Fisheries Ministers decry COVID-19 impact

The 17th Forum Fisheries Committee [F.F.C.] Ministerial conference concluded last Friday with fisheries ministers from member countries expressing concern at the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic on their local economies.

Forum Fisheries Agency [F.F.A.] Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, set the tone for the conference with her opening remarks focusing on the “adaptability and resilience” of member countries in the face of the pandemic.

"More than ever, our cooperation is needed to see us through this unprecedented challenge,” she further reiterated, according to a statement released by the F.F.A. Secretariat in Honiara last Friday.

The regional conference was done virtually with both the ministers and senior officials dialing in using video conferencing software Zoom. 

The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Afioga Lopaoo Natanielu Mua, represented the Samoa Government in the virtual meeting. 

The region’s fisheries ministers have asked the F.F.A. to undertake a regional study on how member countries can harness their comparative advantage with respect to regional tuna resources, and maximise the benefits flowing from strengthened cooperation in areas such as processing, value-adding, cross-border investment, increased regional trade, improved transportation links, and improved labour mobility. 

With disruptions to airfreight impacting the export of fresh fish outside the region, the ministers welcomed the work being undertaken by the F.F.A. to explore market opportunities within the region.

The ministers also commended the measures taken by the F.F.A. and officials to mitigate health risks posed by the pandemic, including development of health-related safety protocols for crew members, observers and others interacting with fishing vessels.  

These protocols will minimise the risk of contracting or spreading the disease and enable fishing operations to continue safely. Work by the F.F.A. Secretariat to improve observer safety and maintain observer livelihoods by using their analytical fisheries knowledge and skills on-shore was welcomed by the ministers.

The pandemic has also resulted in an increased risk of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated [I.U.U.] fishing, due to the limitations on the use of human observers and port inspections. 

Ministers also highlighted the increased importance of integrated monitoring, control and surveillance framework by the F.F.A. during these times, including the satellite vessel monitoring system, vessel of interest information and the overall regional surveillance picture, as well as the aerial surveillance programme managed by F.F.A. on behalf of its members.

The 17th Forum Fisheries Committee Ministerial meeting was attended by Ministers representing Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa and Solomon Islands.  Cook Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Vanuatu were represented at senior official level.

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