Melanesian leaders urged to promote sustainable fisheries

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Leaders at the on-going Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) summit have been urged to consider a shared vision and roadmap for sustainable and equitable offshore fisheries and integrated oceans governance as part of a blue economy, local media reported in Suva Friday.

The call came as regional offshore and inshore fisheries, the most important protein source in Melanesia, are becoming increasingly threatened by overfishing. But if leaders of the MSG work together they can reverse this trend and ensure Melanesia has thriving communities and sustainable national economies supported by healthy fisheries.

According to the Fijian media reports, organizations such as Greenpeace, WWF, International Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN), SeaWeb and University of the South Pacific (USP), who make up the Offshore Fisheries Working Group under the Pacific Islands Roundtable for Nature Conservation, highlighted the above issues at a luncheon with Melanesian leaders on Thursday.

The working group pledged to continue to provide technical support to MSG leaders in the hope that these critical issues can be effectively addressed soon.

IUCN's Oceania Director Taholo Kami said Melanesia is blessed with astounding natural resources that are recognized globally for their impressive biodiversity and the ecological services they provide. But that wealth of natural resources is attracting increased commercial interest, both regionally and globally.

With the global fishing industry in particular, turning their attention to the Pacific Ocean, there is an urgent need for Pacific island countries to tighten up on their management of fisheries resources in a way that guarantees more benefits for their domestic economies and to support local fishing industries for food security and the sustainable livelihoods of the people of Melanesia.

For Pacific tuna, the regional catch from the western and central Pacific Ocean was 2.5 million metric tons valued at 4.1 million US dollars in 2009. Almost half of this is taken from Pacific island countries' exclusive economic zones.

Seventy percent of the catch of the countries in the region is by fleets from outside the region under access agreements with only a small return on average about 5 percent of the value of catch to the Pacific island region in access fees, said Dr Vina Ram Bidesi, a fisheries economist at the University of the South Pacific.

In addition, urbanization, climate change and deep-sea mining will be putting increased pressure on marine resources and require both careful planning and coordination between Melanesian countries to ensure sustainable fisheries regionally.

Kesaia Tabunakawai, the head of WWF's South Pacific Program, said, "MSG is in a powerful position to influence both national and regional processes for sustainable fisheries and responsible oceans governance through equitable engagement across the Asia Pacific region."

Pacific island leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) opened their special summit meeting in the Fijian capital of Suva on Thursday morning. MSG Chairman and Fiji'Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo, Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman and representatives of New Caledonia's FLNKS and Papua New Guinea ( PNG) attended the meeting.

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