The annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) is scheduled to kick start in Manila, Philippines on December 2, 2012. On board the MY Esperanza, we’ve just completed the last leg of the “Defending the Pacific” oceans tour and are en route to Manila for the upcoming annual meeting.

The 2012 annual meeting, of all meetings will be very critical, if not the most critical. Ideally, this is a meeting where member countries (including 14 Pacific island countries) together with cooperating non-members will, amongst other issues, discuss and agree upon a range of conservation and management measures for fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). We are expecting fireworks at this meeting where every man and his dog will fight for their own slice of cake. The battle between the Pacific and industrial fishing powers or otherwise known as the ‘distant water fishing nations’ (DWFNs) is intensifying. Some members complained that the so-called “development aspirations of small island states” are often looked down upon.       

We have during the last leg of the Pacific tour in Palau documented enough evidence to prove to the Commission that the plight of Pacific Island countries is not one to be taken lightly and one that requires urgent action! For the past 3 weeks, our expedition was focused mostly in and around the High Seas Pocket 1 (HSP1) – an area of international waters bounded by the economic exclusive zones (EEZ) of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Indonesia and Papua New Guinea (PNG).

The decision by the WCPFC to close off HSP1 to purse seine fishing in 2008 which came into effect 2 years ago was highly commendable. However this decision was overturned at an earlier meeting of the Commission in March this year, and 36 Philippine purse seine fishing vessels were provided strict exemptions to commence fishing in these waters. This was in itself a preferential treatment given with an accompanying responsibility.

What we found and documented within the past 3 weeks has clearly demonstrated that the Philippines has failed in honouring its commitment to being responsible and sustainable fishers. Moreover, our experience in this expedition has also uncovered the impotence of the WCPFC and other relevant authorities in the governance of the high seas. Our devastation in seeing for ourselves illegal deployment of fish aggregation devices (FADs) inside Palau’s EEZ, to pirate fishingbunkering and illegal transhipment of tuna in the high seas – the WCPO members has every reason to turn the table in Manila.

As a Pacific campaigner on-board witnessing all these illegal activities, I strongly feel the urgency of saving my ocean and my people by declaring the international waters of the Pacific Commons as marine reserve declared off limits to fishing.

Greenpeace will be heading to Manila with a call for the WCPFC to (amongst others) declare:

  • Permanent closure of the 4 high seas pockets / Pacific Commons to all forms of fishing;
  • Total ban on the use of FADs by purse seine fishing vessels; and
  • Ban all at sea transhipments.
There’s nothing more critical than saving our Pacific ocean! I for one will not just let industrial fishing powers destroy the chances of preventing my ocean being plundered further. It is now time for the Pacific to stand their ground and demand stronger sustainable and conservative action!

Navi Tuivuniwai  is an Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace Australia Pacific on-board the Esperanza