Big Money, Big Interests, Small Islands, and the Search for Sustainability

Where there is big money, there is big interest–and the Pacific is no different.

The tuna catch in the Western Pacific is worth over US$4 billion per year.  Historically however, only a small percentage of this windfall benefits those whose waters the tuna come from.


tuna-pna-300A large proportion of the global skipjack catch—up to 30 percent—comes out of the national waters of a small group of Pacific island countries: Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Kiribati, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.

Together, these countries are collectively known as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), after an agreement in 1982 where they formalized cooperation in order to maximize the benefits from the tuna in their waters and ensure stricter fishing controls.

These countries have big oceans, but few national income streams available to them.

The PNA countries are critical to the future of tuna in the Pacific—just as healthy tuna populations are critical to the future of these countries. The PNA have therefore taken steps toward, and continue to strive for, strong fisheries management controls to ensure that tuna populations remain health and can be a continued source of income.

In addition, the PNA are seeking a greater return on catches of tuna in their waters. This means limiting the amount of fishing allowed in their waters to ensure long-term sustainability, developing their own national fleets, controlling the use of certain fishing gears which may harm the ecosystem, developing processing and other similar facilities, and looking for assurances that fish caught in their waters will be processed on their shores.

Currently, most fishing vessels in the region are controlled by the major industrial fishing entities: U.S., EU, Japan, Republic of Korea, and Taiwan, Province of China.

The U.S. Tuna Treaty

In addition, the U.S. has established a treaty with 17 Pacific countries. This so-called "U.S. Tuna Treaty" provides the U.S. fleet with unlimited access to the rich PNA fishing grounds and exempts the U.S. from following the rules required of other fleets in exchange for limited aid money and access fees for those countries. The current U.S. Tuna Treaty expires in 2013, and discussions are underway to negotiate a new treaty.

WCPFC: The stage is set

Finally, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC)—the organization that provides for international cooperation of the full tuna fishery in the Western and Central Pacific—must decide in December 2011 on conservation measures for all those who fish for tuna in this vast area of the Pacific.

The world's largest tuna fishery, the industrialized fleets from developed countries who want to maintain their catches, the Pacific island countries who want to sustainably develop their fishery, and the international Regional Fisheries Management Organizations are all tasked with negotiating a solution for cooperation that will lead to sustainability. Pew will work with the Pacific Island States, other fishing countries, and partners to ensure a sustainable future for tuna in the Pacific.