Opinion Editorial: Asia’s taste for sea cucumbers roils South Pacific

MICHAEL FIELD, Contributing writer
Nikkei Asian Review
(reprinted with permission)
May 25, 2016
AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- A race to harvest one of the world's oddest looking marine delicacies is causing concern about environmental damage inflicted in the South Pacific.
Soaring demand for the sea cucumber, a seabed dwelling invertebrate also known as beche-de-mer and trepang, is driving record prices in China's luxury food market. One species, the Pacific sandfish, was selling recently in Hong Kong for $1,668 a kilo, while the Japanese spiky sea cucumber can go for $2,950 a kilo. Other species sell for between $15 and $385 a kilo, depending on size and condition.

sea cucumber

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Fish Talk: FSM NORMA holds Planning Workshop on Fisheries Multimillion Dollar Project

On February 24 to 25,2016, the FSM National Oceanic Resource Management Authority (NORMA) collaborated with other key FSM Government Departments to outline detailed activities for the next year and half that will be funded under the World Bank supported Pacific Regional Oceanscape Programme (PROP). The two-day workshop was held at the Cliff Rainbow Hotel in Pohnpei, FSM.
Close to two million dollars are planned for two years’ activities targeting the following results that will address both oceanic and coastal fisheries management:
a) Strengthened fisheries enforcement through additional sea and aerial patrols by the FSM Department of Justice and training opportunities for enforcement officers/officials.
b) Enhanced safety of seafood exports through establishment and strengthening of a seafood hygiene competent authority at the FSM Department of Health & Social Affairs.
c) Capacitated cadre of fisheries observers and enforcement officers trained and equipped with state of the art safety and communications equipment for monitoring tuna fishery.
d) Updated oceanic fisheries information management system and vessel monitoring system through additional upgrades in software and hardware.
e) Strengthened fisheries management through capacity building of NORMA systems, institution and staff including enhanced capacity to negotiate and manage the vessel day scheme.
f) Assessed coastal fisheries that will be viable for further development in partnership with local communities in the four FSM States.
“This is only the beginning of the 5-year PROP project and we anticipate challenges in implementation given complexity of involving several government departments and various issues involving fisheries, but we have a good team working on this and a working group has been set up to closely monitor and advice on the project. The project is also designed to pull in support from our regional partners, particularly the Forum Fisheries Agency and PNA Office.” Says Mr. Eugene Pangelinan, NORMA Executive Director. “FSM is strategically positioned in the tuna fishery and this project is an opportunity to position us to take advantage of that and realize the potential benefits which, I believe much of, is still yet to be realized.”
Participating in the planning workshop were representatives of the FSM Department of Resources & Development, FSM Department of Health & Social Affairs, FSM Department of Justice, FSM Department of Finance & Administration, and NORMA. The Forum Fisheries Agency was also represented to assist particularly with the Information Management Systems planning.
Such a project planning exercise will be an annual event over the next few years and will require the input of the key Government departments as they will be leading project implementation per the agreed plans.
The PROP Project is a six-year project funded with a Grant from the World Bank International Development Association that covers oceanic and coastal fisheries. NORMA oversees the oceanic fisheries component of the project. Pacific countries participating in the PROP are Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Solomon Islands. Other Pacific countries are expected to join the Program over the next few years.

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Fish Talk - The US Treaty and the FSM

There has been a lot of media coverage in recent months, weeks, days about the United States Multilateral Fisheries Treaty with Certain Pacific Island States or commonly referred to as the US Treaty. The US Treaty is a fishing arrangement that allows U.S. flag purse seiners to fish in the Pacific Island Parties (PIPs) waters including Australia and New Zealand. Since its first licensing period some 30 years ago , it has operated under a traditional fisheries access arrangement where licenses are issued annually and they fish all year round with payments of fees and a U.S. Government Economic Assistance package to support Pacific Island Countries economic development programs. Financial package started with $12 million, eventually going to $18 million then $21 million. In the last 3-5 years, that all changed with the introduction of the vessel day scheme to the US purse seiners that would limit their fishing effort annually. This increased license fees to $40 million to what is now in the 2016 Statement of Intent (SOI) $89 million of which $68 million was from industry. Since then, the relationship has taken a turn for the worse due to a number of factors mostly resulting from the inability of a component of the industry to pay for their fishing days. The increasing value of the PNA VDS and the high demand for fishing days by foreign fleets meant the US fleet had to compete for these days and pay the commercial value of these days, something the US fleet couldn’t really adapt. The US Government assistance cushioned that impact by a portion of those funds being used to help pay for access to the VDS. Another reason is the US fleet is a mixture of ex-Taiwanese, ex-Korean flag vessels with several traditional US purse seiners. The traditional US fleet that normally fish to support their canneries in Pago Pago in Amercian Samoa are inefficient because of the nature of their operations and age. They have to fish close to Pago Pago and can’t go large distances when fish move farther west. Fish prices have fallen in the past year and a half and has further aggravated their situation. The media in recent time is about the US agreeing to a SOI for 2016 for some 5,700 fishing days from PNA, non-PNA waters and exploratory fishing in some waters of PIPs. The SOI was signed in Brisbane last August. In November last year, the US advised that they would be unable to pay for the days and asked that days be taken back and some concessions be provided despite those requests earlier being rejected by PNA Ministers. In December, when payment was due, the US did not pay and FFA, the treaty administrator, was directed not to issue their licenses until they pay. To date, no payment has been made and no licenses have been issued. PIPs, but most importantly, the PNA which includes the FSM must now consider the implications if the US does not pay for the days they got under the 2016 SOI. PNA members are taking steps to mitigate the risks of non payment as these are important for their national budgets. A meeting is being held in Fiji among PIPs to look at their options. From the perspective of the FSM, the US Treaty remains an important treaty because it is the foundation for Pacific Regional Solidarity through the US Treaty. It also serves as a model for monitoring control and surveillance as well as employment. The problem is the fleet is divided between those that can pay for these days and those that can’t afford them (pago pago fleet) and therefore everyone is affected. FSM would like to see these issues quickly resolved as 10% of the fishing season is past and the longer it takes to resolve these the situation on worsens for both sides. PIPs are developing a future treaty model that will form the basis for future negotiations with the US to salvage the treaty.

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