Ocean's future portends tough choices for Samoa

After the ocean what else is left?

The sixth summit of Fisheries Ministers from more than 50 member states around the African, Caribbean and Pacific has been an occasion for thinking about the big picture impact of climate change on Samoa and the world. 

We agree with the succinct moral outline of the quandary we find ourselves provided by Professor Rashid Sumaila of the University of British.

The Professor pointed out that Pacific nations must now face up to the impact of a climate problem we largely did not create. 

“Climate change is affecting fish in the Tropics and around the equator much more than in the North. So we are losing our fish,” he said. 

“And this to me is an ethical problem because in this part of the world, there is less emissions."

"Most of [pollution] is pumped by the big countries in the North, but we get the hit. We also depend on fish a lot, if we think of Samoa, the intake of fish is more than Canada etc., so it’s an ethical problem”.

And yet, despite not being the main cause of the problem, it is clear that we will have to be part of a global solution, while also extricating ourselves from the challenges presented by a more acidic and less oxygenated sea. 

By 2035 Samoa is looking to have up to 20,000 extra mouths to feed on the current rate of projections provided by the national statistics bureau.

Fish is standing out alone as the only sustainable means of feeding them. 

On a global level the problem appears even more acute.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear in a draft report earlier this year agriculture as we know it cannot go on. 

The report concludes growing animals on land for eating is wrecking our planet.

Meat consumption worldwide has doubled since 1961, bringing with it a 70 per cent increase in methane; agriculture and forestry now account for one-quarter of all greenhouse gases. 

By 2035, when the world will need to find food for an extra billion more people to feed, it is clear that continuing our current diets will leave us next to no hope of averting climate rises above the potentially disastrous 1.5 degrees Celsius mark.

Already about one-third of the world’s tuna catch comes from Pacific Island nations.

Demand for protein from the sea is only likely to increase its value. That will pose challenges to our food security.

On current projections we might just be falling short.

A 2016 study that took into account the expected increase in fish consumption in the Pacific suggested Samoa would, by 2035, fall some 2000 tonnes short of bringing in the coastal fish we need to feed ourselves.

That number sounds big, but it only represents about 15 per cent of our coastal fish production at that time. 

With some relatively modest changes such as reef restocking, encouraging more small-scale catches and better monitoring of the impact of industrial fishing we should and could overcome these challenges.

We applaud the manner in which the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (M.A.F.) has trod a cautious line on our growing aquaculture sector through initiatives such as the Marine Multispecies Hatchery Toloa at Falelo.

Despite the growing international demand for our giant clams as a delicacy the products at this and other hatcheries remain, for now, limited for use by local communities and for reef restocking.

The announcement, though, of the Government’s plans to increase the issuing of fishing licenses to overseas companies gives us further pause for thought.

As the Forum Fisheries Agency revealed at last week’s forum some 95 per cent of the problem of over-fishing comes from licensed, not illegal vessels. 

About half of our current 24 licences are issued to foreign companies and authorities say they are provided on a first come first serve basis.

That the Ministry is even thinking of issuing more, we are told, reflects the cautious way in which our stock levels have been managed and the potential for the Tuna Commission to suggest we are not doing our bit.

The Ministry’s C.E.O., Lopaoo Natanielu Mua, gets it right when he says that any further licences should only be issued with caution.

“We need to control fishing,” he said.

“We have to look at all those aspects [of sustainability] before we can issue more licences”.

So far Government authorities say that illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, estimated to cost the world some USD$600 million annually is not taking place in Samoan waters.

But, with only one plane and an additional patrol boat currently provided to look out for over-fishing, better monitoring will be key to ensuring our sustainability.

Human consumption of fish has now overtaken that of beef globally; an astonishing half of it comes from aquaculture. And as it rises further in the future the demand for Samoan fish is only going to rise and so too will the price people pay for it.

It seems inevitable that at some point in the future, then, our economic future and food security are likely to work at cross-purposes at times.  

It’s difficult to think of an issue on which we should be proceeding with greater caution.

Have a wonderful Monday, Samoa. And God bless!

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