvest strategies and harvest control rules were highlighted in this Session. Of particular interest to the Forum was the outcome of the most recent stock assessment for bigeye tuna and the findings that the situation is not as bad as had been previously assessed. This was obviously a surprise to the industry as the message that has been persistently portrayed in the past is that the bigeye tuna stocks are overfished. The underlying message is that stock assessment can be uncertain depending on the parameters used in the models and therefore fisheries managers have to be careful about how they interpret the resulting assessments.

The discussions on the impacts of climate change on stocks and future fishing patterns provided a snapshot of the modeling that has been done with regard to the shifts in fishing patterns and the effect of sea surface temperature fluctuations arising from climate change. This was a topic of interest to the Forum because it will have an impact on fishing patterns in the future and how the industry accesses fishing opportunities.

The Session concluded with a presentation and discussion on the PNA Vessel Day Scheme. Although it is not directly linked to the state of the health of the resources, it is the major means through which the purse seine fishery (the dominant fishery in the WCPO) is managed, and has some implications on the future shifts in fishing patterns. The Scheme includes provisions for trading of days, a mechanism that was built in to allow for those Parties from the East to trade days with those from the West during high El Nino and La Nina years.

Session II: Tuna industry and investment opportunities
There were excellent presentations from an array of very experienced speakers on the subject of the tuna industry and the investment opportunities that exist in the region. The Forum was informed about the developments with respect to the Road Map which is the guiding document that Pacific Island countries hold up as providing the way forward on investments. It was reiterated that the political leaders of the Pacific Island countries are serious about ensuring that they increase the economic benefits that flow from investments in the tuna industry.

There were country presentations from Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands during which the hurdles that they face in promoting the tuna industry were highlighted. In spite of the perceived difficulties in investing in these countries and the high costs of utilities that are required for investment, the low labour costs, particularly in Solomon Islands, was an attractive element for investors.

Representatives from the domestic industries spoke about the high cost of doing business in the Islands, basically the same problems that have been highlighted during past Forums. These were however offset by insightful presentations on the diverse range of products that may be extracted from tuna, and on the work being undertaken by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency on facilitating investments in the Pacific Island countries. The take-home message was that the isolated and scattered location of the Islands and the high utility costs makes doing business difficult, but it is not insurmountable.

The fact that there are operators who have invested and are doing well by staying the course is evidence that an investment in the Islands is indeed viable.

Perhaps the highlight of this Session was the presentation on mini-canneries (canning units which are small enough to fit onto a kitchen table), an initiative undertaken in some of the smaller Island countries. Bycatch from tuna transshipped in port is packed in its raw state in cans, cooked in a domestic pressure cooker, and sold in niche markets. While the mini-canneries are small scale and more family based operations, the potential to produce niche products for particular markets may be an attraction. It might not provide the full scale employment that industrial scale canneries provide, but it certainly provides an alternative in utilising the bycatch which would otherwise be wasted.

Some of the advantages of investing in the region that were highlighted at the Forum included proximity to the resource; this has also spawned the development of the fresh sashimi longline industry in some of the Island countries and generally reduced the costs of tuna for processing. These factors, combined with market access/ trade preferences with the EU under Cotonou and the US under CFA, made it attractive to invest in the region, although the last few years has seen preferences eroding and difficulties associated with SPS issues. The biggest advantage that the Forum heard was that the Pacific Island countries could control access to productive EEZs, which allowed them to manage the resources and leverage onshore investments.

Session III: Global tuna trade and markets
A key to understanding the trends and developments in the tuna industry is to appreciate what is happening around the globe with the tuna trade and the markets in the different regions. Session III was an excellent opportunity for the Forum to hear about the latest trends in the global tuna markets. Participants heard an analysis of international market frameworks and trade dynamics and some of the trends in ensuring greater transparency and dialogue towards inclusive trade for tuna, and also how the European market needed tuna from the Pacific Islands.

There was a lot of interest from the Forum on the global tuna trade trends and both traditional markets and the emerging ones as well such as Europe. The Forum heard about the liberalisation of the Latin American market for canned tuna and the prospects for a new era of open cooperation and takeovers in the Asia Pacific. The discussions were revealing, providing additional opportunities for a market that businesses in Asia and the Pacific once thought of as difficult to get into. The underlying message from the analysis of these trends is that there is a worldwide growth in demand and liberalisation of tariffs and barriers. For instance, demand by younger Latin Americans for designer goods made in Asia have changed perceptions and attitudes towards trading with the Asia Pacific community.

The presentation on the markets in the Middle East was quite captivating. This is not a market that is well known to the Pacific Island domestic tuna industries, but it certainly offers an alternative area for international trade other than Europe, Thailand and the United States. The Forum heard that the Middle East is big enough and easy enough to enter to make it a market of focus, with none of the tariff difficulties associated with other markets. Participants heard that all variants/quality of tuna products could find a market there with price competitiveness being of paramount concern in a large section of the market. The current high price of tuna provides a good opportunity to beat Thailand’s advantage of clustering.

