Fisheries and climate linkage

The Forum Fisheries Committee held its annual meeting in Majuro this week. From left: Australia representative James van Meurs, Forum Fisheries Agency Director General Dr. Manu Tupou-Roosen, MIMRA Director Glen Joseph and Kiribati fisheries representative Kaon Tiamere at the opening session of the FFC meeting at the Marshall Islands Resort. Photo: Hilary Hosia.

GIFF JOHNSON

The Forum Fisheries Committee — representing the 17 members of the Forum Fisheries Agency — met from Monday through Thursday this week at the Marshall Islands Resort’s Melele Room.

While the meeting worked on budgets, policies and often mundane topics from the public’s point of view, every FFC meeting translates directly into the management of the tuna fishery in the Pacific, which in turn translates into large amounts of funding for island governments.

On Monday, Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority Director Glen Joseph took over as chairman of the FFC from the previous chair Kiribati fisheries official Kaon Tiamere.

The results of this meeting will feed policy recommendations to the Forum Fisheries ministers who will gather in Majuro in July for their annual meeting.

While climate issues were long a peripheral topic in the fisheries world, they are more and more becoming center stage.

“Climate change is being wedded into fisheries work,” said Joseph last Friday on the eve of the FFC meeting. Climate impacts the movement of tuna around the region as can be seen by how prolonged El Niño and La Niña weather events change migration patterns, he added. Joseph said the fisheries world is paying attention to projections and forecasts about tuna migration given carbon emissions and warming of the ocean.

Joseph said he long ago learned in his marine and fisheries-related studies that the “upwelling” of the ocean along the equator is the “menu” for tuna. “How climate is changing is a grim picture,” he said. The potential impact on the marine food chain could be extreme, he added. “If tuna are starved, they’ll be forced to go elsewhere for food,” he said. “That would mean bye bye to the PNA,” he said in reference to the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, the nine islands that control the area where most of the world’s skipjack tuna is caught.

This concern about ocean conditions “really connects at the national level and the RMI campaign for (limiting global warming to) 1.5°,” he said. “It’s an existential threat.”

“In the past, fisheries had no mandate in climate change,” Joseph said. “We’d take it to the climate office. But whether we like it or not, whether it’s in our mandate or not, we must mobilize.”

In other fisheries news:

The US government has promised a long-term package for the US Pacific fisheries treaty. If it comes through, it will guarantee American fishing boats access to fishing grounds — access that has been elevated in importance by the US-China competition for influence in the region.

MIMRA Director Joseph said the announcement by President Biden late last year about a 10-year, $600 million fisheries package for the region is good news.

It’s a $60 million pledge annually for 10 years, Joseph said of the US plan. He said it underlines the “importance the US places on maritime sector security as well as US reengagement in the region.”

Joseph said it was a good deal for the region. The islands are waiting for the US confirmation of Biden’s 10-year funding pledge: “Waiting for the ink,” Joseph said.

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