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Posts Tagged ‘marine conservation’

The Pitcairn Islands are a British Overseas Territory, comprising of four small islands in a remote area of the Pacific Ocean. The permanent population of around 50 people all reside on Henderson Island. It is most famous for being the last settling point where mutineers on the Bounty settled in the 1780s; the current inhabitants are direct descendants of these hardy few.

At the 3rd International Marine Protected Areas Congress in Marseille, France, this week and on the PEW Charitable Trusts website, is the proposed Pitcairn Marine Reserve- which plans to establish one of the World’s largest protected marine reserves. Based on its 2012 report, on the economics of the proposed Pitcairn Reserve, eftec has contributed to this discussion.

The conclusions from the report helped lay the foundation for the current proposal, Protect Pitcairn: An Underwater Bounty.

In our report, we devised and compared 3 development options open to Pitcairn.

  1. The Baseline: where the current situation continues (no marine reserve and no fishing licenses).
  2. Marine reserve: the waters up to 200 miles off-shore, equating to 836,000km2 (or the size of Alaska and California combined) is established as a reserve and only local artisanal fishing is allowed.
  3. Exploitation: no reserve is created. Instead, a fishing license regime develops, thereby allowing commercial access to Pitcairn’s waters.

Currently, the islanders fish in a traditional fashion for subsistence and local trade, and there are very few commercial fishing vessels in the proposed area due to its remoteness.

The report estimated that if Pitcairn were to open their waters to fishing, and sell fishing licenses, it could only generate around $(US) 32,000 p.a.

eftec’s report argued that it is likely that the benefits of establishing the marine reserve would far outweigh this revenue.

The proposed marine reserve would significantly enhance Pitcairn’s image on the global stage. The resulting increase in tourism, particularly in numbers of cruise ships visiting, could generate significant revenue for such a small economy. Furthermore, branding itself as one of the World’s largest marine reserves would enable the island to increase the price of existing products.

As well as monetary benefits, there would be substantial non-market values from establishing the marine reserve. The National Geographic expedition in 2012 claimed that the ocean around Pitcairn is how it was a thousand years ago, with pristine reefs and clear waters, visibility is 75 metres- the highest in the Pacific. The team’s 16 underwater cameras, each covering a few square metres for 5 hours, saw 57 species of fish- 8 of which were new to science! Imagine how many more are lurking in the 836,000km2 of water that could be protected.

Therefore, the unexploited marine ecosystem may provide essential services of great value to the World, beyond what we can currently monetise. The islanders voted unanimously in favour for the ‘Protect Pitcairn: An Underwater Bounty’ to be presented to the British government for approval.

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On the 2nd and 3rd of February I attended the 7thInternational Forum on Illegal, Unreported  and Unregulated (IUU ) fishing held at Chatham House.

The lack of transparency in global fisheries was a key concern raised during the event. Weak institutions and regulation overlap to form a regime (seemingly by design) with more blind alleys and dead ends than the Cretan Labyrinth; a state of affairs that bolsters the impunity with which vessels pursue IUU fishing.

The economic arguments against IUU fishing have been established and are self-explanatory, similar to the economic arguments against shop lifting/bank robberies/ you see what I am getting at. IUU fishing imposes huge costs on coastal state populations and they are likely to be borne by some of the poorest states in the world.  The problem is that these states are unable to raise sufficient capital to protect their own resources. A property right without enforcement, any form of social cohesion/norm against IUU and the presence of unscrupulous vessels (apparently in plenty supply) means the resource is open game.

Even if (a very big if) there is sufficient capacity within a coastal state to undertake significant monitoring, control and surveillance activity (MCS), it is highly uncertain whether anyone will be charged with an offence. Vessels use flags of convenience allowing the ultimate beneficiaries to disappear behind shell companies and weak regulation in flag states (thereby attracting the vessel in the first place). Current port state measures are insufficient to tackle IUU – no true registry of vessels exists and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMO) do not fulfil their obligations to tackle IUU.  A new set of port state measures has been approved by FAO, which would assist identification of IUU vessel and restrict access to ports, but the required number of signatories has not yet been reached. In addition many catch documentation schemes are highly ineffective and susceptible to fraud.

As shown during the event, tools such as effective catch documentation and vessel registries are available to establish successful regimes to tackle the issue of transparency. But as acknowledged by many speakers, an absence of political will has meant the application of these tools, is patchy at best.  The speaker from the EC noted that, strong regulation (in his opinion), was not being applied uniformly in member states because of differing priorities. A lack of political will appears to be the driving force behind such a failing, some countries just don’t appear to be on board with sustainable fishing management.  The paradoxical tension between fish and fishermen is as strong as ever, (bringing to mind this quote from a Spanish officialFor sure we are friends of fish, but still more, we are the friends of fishermen.”)

Whose responsibility is it to ensure action is taken? IUU fishing is a global issue and therefore requires global solutions. But unfortunately as seen with other multi-lateral environmental agreements this is fraught with difficulties. It is likely that the lowest common denominator will set the agenda, in global fisheries this is very low indeed.

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