Early Monday morning I arrived at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting not as a human but as "SheSeeMe" the bigeye tuna. I passed out leaflets that laid out clear solutions to the increasing problem of overfishing in the Pacific and made it clear to the Commission that the world was watching. Within a matter of minutes nearly every one of the 360 or so delegates was holding one of these little pieces of wisdom. Even the Governor of Guam took one and patted me on the fin, thanking me. Being a fish out of water actually turned out to be fun and with my task complete I transformed back into human form and returned to the meeting to observe the proceedings along with the rest of the Greenpeace delegation.
The opening kicked off with a warm welcome from the Governor of Guam who noted the importance of fisheries to Guam and and to Pacific identities. He also reminded everyone in the room that "the world was watching". The Chairman of the Commission then gave a speech where he challenged the countries represented here to take the action and responsibility required to protect and maintain the tuna stocks. His compelling words left a lump in my throat as we moved into the official proceedings. I glanced around the room and felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of people here from across the world. There are Pacific nations and also nations that have or want to have fishing fleets here.
Before resolutions can be passed there has to be consensus but this means that all the agreements inevitably get watered down to the lowest common denominator. As a result these meetings move very slowly and decisions often get deferred to working groups or future meetings. I have this song by Del Amitri in my head all the time where they sing "Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all, the needle returns to the start of the song and we'll all sing along like before". But overfishing in the Pacific is NOT a song we can keep singing because time and tuna are running out!
There was a review of the science pointing out that fishing effort has been increasing and some stocks are experiencing overfishing but most concerning was that conservation measures already implemented have not been effective.
I have been shocked by Japan’s blatant disregard of scientific data and refusal to take action in order to protect the fisheries. I don't know what Japan wants to put in their sushi in the near future but the chance of it being tuna isn't looking good if they continue to behave in this way.
On the bright side Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been consistently urging the Commission to implement strong conservation measures on the high seas and in Pacific EEZs. Yesterday Lagi and Seni gave the head of the PNG delegation the "Tuna Defender Award" in order to congratulate them on their efforts. Today PNG continued to take a stand for tuna when they asked "why do some Commission members argue against the science and continue to ignore the precautionary approach?” and then subsequently proposed that a region of the high seas be closed to tuna fishing and said "It's time to move forward!". I want to cheer and whistle for PNG every time they make a comment at this meeting!
The proposal for the closure of some of the high seas areas in this region is something Greenpeace is promoting so we were all elated when the Cook Islands chimed in with their full support of the proposal and suggested one of the other areas also be closed. The energy level in the room rose considerably at this point and Lagi lifted an award from his desk into the air while letting out a delicate "Whoooo!". I noticed several suits woke up from their 40 winks and scrabble laptop games at this point, surprised that something exciting had just happened!
So, we continue to watch and wait and each day I make my fishy appearance as "SheSeeMe" the big eye tuna and hand out newsletters that we write with our take on the proceedings. I get some nasty remarks made at me but in general SheSeeMe is well liked and our newsletter is gladly received by the delegates.
Sari, Lagi, Jason, Phil and Seni rarely get the chance to have a break because they are always busy lobbying countries and arranging side meetings with delegates from nations such as Korea and Taiwan who are key players to get on side in order to make these fisheries sustainable. I am in awe of their ability to keep up with everything since I am usually lost in all the technical jargon and complicated policies. I have to keep writing notes to Seni next to me asking her "what does that mean?" or "what the hell are they talking about now?" Several other issues are being discussed and we hope to see some good agreements being made later today and towards the end of the meeting. I'll be sure to let you know what the outcomes are.
From your elusive bigeye on Guam