How Eight Pacific Island States Are Saving the World’s Tuna

A fisherman holds a batch of tuna in Kiribati, where fishing is one of the most common occupations, on Sept. 25, 2015. Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

FOREIGN POLICY – By Christopher Pala | March 5, 2021, 4:11 PM

They have created a strikingly successful scheme that prevents overfishing and raises local incomes at once.

They control the richest tuna waters on the planet, an area of the Pacific roughly one-and-a-half times the size of the United States. But 10 years ago, eight island states in whose waters most of the world’s canned tuna is fished were seeing almost none of the profits. In 2011, however, they scored a striking success for small-state diplomacy when they devised a system to raise the fees foreign fleets were paying them for the privilege of fishing in their exclusive economic zones, which extend 200 nautical miles off their coasts. At the time, all they got was a scandalously low fraction of the tuna’s value—as little as 2.5 percent.

Today, the eight island nations have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They increased their take tenfold—from $50 million in 2010 to around $500 million last year. Not only did they grow their income, but they also imposed controls that stabilized catch rates and prevented overfishing, a rare success story in a world where ravaging the oceans is still the brutal norm. “They’ve been very clever,” said Glen Holmes, an officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts’ international fisheries program.

Six members of the agreement are microstates scattered between the Philippines and Hawaii: Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Tuvalu. The other two are much bigger: Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, both closer to Australia.



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