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Pacific nations set example for peaceful sharing of fisheries resources

Shifts in fish stocks in response to climate change can lead to conflict between nations

In a letter published in Science, University of Wollongong (UOW) fellows Dr Transform Aqorau and Dr Johann Bell point to the example set by Pacific Island countries as a way to manage fisheries resources peacefully and equitably in the face of disruption caused by climate change.

Their letter, “Good Governance for Migratory Species”, was in response to an article in Science’s Policy Forum, “Preparing ocean governance for species on the move”, about the need for new governance arrangements to reduce the potential for conflict as the distributions of fisheries resources shift in response to climate change.

Dr Aqorau and Dr Bell are fellows at UOW’s Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS). In their letter, they explain how the eight Pacific Island countries that are the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) are leading the way in co-operative fisheries management.

The PNA nations are Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

“These island nations supply 30 per cent of the world’s tuna,” said Dr Aqorau, a former CEO of PNA.

“They also provide what is arguably the best example of how to equitably share the benefits from fish stocks that move across national boundaries in response to climatic variability.”

The fisheries management scheme developed by PNA, known as the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS), is an important adaptation to climate change, Dr Aqorau and Dr Bell said.

“The VDS not only distributes the benefits of tuna fisheries equitably during El Niño and La Niña events, it will adjust the payment of fishing licence fees to these island states in a non-confrontational way as tuna stocks shift eastward due to ocean warming,” Dr Bell said.

There have been a number of instances in recent years where nations have come into conflict over shifting fisheries resources, such as the “Mackerel Wars”, a bitter wrangle over mackerel quotas between Britain, Norway, the European Union, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

UOW academics foreshadowed the potential for conflict among countries over newly shared resources in a major review in Science last year, summarising the consequences of climate-driven redistribution of biodiversity for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Pacific Island nations provide a shining case study of how governments can cooperate to maintain the important socio-economic benefits from fish species ‘on the move’ due to climate change in a peaceful way.