REMARKS: SG Puna Keynote Address to 8th Pacific Tuna Forum in PNG

6 – 7 SEPTEMBER 2023


Hon John Rosso, Deputy Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
Hon. Jelta Wong, Minister for Fisheries
Distinguished Fisheries Ministers of the Pacific Islands Forum
Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, Director General of the Forum Fisheries Agency
Dr Filimon Manoni, Pacific Ocean Commissioner
Dr Sangaalofa Clark, Chief Executive Officer of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement
Rhea Moss-Christian, Executive Director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Tuna Commission
INFOfish Director Shirlene Anthonysamy

Friends—particularly those who are at the helm of research and development, trade and tuna industry —

• Kia Orana and gutpela morning tru olgeta

• I am very pleased to be able to join you this morning at this 8th Pacific Tuna Forum.

• Indeed, it is wonderful to be back here in this great land of Papua New Guinea – a nation rich in resources and opportunities that can propel the future of our region.

• It is no secret that we, your Pacific family, have learnt so much and will continue to learn from your leadership and unity on the issues that matter most for our Blue Pacific continent.

• I am pleased that the theme for this year’s conference, “Strengthening tuna sustainability and industry development in the Blue Pacific Continent, through increased innovation, partnership and participation,” speaks to the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.

• I am from an Ocean State – for us in the Cook Islands, it is from the Ocean that we derive our history, and our connection to each other – our culture – our livelihoods and our being as Pacific peoples.

• As custodians of nearly 20% of the earth’s surface, our future as a region lies in our Pacific Ocean.

• Importantly, the theme shines through in this Forum.

• The innovation and ideas you share, the best practice and challenges on your agenda, and the way this event is structured goes to the core of partnership, participation and collaboration.

• These are key to ensuring a sustainable, inclusive, and prosperous Pacific, but as many here will appreciate, how best we rise to the future often depends on how we’ve learnt from the past.

• I have been in the region my whole life and over time I have worn many different hats that have including that of a Fisheries Minister as well as Chair of the FFC.

• So, I can appreciate the vision and tenacity of those leading the Tuna fisheries sector, whether it be in management, science, negotiations, industry, or the setting of policy.

• I want to especially thank those at the remote forefront of compliance work against IUU fishing – our Fisheries Observers. It is your work that makes a sustainable tuna fishery in the Pacific, possible.

• Your efforts, linked to the aspirations of this industry event, will help to ensure the success of the 2050 Strategy’s “long-term approach to working together as a region, and as countries and territories, communities and people of the Blue Pacific Continent.”

• Friends, economic prosperity is core to the 2050 Strategy. But it is our ocean and its resources that will underlie our prosperity as a region.

• If we are to truly reap the potential of our ocean and our fisheries resources in a sustainable manner, we must invest in innovation. Innovation is key to our future.

• For far too often, our region has been looked upon as “the whole in the donut”. Our history as a region, has seen our Ocean used by major countries as a nuclear testing ground, or more recently, the perfect abyss for nuclear wastewater.

• But the tides are turning.

• As a region, we are in a period of influence – our geostrategic circumstances have ensured this.

• We need to take hold of our future and our own potential. And in this respect, may I congratulate the people and government of Papua New Guinea and Hon. Minister Jelta Wong and your team for hosting the recent Fisheries Ministerial in East New Britain, to set ambition and action for Pacific nations securing a larger part of the tuna value chain for our Blue Continent. Truly, this endeavour demonstrates initiative and resilience in the face of the climate emergency our Forum Leaders have declared. I note that the outcomes of your deliberations will be presented to Forum Leaders at their Rarotonga meeting and wish you all the best in this endeavour.

• The ability to leverage and generate economic prosperity from our natural resources including our ocean goes hand in hand with addressing our most significant threats and complex challenges including:

(i) climate change and rising sea levels;
(ii) rising debt levels;
(iii) global economic fragmentation; and of course
(iv) geo-political contestations.

• How can we use this era of influence to capitalise on the resources and strengths that we have as a region, to address the key challenges of our time?

• As I mentioned earlier, I firmly believe that the future of prosperity lies in our ocean – its fishery and its resources.
• If there is one theme in the 2050 Strategy that drives home the global context of all coastal states, it is the Ocean and Environment thematic area.

• It recognizes and defines our geography as large ocean states but also sustains our economies, cultures, and way of life.

• It recognizes that the Pacific’s vast oceanic realm has long been a source of sustenance and livelihood for our island nations for generations and as guardians of the oceans and its resources, we bear a profound responsibility to ensure its sustainable management and conservation.

• Tuna, a highly migratory species that knows no boundaries, connects us in ways that transcend geography.

• It is a prized resource of immense value and serves as a common thread binding our island nation’s social fabric and economic development aspirations.

• The story of the Tuna Industry and what it has meant for many of our Pacific nations is a story well-known.

• For many Pacific nations, Tuna revenues fund roads, schools, hospitals, sovereign wealth, and jobs. For smaller tuna-dependent Pacific Island countries such as Kiribati, Tokelau and Tuvalu, the contribution of access and license fees as percentage of government revenue is at a combined averaged of 70% in 2019 on average. Individually, revenue from tuna make up 68%, 57% and 81% of government revenue in 2019 for Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Tokelau respectively.

