Multilateral High Level Conferences on South Pacific Tuna Fisheries
The Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), representing the small island developing states of the South Pacific, adopted a facilitative, participatory approach to the negotiation process for achieving sustainable development of the tuna fisheries in the Western Central Pacific. Over a period of 5 years, the FFA held a series of Multilateral High Level Conferences on South Pacific Tuna Fisheries (MHLC). The MHLC were attended by representatives of the governments of participating Pacific Island Countries, the governments of the distant water fishing nations (DWFN), the fishing industry, FFA, the SPC, NGOs and the Media. Each meeting was carefully planned to engender mutual understanding of the scientific facts concerning the condition of the tuna stocks, the methods that might be required in the future to manage those stocks successfully, and the responsibilities of the various partners in the development plan.
The first MHLC in 1994 developed strategies for the regulation of the various fishing fleets operating in the Western Central Pacific. The Law of the Sea Convention had just entered into force (on the 16 November 1994) and a conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks proposed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, was two years into its deliberations. The objective of MHLC1 was to ‘promote the full implementation of responsible fishing operations for fishing vessels operating in the South Pacific region’.
Broader management issues were considered too complex and politically sensitive for the initial meeting. To improve the working relationship of the partners, the conference focused on technical issues such as the status of tuna stocks, the collection and exchange of catch data, transshipment of tuna catches, enforcement techniques such as vessel monitoring systems, and other commercial fishing issues. The technical focus brought a spirit of practical cooperation, and provided a useful beginning to a multilateral dialogue, despite the fact that the central issues of fisheries management had not been tackled.Fisheries data consultation
The Technical Consultation on the Collection and Exchange of Fisheries Data, Tuna Research and Stock Assessment, 1996 provided the first opportunity for coastal States and fishing States in the region to consider the scientific and technical issues arising from both the law of the sea and the UN Implementing Agreement.
Detailed discussions included: (i) data requirements for stock assessment; (ii) current data holdings by SPC, coastal States and Distant Waters Fishing Nations; (iii) specification of agreed minimum requirements for data collection, review of current arrangements and future possible arrangements for data exchange, tuna research, and stock assessment; (iv) detailed specifications for agreed minimum requirements for routine data collection, including the means of collection of such data, cooperation in scientific programmes, the need for the timely collection, compilation and distribution of data and the observer programme; and (v) agreement to cooperate in the development and implementation of cooperative scientific research programmes of relevance in the WCP
Towards the end of the consultation, future arrangements for the provision of science to the future management arrangement were discussed, based on a paper produced by the SPC. There was considerable support for some of the options raised in the paper, and it was agreed that there was a need for the concurrent development of a scientific structure and the regional fisheries management arrangement.
The stage was now set to tackle the more delicate and complex issue of actually managing the fishery. Fishery management requires restricting entry to the stocks, usually by regulating the number and size of fishing vessels allowed to take fish from the area. This has been the primary, and explosive, issue that has resulted in the failure of management of ocean fisheries in the rest of the world.
The difference in the South Pacific was that all interested partners had already come together for peaceful negotiations on the technical issues. They already knew there was excellent and meaningful information on the abundance of the tuna stocks and, because of their early involvement in the technical issues, they also knew the fishery would have to be regulated and even exactly how it would be technically monitored and regulated.The Second Multilateral High Level Conference (MHLC2)
FFA member countries, representatives from the fishing nations and the fishing industry met for the second Multilateral High Level Conference met in Majuro, in June 1997. The FFA members had always recognized the need for full cooperation with fishing nations to fulfill their obligations under Article 64 of the Law of the Sea with regard to highly migratory species. Article 3 of the FFA convention states:
“….effective cooperation for the conservation and optimal utilisation of the highly migratory species of the region will require the establishment of additional mechanisms to provide for cooperation between all coastal States involved in the harvesting of such resources”.
In the close to 20 years since the development of the FFA convention, both sides had been provided with the opportunity to be in a better position to understand each other. A number of favourable conditions now prevailed for conservation measures. These included: (i) coastal states in the region were developing considerable experience in the management of their own resources, coordinating policies, and dealing with distant water fishing nations on both a bilateral and multilateral basis; (ii) DWFNs were becoming experienced in dealing with coastal States, and establishing relationships in their zones; (iii) stocks in the region were in relatively good health and that it was always easier to develop management arrangements in such circumstances than if the stocks were in a state of devastation; and (iv) the UN Implementing Agreement had provided a step by step indication of how provisions should be implemented by coastal States and DWFNs to enable them to discharge their duties under that Law of the Sea fully and effectively.
The Conference adopted the Majuro Declaration, outlining areas of common ground, major concerns of both coastal States and DWFNs and a timetable and blueprint for a future work programme that proposed a final regulatory system by the year 2000. Working in a spirit of cooperation, the MHLC generated considerable momentum towards the development of conservation and management arrangements for the WCP that will be acceptable to all parties.The Third Multilateral High Level Conference (MHLC3)
In June of 1998, MHLC3 was held in Tokyo, Japan. The FFA members continued to push for progress on key issues, preparing and distributing a draft that formed the basis of negotiations and provided an opportunity for a frank exchange of views between coastal states and distant water fishing nations and entities on key issues for the arrangement.
Key issues requiring further negotiation included: (i) treatment of high seas and areas under national jurisdiction under the arrangement; (ii) decision-making processes and dispute settlement; (iii) institutional issues, including cost of the arrangement and funding sources; and (iv) determination of participatory rights.Into the future
The multilateral high level conference (MHLC) process provides co-operation between all partners, including all coastal states and all distant water fishing nations. The objective is to meet conservation and management obligations under international law by balancing sovereign rights to set catch limits against the need to co-operate to ensure the collective catch taken within the EEZs of coastal states and on the high seas is sustainable at an agreed sustainable level.
The recent cutbacks in fishing effort in European fishing waters has sent European fishing fleets towards the Pacific fishing grounds. In February 2000, Kiribati granted fishing licences to 14 Spanish purse seiners. The total number of fishing vessels recommended by the fishery dynamics is approaching the critical upper limit.
Cartright, I. 1998. Multilateral High Level Conferences on South Pacific Tuna Fisheries. FFA website: http://www.ffa.int
Fifth Session of the Multilateral High Level Conference on Tuna Fisheries (MHLC5)
EXTRACT FROM 1998 COMMUNIQUÉ. 1999 Forum Communiqué Thirtieth South Pacific Forum Koror, Republic of Palau 3 - 5 October 1999 http://chacmool.sdnp.undp.org/pacific/forumsec/docs/fc99.htm
50. Leaders welcomed the substantial progress being made in the Multilateral High Level Conference on Tuna Fisheries and the expectation that a convention will be finalised in 2000. Leaders reiterated their determination that the tuna resources of the Western and Central Pacific must be managed on a sustainable basis for future generations.
51. The Forum stressed the importance of a strong agreement, including a decision-making process, which is respected by all, and a system of compliance that will ensure maximum effectiveness of management controls established by the proposed Commission. The Forum noted the importance of regional solidarity and the implementation of existing regional commitments on fisheries issues.
Vessel Monitoring System
52. Leaders agreed that the FFA Vessel Monitoring System needs to be fully implemented by all FFA members within two years. Leaders reaffirmed the importance of a coordinated regional approach to the issue of maintaining fish stocks at a sustainable level in the Western and Central Pacific.