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Pacific Ministers worried at state of fisheries

Pacific Fisheries Ministers including Samoa’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopaoo Natanielu Mua, have expressed concern at the state of coastal fisheries and the impact of climate change and marine pollution.

The concerns were relayed during a virtual regional conference of Pacific Regional Fisheries Ministers last Friday chaired by the Federated States of Micronesia [F.S.M.] Department of Resource and Development Secretary, Marion Henry, and attracted ministers and officials from the Pacific Island Forum countries and territories as well as regional organisations.

A statement released by the Apia-based Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme [S.P.R.E.P.] stated that the decisions made during the meeting reflected regional priorities for the fisheries and marine sector.

The Cook Islands Prime Minister and Minister of Marine Resources, Henry Puna, told the conference that it was undeniable that the island nations’ shared fisheries resources is a tangible resource, asset, and a lifeline for their economies.

He also called for initiatives to diversify the use of fisheries and marine resources using innovative and collaborative approaches. 

While highlighting the region’s response to national and regional security threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Puna stressed the importance of enhancing fisheries management, and maintaining food and economic security.

“Our collective response must always reflect how much we value our people, and the mana, resilience and Pacific community spirit that underpins the very fibre of our nations," he said.

As for the conference chair, Mr Henry, he said the pandemic has presented the region with unprecedented times.

“The meeting marked a new chapter of strengthening regional cooperation, solidarity and friendship, especially in these unprecedented times where the region has been greatly affected by the impacts of COVID-19.”

The virtual conference covered regional coastal fisheries and aquaculture priorities as well as the impact of COVID-19 on these fisheries, the 2020 Coastal Fisheries Report Card, and options for enhancing discussions on community-based management of coastal fisheries. 

The fisheries ministers also endorsed the Regional Framework on Aquatic Biosecurity.

One of the key resources that helped to frame the meeting was the Coastal Fisheries Report Card, which was presented by the Pacific Community [S.P.C.]. It provides annual regional reporting on the current state of Pacific coastal fisheries across a range of biological, social and economic indicators.

The report card also highlights the importance of coastal fisheries for food security and livelihoods in the region, with 89 per cent of households eating fish or seafood weekly and 30 per cent of households participating in fishing. 

The ministers were concerned with results that signaled a decline in the status of key indicator invertebrate and finfish species and reef and ecosystem health, which have direct impacts on livelihoods and food security, and called for the strengthening of coastal fisheries management.

Moving from coastal fisheries to climate change issues, the ministers also considered where the fisheries sector can incorporate climate change mitigation and adaptation into their policies and plans, with a view to securing climate change financing to support such measures, where possible.  

The ministers also called for an advocacy strategy to enhance high level messaging at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and related meetings, in order to advance measures to address the impacts of climate change on fisheries in the region.

In discussions on marine pollution, the ministers supported improvements in Pacific port waste reception facilities to enable them to receive fishing vessel waste onshore rather than have it dumped at sea. 

The ministers also expressed concern about the impact of abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear, especially on coastal fisheries and coral reefs, and called for collaborative action to address the issue.

The ministers also welcomed progress on the development of the 2050 strategy for the Blue Pacific continent being led by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

The Regional Fisheries Ministers Meeting is a joint event launched in 2020, following the 2018 decision by Forum leaders to have more comprehensive updates on fisheries work from the Pacific regional organisations: the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency [F.F.A.]; the Pacific Community [S.P.C.]; the Pacific Regional Environment Programme [S.P.R.E.P.]; the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat [P.I.F.S.]; and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement [P.N.A.].

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