• But we need to move away from the heavy reliance on access revenues and move towards diversifying and future proofing this industry.

• Some of you in this room are both partners or competitors, likely both, in the race to innovate and leverage our current capabilities to identify new streams and sources of financing using our fisheries resources. Tuna is the blue-gold of the blue Pacific.

• This shared resource has also demonstrated the value of collective strength, ensuring Western and Central Pacific Ocean has the healthiest tuna stocks of all the RFMOs.

• It is a resource too big for one country to handle alone.

• Working together can go beyond just managing this valuable resource, and the work of partners such as FFA, SPC, PNA alongside our Pacific nations and at the WCPFC level can only benefit the continued partnerships and participation for its sustainable development.

• Given its abundance and significant social and economic value, our tuna has attracted the attention of the world, making the need for sustainable management of tuna stocks even more crucial.

• Friends, the challenges we face for sustainability are well known to this industry and are lived realities for the Pacific nations who manage the Blue Pacific tuna fishery.

• Today, I would like to focus on three (3) of the most complex of those challenges, which demand the strongest level of collective action, being:

(i) illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing;
(ii) the impacts of climate change on fish stocks; and
(iii) the flow-on impacts on trade and market dynamics.

• I commend the regional agencies in the room who work to ensure that the tuna stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean are in good health.

• But we must not be complacent. We lose too much revenue through IUU fishing, and we need to invest in innovative technologies to curb this issue.

• I therefore encourage all Members of the World Trade Organisation to undertake the necessary domestic processes to ratify and accede to the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement as soon as practical, including the FAO Agreement Port States Measures to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing.

• Second, the impacts of climate change pose unprecedented threats to our marine ecosystems. The risks posed by climate variations through the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events will significantly affect tuna stock movement and redistribution, fishing operations and economic returns for tuna-dependent Pacific Island countries.

• Scientific studies show significant economic losses for many Pacific Island economies. It is estimated by one such study that by 2050, Papua New Guinea’s catch will decline by 37%, its revenue will decline by 0.9% and a decrease in value by $47.7 million US.

• For the Parties to the Nauru Agreement that rely on the purse seine vessel day scheme, the redistribution of tuna stocks caused by climate variation will be significant. It is estimated by another similar study that the average annual loss in regional tuna-fishing access fees of US$90 million and reductions in government revenue of up to 13% for some Pacific Island economies.

• Third, market dynamics and consumer preferences are also rapidly evolving, requiring us to adapt, to innovate and to respond to market signals. Market driven schemes such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) are already having an impact in shaping tropical tuna measures in our region.

• The on-going war in Ukraine has affected supply chains, energy and food prices. These have cascading impacts on the cost of inputs, fuel, freight and the price of canned tuna in supermarkets.

• Addressing some of these critical issues is beyond the fisheries sector and requires governments to respond through appropriate financial and fiscal stimulus packages to absorb these externally driven costs.

• That may be a short-term solution, and more should be done to address long-term impacts. As I mentioned earlier, your Forum Fisheries Ministers have just convened with renewed focus on cooperation, and our collective future in mind. And Forum Economic Ministers at their meeting last month in Suva have in similar fashion, given their support to implement the 2050 Implementation Plan through a Pacific Roadmap for Economic Development that will be developed later this year.

• I see this Roadmap as an opportunity for all our key economic sectors coming together and devise our own plans to remove the blockages and navigate ourselves towards greater economic prosperity. You are a key stakeholder in this exercise, and I therefore welcome your contribution to this Economic Roadmap.

• Notwithstanding these challenges, let us reaffirm our commitment to working together as one, because that is our collective strength.

• I noted on my travel from Jackson’s airport to the hotel last night, the banners announcing the theme of the 48th anniversary of independence next weekend for Papua New Guinea. The call to leave no one behind resonates. It is the call of the Pacific Way. And so I call on everyone here today, including our CROP family, our development partners, non-governmental organisations, the private sector, and the civil society to work in partnership in the spirit of the Pacific Way.

• That spirit of the Pacific Way, which seeks an outcome that leaves no one behind, continues to display our collective strength which places us front and centre as a group to be reckoned with whether we are on the regional or the global stages.

• Friends, let us commit to enhanced regional cooperation through good governance and ocean management to combat and deter IUU fishing; to mitigate and adopt measures to address the challenges of climate change; and respond to the prevailing tuna trade and market dynamics through sound investments and trade practices.

• In conclusion, I know each of you will actively engage in the deliberations ahead. You will share your expertise and insights to these critical discussions. You will build bridges and embrace the challenges with determination. The Tuna Forum provides us with a platform to forge a united front, demonstrating to the world our commitment to safeguarding the Blue Pacific’s most valuable resource.

• Together, we can ensure that the Blue Pacific remains a beacon of sustainable tuna management and a shining example of regional cooperation.

• Thank yu tru, and may your discussions be fruitful and actions resolute. I thank you. –ENDS


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