The Pacific Commons

Page - August 4, 2009
The Western and Central Pacific Ocean is the world's largest tuna fishery. Over half of the tuna consumed worldwide is taken from this area. Rampant overfishing is destroying this fishery; relatively healthy just a few years ago. Today, two key Pacific species, Bigeye and Yellowfin could face collapse unless urgent action is taken.

Big-eye tuna caught on a longline.

Foreign ships take 80 percent of Pacific tuna. Distant water fishing fleets from Japan, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Korea, the US and the EU have fished out their own waters, are now plundering the Pacific. Those that bother to buy licenses pay only a fraction of the value of the catch. Pacific island countries only get around 5-6% of the value of the fish caught in their waters (around $1.2 billion) through access fees. It's not just about money. Pacific islanders depend on fish to live. Fish consumption is four times higher than the global average.

Because Pacific islands do not have enough money to protect their waters, pirate fishing is rife in the region. Globally pirates steal up to US$9 billion worth of fish from our seas, and from the plates of those who depend on them. In the Pacific illegal fishing steals fish worth 4 times more than the region earns in license fees.

It's not too late - urgent action can save Pacific tuna!

If we take urgent action now Pacific tuna can still be saved. Desperately needed measures include halving the number of tuna taken; banning transshipments (offload of catch) at sea, and creating a network of Marine Reserves in the international waters between national country waters - the "Pacific Commons"

The orange areas on the map are the proposed marine reserves. The grey areas are the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of the nations, and the green represent the islands themselves.

Protect the Pacific Commons 

Greenpeace is calling for 40 percent of the world's oceans to be declared marine reserves. The Pacific Commons would be the first Marine Reserves ever in international waters and would represent a small but significant step towards achieving this goal. Pacific Island countries including Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Cook Islands have already expressed their support for the protection of the Pacific Commons.

The Greenpeace ship, the Esperanza travelled the area in 2008 challenging overfishing and highlighting the urgent need for protection of the Pacific Commons. We will take our findings to the next meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (the Tuna Commission) to demand the immediate closure of these unique areas.

Marine reserves are national parks at sea. They are protected from all fishing and extractive industries, providing a safe haven for marine life. If they are properly designed to cover crucial breeding and spawning grounds they also work for highly migratory species such as tuna. The concept of no-take marine reserves is not new to Pacific islanders. For thousands of years, Tabu (off-limit) areas were crucial to maintaining their healthy fisheries.

Declaring the Pacific Commons - Marine Reserves

Nearly a quarter of all tuna taken from the Pacific comes from international waters. Because these areas are far away from land and hard to monitor, they are all too often easy pickings for illegal fishing. Pirates often fish in national country waters and then claim that the catch came from international waters. They also use these areas to offload their catches, and refuel at sea. This makes it much easier to avoid regulation of how much they have caught, and how long they have been at sea for.

The map above outlines four key areas of the international waters that Greenpeace has identified as the Pacific Commons, and which we demanded be closed off to fishing.  

Some Progress

Three of the areas in the map above were named in a public competition we ran in the Pacific.

Area 1 is called the West Oceania Marine Reserve (WOMAR) (also known as the seasnake)

Area 2 is called the Greater Oceania Marine Reserve (GOMAR) (also know as the seahorse)

These two areas will be closed to purse seining for Tuna from January 2010 onwards, as per a decision by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries  Commission late in 2008. 

Other tuna fishing will also be limited in these areas from 2010 onwards -- thanks to the agreement of the eight surrounding coastal states to include a clause to their fishing licenses that vessels wanting to fish in their tuna-rich Economic Exclusion Zones cannot fish in the high seas. This will leave very little tuna fishing activity in these areas: the Commission should agree to ban what remains.

Area 3 (The Moana or Sea Turtle Reserve) and Area 4 are are not yet officially protected and we are calling on the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to stop all fishing activities under its jurisdiction in these areas.

All these areas are key breeding and feeding grounds for tuna. They also contain unique ecosystems, including biologically rich undersea mountains, corals and endangered leatherback turtles.

By declaring them no-take marine reserves we protect them against pillage and destruction and secure a future for Pacific fisheries.

Protecting the Pacific Commons with marine reserves today, can save the Pacific from empty nets tomorrow.