A side event at the United Nations Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) called Our Fish, Our Future, with thematic focus on oceans, seas, and biodiversity, was organised by the Government of Nauru with assistance from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Representatives from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the PNA Secretariat, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Pew Charitable Trusts were the panel speakers at the event.
The side event focused on the development aspirations of small island developing states enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and how eight Pacific Island countries, collectively called the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), have been working to make these aspirations a reality by ensuring that their tuna resources are managed sustainably and for the benefit of their people.
The speakers emphasised that the health of the tuna fisheries is critical for many SIDS. Tuna is a key source of protein for food security, generates licensing fees, underpins culture dating back millennia, and provides a path towards economic independence. Through innovative management tools like the PNA Vessel Day Scheme and through durable partnerships with governments, SPC, the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), industry, and non-governmental organisations, PNA members have built lasting relationships that will benefit the resource and economies well into the future. Recent PNA efforts have increased the value of their fisheries while protecting the marine environment and encouraging investment in sustainable fisheries processing throughout the region. Specifics of the PNA scheme, including past successes and upcoming opportunities, can guide other SIDS, both in managing their fisheries and building equally effective partnerships.
This event highlighted aspects of the partnership that have made PNA such an effective collaboration. Overall, the side event showcased PNA’s collaborative approach to sustainable development – integrating social, economic, and environmental dimensions – as a model that could be applied to other regions and resources managed by SIDS.
SPC was represented by Moses Amos, Director of the Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems Division. His presentation was focused on the scientific perspectives on the world’s largest sustainably managed tuna fishery. The presentation highlighted SPC’s role in providing technical and scientific support to members – including PNA members – on oceanic and coastal fisheries: data collection (including observer data), data management, ecosystems and biology, and stock assessment and management.
The SPC presentation emphasised that the fishery is not just big – it is huge. For example, aligned nose to tail, the skipjack tuna caught each year would stretch around the world more than 10 times, and the tuna cans produced each year would fill 10 stadiums. However, fishing effort and pressure on this huge resource is increasing and more fishing vessels are chasing fewer fish. A potential solution to this issue is to take a ‘cohesive management’ approach, with a management framework that captures the links between the main components. This involves defining management objectives describing what managers want out of the fishery, setting limit reference points describing where managers don’t want to go, and setting target reference points defining the types of conditions that achieve the management objectives best.
SPC is working with PNA to develop target reference points for skipjack that: maintain stability in fishing effort, maintain profitability, ensure stock sustainability, and limit impact on other species. The SPC presentation emphasised that defining these reference points is key. Currently there is nothing to say whether the status of the stock is at the target level, that is, at the level that PNA needs to achieve its stated objectives.
SPC stressed the importance of defining the target reference points now, as the current skipjack stock is relatively healthy. Given that the pressure on stocks is increasing, having a level at which to maintain the stock is critically important for PNA, otherwise the increased fishing pressure will continue to reduce stock sizes.