The island nation of Nauru now has twelve tuna purse-seiners fishing under its flag as it moves away from leasing fishing rights to foreign vessels to having a fleet operating under its own flag.
This shift has been complicated by Western and Central Pacific tuna fisheries being already fished up to their precautionary biological limits, so any Pacific Island state wishing to go down this route has to acquire fishing capacity as simply adding new vessels is not an option.
This is a significant step for Nauru with its small population and modest administration. According to the Nauru Fisheries and Maritime Resources Authority (NFMRA), the legislative requirements have been fulfilled with an additional Shipping Act, a revision of the Fisheries Act, and the appointment of a Registrar. Nauru has now reflagged twelve purse seiners, including from South Korea and the USA.
‘Ever since the purse seine fishery started in the 1980s, Nauru has been leasing its fishing grounds to foreign vessels. We actually have the richest purse seine fishing grounds in the Pacific, if the amount of fish caught per square kilometre is any indication, but so far we have not been able to do more than take rent. And with the help of the PNA Vessel Day Scheme I think we have now maximised the rental side of things,’ said NFMRA CEO Charleston Deiye.
‘The next step – developing our own fisheries industry – is more risky, but it is the only way of getting more value out of our renewable resources than simply renting them out to others. Once the new port is finished, we also want to start landing some fish in Nauru and do local processing as well as in-port transhipment, but this is the first step on the value chain – to actually start catching the fish.’
He commented that becoming a flag state is not just a matter of registering a vessel under a flag, as this also requires taking legal responsibility for the behaviour of those vessels when they are operating outside Nauru’s own waters.
Nauru is committed to being a responsible flag fishing state under international law, and is in the process of finalising standard operating procedures to help staff in carrying out the new tasks involved.
Charleston Deiye said that The litmus test that will allow the world to judge whether Nauru has achieved the standards expected, is the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s (WCPFC) Compliance Monitoring Scheme (CMS). This scores each WCPFC member country for its commitment and ability to manage the activities of its fishing vessels, and to conserve and manage highly migratory fish stocks like tuna.
To date, Nauru’s WCPFC compliance record compared to other member countries has been extremely good, but it has been based on Nauru’s performance in managing foreign fishing in its own waters. The addition of Nauru flag vessels fishing in other waters will add many more legal requirements to be judged against, and it will be essential to comply with these if Nauru’s excellent reputation in fisheries governance is to be maintained.
As a small island developing state, Nauru’s special requirements qualify it for additional support from WCPFC. Thanks to a grant from the WCPFC’s Chinese Taipei Trust Fund, the Nauru Fisheries and Marine Resources Authority has been able to appoint a temporary coordinator to draw together expertise from regional agencies and produce a Nauru Flag State Handbook which outlines all the requirements for being a responsible flag fishing state, and will include the necessary standard operating procedures or jobcards.
A workshop involving several regional agency experts had been planned in Nauru in April to discuss and explain these procedures, but with the travel restrictions resulting from the global pandemic this will probably have to be done remotely.