By NETANI RIKA in Port Moresby
THE world has gathered in Madrid, Spain to discuss the existential threat which climate change presents to the environment through rising temperatures and melting ice.
Halfway across the globe, the guardians of Pacific fisheries are seated in an indoor stadium to discuss the impact climate change has had on the region’s most important resource – tuna.
The Pacific accounts for roughly half of the global tuna market which is worth around $USD42 million each year. Fishing companies were paid $USD10 billion for 4.99 million tons of tuna landed on docks around the world in 2014.
That product was worth $USD42 billion after processing. It has been suggested that the total value of landed tuna to the Pacific is $USD5 billion and $USD22billion after processing.
Much of the Pacific’s tuna stocks of Skipjack, Yellowfin and Big Eye are caught between Papua New Guinea in the West and Kiribati in the East.
But as the Pacific Ocean grows warmer, it is expected that the tuna will begin to move further East.
PNG Fisheries Minister, Dr Lino Tom, told local journalists that Skipjack and Yellowfin stocks in the country’s EEZ could drop by as much as 37 per cent by 2050.
That would mean a market worth $USD128.8 million in 2016 could bring in only $USD81.1 million by the middle of this century.
Studies by the Food and Agriculture Organisation show that Skipjack and yellowfin which make up the vast majority of the Pacific catch tend to shift from PNG and the Federated States of Micronesia towards Kiribati and Tuvalu.
But if global temperatures continue their steady rise and an estimate two to three-degree Celsius increase over current levels, even Kiribati and Tuvalu can see the impact on their stocks.
Tuvalu Fisheries Minister, Alapati Taupo, was forthright in his views on rising temperatures.
“As the climate warms, oceanic conditions change to provide more frequent and eventually permanent El Nino conditions,” Taupo said at the 16th Regular Session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
“In the short term this is good for Tuvalu. There is more tuna in our waters in El Nino years. In the longer term … the main fishing areas are expected to move out of our EEZ and into the Eastern High Seas pocket and eventually into the Eastern Pacific.’’
That would mean a huge loss of income to a small country heavily reliant on tuna for its foreign revenue through licences to fishing vessels which raked in $USD24 million.
Tuvalu’s tuna sales have been estimated at a further US$198 million.
With the looming threat of tuna migration due to warmer oceans, Taupo was clear about the effects of such a move.
“Climate change is not a problem that Tuvalu has caused but we are going to suffer the effects,” he said.
But for Tuvalu the tuna migration is only part of the problem faced by its fishery due to climate change. Rising temperatures means rising sea levels.
“If the islands and reefs go completely under water, we may lose our EEZs,” Taupo said.
“Our EEZ is defined by the edge of the reef at low tide. As sea levels rise these baselines move back, reducing the size of our EEZ.
“Warmer water and higher acidity of seawater will result in the destruction of our coral reefs which are the habitat for most of our important inshore food fish.
“It may also affect the success of fish breeding and the growth of shellfish.’’
Tuvalu estimates that on the current trend, production of inshore fishery will fall by 65 per cent by 2100 because of climate change.
Taupo suggested that current global arrangements be changed to prevent what he described as an injustice.
“In fisheries terms this would mean the boundaries of our EEZ are locked in and not changed as a result of climate change-induced sea level rise,” he said.
This would mean Tuvalu’s right to harvest tuna could be retained on the high seas when the fish moved.
Tuvalu has started discussions on changes to EEZ boundary definitions under United Nations conventions, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Driven by rising sea levels and global warming, Tuvalu will press for its boundaries to be defined by degrees of latitude and longitude rather than geographical features which may be lost under water.
The need for clearly defined national borders to exist well after the possible disappearance of the Pacific’s smaller nations is a matter of concern for many.
And some small island developing states believe that there is a need for greater attention to this issue by international organisations and countries outside the Pacific.
Kiribati’s Fisheries Minister, Tetabo Nakara, recognised the threat faced by his island neighbour.
“Climate change is an existential threat to our region, and directly threatens our livelihoods, security and wellbeing. We need action on climate change to be a primary concern in all fields (aspects),” Nakara said.
While Nakara’s call for action was directed at the WCPFC and the Forum Fisheries Agency, he deftly linked the fisheries climate change problems to COP25 in Madrid.
“It is fitting that on the other side of the world in Madrid, the 25th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC is convening this week. How wonderful it would be if this commission could adopt the climate change resolution as a contribution of the WCPFC to addressing this matter,” he said.
On two sides of the world, leaders meet this week, their discussions linked by climate change.
If the COP 25 meeting in Madrid does not take credible steps to reduce global warming, efforts by the WCPFC delegates to control and maintain tuna stocks may be in vain.
CLIMATE change threatens Tuvalu’s national survival through direct impact on tuna stocks.
The small atoll state told members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission that tuna was its most important natural resource.
Tuvalu’s Fisheries Minister, Alapati Taupo, told the WCPFC’s 16th Regular Session that they must address equitable solutions to climate change impacts on tuna.
“The climate change emergency is an issue that threatens the very survival of Tuvalu as a country; and the evidence now shows that it will have severe impacts on our most important natural resource – the tuna resources of our Exclusive Economic Zone,’’ Taupo said.
“Tuvalu urges WCPFC to take a strong stand on the issue of climate change.’’
Forum Fisheries Agency Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, recognised calls from Tuvalu and other member states for stronger action on climate change.
“Members are calling for stronger action by the (Western and Central Pacific Fisheries) commission, specifically looking at full recognition of impacts of climate change on fisheries, food security and livelihoods,” Tupou-Roosen said.
“(We must ensure) that the commission actively considers those impacts and they deliberate on the development of conservation management issues, again looking at the carbon footprint estimate.’’
Tupou-Roosen said member-states had called for a strong course of action.
“We must meet this challenge head on - it's clear from our leaders,’’ she said.
“So, we will need to look at what it is in (our) activities and provide options for how to offset or reduce the carbon footprint.’’
Tuvalu indicated that it would be open to further discussion in an effort to reach consensus on issues including climate change.
“It is in all our interests to reach agreement and strengthen the management of our oceanic fisheries resources,” Fisheries Minister Tupou said.
Forum Fisheries Commission Chair, Eugene Pangelinan, said it was important to have a starting point on discussions.
“I think we need to understand and climate change is happening to us and as the minister highlighted, we need to start the process here,” Pangelinan said.