Some of the key features of Latin American markets highlighted at the Forum that is of interest to global trade include the fact that 9% of world GDP (US$3.5 trillion) comes from the region. It has a population of 480 million in 33 countries and a life expectancy increasing to +80yrs with urbanisation already at 85%. These factors alone make the Latin American market an attractive destination with huge prospects for increased tuna consumption.

This was indeed a very useful session that opened up the participants to the various possibilities that exist in the international market place.

Session IV: Financing tuna projects
Financing of tuna projects, whether it is by governments or by the private sector, is always a challenge because of the risks involved. An often forgotten aspect of the tuna industry is the role that final institutions can play not only in ensuring that companies operate to the highest social and environmental standards, but also that they uphold the highest standards of sustainability. The Forum heard about the work of the International Finance Corporation in providing financing within the renewable sector/sustainable fisheries sector in the Pacific region, the obstacles in the development of the industry, and the challenges that the financial institutions faced when supporting fisheries projects include the development of the necessary infrastructure to support the industry. These include infrastructure related to the construction of ports, airports, the provision of power and water and the high costs of fuel, electricity, freight, supplies and the lack of economies of scale and competition.

The banks also had to try and weave around the issues of land particularly of the availability of land that has security of tenure, and the availability, costs and skills of the existing labour market. However, the Forum heard that these problems were not insurmountable and were being overcome in some countries. The difference was in the policy environment. The Forum was also informed that the PNA Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) has been a game changer for the purse seine industry in greatly increasing the value of access.

There were two interesting aspects to this Session and they included the investments by the social security organisation of Solomon Islands, the National Provident Fund, and its experiences in investing in the domestic tuna industry; as well as Fish 2.0, an innovative venture capital facilitator that pitches possible projects with investors. Thus the main message here is that financial institutions can work with the industry to help it grow and develop. Some of the essential ingredients for the projects that are to be financed include having a strong management team and board with knowledge of the market and customers and the ability to execute ideas and communicate opportunities.

Session V: sustainability, eco-labeling and technological development
The fifth and final Session covered a broad range of areas from social accountability issues related to crewing and the latest technological developments with regard to management of data generated from the fishery. A panel discussion on eco-labels concluded the Session.

Social accountability with regard to crewing conditions is an emerging human rights issue that cannot be ignored by the industry. The Forum was informed about the latest developments in ensuring that crewing and the conditions of those working in the fishing industry are adequately protected. The key recommendations on crewing conditions included spreading awareness of the ILO C188 to avoid any forms of labour exploitation; building capacity to establish and manage information systems to account for crew welfare compliance; increasing transparency and traceability in the tuna fishing sector and tuna value chain; and increasing the level of enforcement and compliance in port, coastal and flag states. A concomitant development that is closely related to crewing and other social accountability issues is catch documentation systems (CDS) and dealing with illegal, unregulated and unreported [IUU] fishing. Improved catch documentation will generally make it more difficult for IUU fishing to expand, and also improve the management of crewing and other social accountability systems and processes.

It was only appropriate that the presentations on social accountability and IUU fishing were followed by a session on technological developments because there is a close nexus between improved documentation and the use of technology to improve fisheries management and development in all its aspects. It is clear that long-term sustainable fishing is based on the improvement of quality data collection from the fishing fleet, and that technology can help provide this data to governments, RFMOs, ship owners and scientists. Satlink E-Monitoring and iFIMS and FIMS is a definite integrated tool for fishing fleet management and control that integrate VMS and catch report and human observer programmes. It was impressed upon the Forum participants that governments and RFMOs should develop a regulatory framework for the use of this technology.

The final wrap up session was a panel discussion on eco-labels, featuring representatives from Friend of the Sea, the Marine Stewardship Council and Pacifical. The role of eco-labels was discussed and the various issues surrounding them. The representative from the MSC spoke on the widely publicised criticisms of MSC certification of the PNA FAD free skipjack and yellowfin fishery. Discussions also focused on the future of eco-labels and how they can contribute towards better fisheries management through traceability schemes that they can promote as part of their processes. This is already being done by Pacifical where its bar coded canned tuna can be traced back to the vessel, the captain, and location where the tuna was initially caught.

The 6th Pacific Tuna Forum coincided with the first Pacific Seafood Show which will become a feature of future Tuna Forums and provide an opportunity for those involved in the seafood industry to interact with each other. The overall quality of the presentations was of very high standard and the knowledge and experience that the speakers brought to the Forum was exceptional. There is however scope to improve future Forums including having a more balanced gender representation in the selection of speakers.

It might also be useful in future events to have presentations from shipping lines who are now emerging as big players in the industry. With the growth of containerised storage and shipments, their role in the tuna industry and the growth of this particular aspect of the fishery cannot be underestimated. Overall, the Forum was a success, thanks once again to INFOFISH and the National Fisheries Authority of Papua New Guinea.

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