The new ban will force powerful fishing nations such as Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea to withdraw tuna boats from 3 areas of the Central Pacific.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Maurice Brownjohn from the Parties to the Nauru Agreement; John Hampton, SPC's chief tuna scientist; Wes Norris, Forum Fisheries Agency delegation leader
GARRETT: The unilateral action by the 8 tuna-rich Pacific Island nations - known as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement - was announced at a meeting of the 24-nation Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission which is taking place in the Federated States of Micronesia.
The fishing ban is in an area stretching between 10 degrees north of the equator and twenty degrees south, and from 170 degrees east to 150 degrees west.
Maurice Brownjohn from the PNA secretariat says the measure was necessary to protect vulnerable Bigeye and Yellowfin tuna.
BROWNJOHN: Those high seas are outside of the EEZ's, but what the parties have resolved is that in order to assist with the conservation and management any vessel that chooses to fish those areas will be ineligible for a license within the Economic Zones of the eight parties.
GARRETT: Just what difference would the extension of this ban on fishing make to the fish stocks?
BROWNJOHN: Very significant, the area that is being proposed or is being closed as of January the 1st 2011 by the parties, is the area primarily to the central Pacific, to the east, but will also include the two high seas pockets to the south around Fiji and the Cooks. That will be not a total ban on fishing in those three areas, but it will be a ban on ineligibility of licensing for purse seiners that choose to fish those areas.
GARRETT: Purse seine vessels are the large industrial fishing boats that usually fish for Skipjack tuna, but in doing so also catch quantities of juvenile Bigeye and Yellowfin.
The Secretariat of the Pacific Community's chief tuna scientist, John Hampton, says the new ban will help prevent further decline in vulnerable fish stocks.
HAMPTON: Certainly addressing the issue of over-fishing of Bigeye, and in particular reducing the level of Bigeye tuna taken as smaller juvenile sizes. Likewise with Yellowfin, reducing the catch of Yellowfin at those smaller sizes would appear to be quite important, both in terms of sustainability of those stocks, but also in terms of maximising the economic value of the fisheries. Generally these fish are much more valuable per unit ton as larger fish than they are as smaller fish.
GARRETT: Maurice Brownjohn agrees the extended ban on high seas fishing will have long-term economic benefits for the Pacific Islands, because it will mean fishing can only take place under licence within their exclusive economic zones.
BROWNJOHN: At the moment running into the high seas facilitates a lot of misreporting and makes it very hard to actually govern and manage the fisheries. Within the Economic Zones where the fishing will be restricted now, there are other measures in place by the parties, including a vessel monitoring system, 100 per cent observer monitoring of all fishing efforts by purse seiners, and also compulsory trans-shipment imports, no trans-shipment at sea. So ultimately we are sort of bringing control and proper governance under the fishery.
GARRETT: Maurice Brownjohn, spokesperson for the 8 Pacific Island Parties to the Nauru Agreement.
Wes Norris, leader of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency delegation says the move by the PNA countries is very significant.
NORRIS: It's really the next step in the leadership role that the parties to the Nauru agreement have been showing in terms of the management of the tropical tuna fishery in the Western and Central Pacific.
GARRETT: What reaction did the announcement get from the distant water fishing nations there at are the meeting in Pohnpei?
NORRIS: I think it's fair to say that it probably came as a surprise to some of the distant water fishing nations. It was announced publicly for the first time by the chair of the parties to the Nauru agreement, Marshall Islands. And I suspect that most of the distant water fishing nations are approaching this somewhat cautiously trying to work out exactly what it does and what it doesn't mean for their fleets that operate in the zones of the parties.
GARRETT: Does this mean that the Pacific has the distant water fishing nations who in the past have been very powerful over a barrel by saying if you fish in these high seas areas you won't be able to fish in the vast area that makes up our Exclusive Economic Zones?
NORRIS: It does signify a very significant step forward in the relationship between the coastal states, the small island developing states and the fishing partners. In the past Pacific Island countries have been largely forced to accept access revenue for vessels to fish in their waters. The parties to the Nauru Agreement specifically are taking control of the situation now so to speak, and exercising the leverage that they have as the owners of the most significant resource.