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6.5 Conflicts over pelagic resources
What might most accurately be described as 'subsistence fishing' has traditionally been and continues to be one of the primary means by which Pacific islanders provide food for themselves. Surrounded by large areas of ocean, Pacific islanders turned to it for a wide variety of marine life for animal protein. Commercial fishing, even on a small seale, was unknown in traditional times. Pacific peoples used a variety of simple but often ingenious means to catch fish, which they shared with kinsfolk and others. That has changed dramatically, and even greater changes are in the offing, particularly as inshore areas are depleted and commercial fishing, both large- and small-seale, becomes more and more the rule. Canned fish, too, has rapidly become a replacement item for fresh fish and shows up in national statistics as an increasingly significant import item.
Island governments have also recognized that within their claimed waters-now extending to areas far beyond where local fishermen dared or were able to venture-there are large quantities of migratory species of fish, mainly tuna. In a protein hungry world, this constitutes a most important resource (Tables 6.2-6.4). Table 6.2 sets out in aggregate terms 'less-developed Oceania's' total catch over an 8-year period, 1970 to 1977, and compares it to the world catch. Table 6.3 shows for the same period where individual quantities were caught, by island state. Table 6.4 shows catches in the south-west Pacific some of the principal distant-water fishing nations. To gain perspective on the quantities of fish being taken from Pacific island waters, it is necessary to determine the percentage of the available fish being taken. The best estimate available is that 0.34 per cent of the stock of skipjack is being harvested from the South Pacific Commission area (Kearney, 1981). If only 17 per cent of the south-west Pacific area is presently being fished for skipjack (Kcarney, 1981), there remains a considerable portion of the Pacific within and outside the 30 million sq. km of ocean space now claimed by Pacific island nations where expanded fishing operations might be conducted.
However, its exploitation, as the history of the last decade or so has shown, is controlled by states outside the Pacific islands. The customers for, and fishers of, the Pacific islanders' tuna resources have so far mainly been countries of the Pacific RimÄJapan, Korea, Taiwan and the United States. To a lesser extents the USSR, Mexico, the Philippines, and Indonesia are also involved in Pacific tuna exploitation. Pacific island countries have developed a number of different arrangements with foreign fishing states that have sought access to their pelagic resources.
TABLE 6.2 - Less Developed Oceania's Share of the World Catch
|Year||Less Developed Oceania's Total Catch (tonnes)||World Total Catch (tonnes)||Less Developed Oceania's Shari of Catch (per cent)|
|1970||42 300||70 696 400||0.060|
|1971||62 000||71288 700||0.087|
|1972||66 000||66 924 000||0.099|
|1973||90 300||67 677 900||0.133|
|1974||96 152||71 340 000||0.135|
|1975||83 811||71 003 700||0.118|
|1976||110 547||74 717 200||0.148|
|1977||82 696||73 501 000||0.113|
Source: Kent (1980), p. 77.
TABLE 6.3 - Catchcs by Territories of Oceania (tonnes)
|Less Developed Territories|
|Pacific Islands Trust Territory||1000||1000||400||6300||3360||7795||6053||4604|
|Papua New Guinea||22700||37700||38200||57400||61598||47326||64510||39897|
|U.S. Miscellaneous Pacific Islands||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|Wallis and Futuna||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|All of Oceania||203000||239400||248500||286200||302682||256Z47||298428||321076|
Source: Kent (1980), pp. 5-6.
Note: Many of these figures are FAO estimates.
TABLE 6.4 - Catches in the South-west Pacific (tonnes)
Source: Kent (1980), p. 78.
Purse-seining and super-seining are the trends for the future. 'The purse seine fishery is . . . concentrated in the waters bounded by Belau, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.... In 1976, nine purse seine vessels fished in this area and by 1981, this figure had increased to between 50 and 60 vessels, taking in an excess of 100,000 mt' (Ridings, 1983). These statistics and the trends they represent indicate that exploitation of the Pacific islands' fish resources has just begun. As purse seiners and super-seiners replace long-line and pole-andline fishing for skipjack, albacore, and yellow-fin tuna, the increasing rate of exploitation will have important implications for conservation.
Most of these tuna resources have been and continue to be taken by distant-water fishing nations, which have the necessary capital, expertise, government support, and processing and marketing capability, as well as domestic and foreign markets, for processed fish. Lacking these resources, Pacific island nations-new to commercial fishing and its related activities-have entered into licensing and joint-venture agreements with those wishing to fish in their waters.
The USSR had been seeking fishing rights in the region since the early 1980s and in 1985 reached an agreement with Kiribati. The US$1.5 million that the Soviets paid for access to Kiribati's EEZ for one year represented 10 per cent of the nation's budget. That agreement expired after one year due to a failure of the parties to agree on a price for a second year of fishing (Doulman, 1986). In 1987, the USSR reached an agreement with Vanuatu on a fishing access contract which allowed the Soviets port rights and landing rights for their fishing crews (Hegarty, 1987). The USSR is currently discussing similar fishing arrangements with other island nations and the possible presence, as well, of one or two diplomatic missions in the region.
The US military establishment became nervous over the growing presence of the USSR in the region. In congressional testimony in September 1986, representatives of the US Department of Defence outlined a wide range of possible motives the Soviet Union could have for establishing the fisheries agreements. These include surveillance of US military activities on Kwajalein; the enhancement of Soviet space and satellite operations, and of Soviet military communications capabilities; the potential establishment of support facilities for deep seabed mining activities; and the attainment of air access and landing (Baker, 1986).
Ridings (1983: 5) describes Pacific licensing agreements in the following terms:
Fishery access agreements ... are primarily negotiated with Japanese fishing associations, although agreements between the Trust Territory and Taiwanese interests also exist.... In the central areas of the Southwest Pacific, South Korea and Taiwan have agreements with the Cook Islands and Tuvalu, while France negotiates with Japan for access to all waters under French jurisdiction.... Most Pacific access agreements are based on a lump sum fee, which licenses a specified number of vessels. The Micronesian territories and Kiribati have received part of their payment from the Japanese in the form of goods and services Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands base their fees on both vessel capacity and catch, and the trend in the Western Pacific is this kind of fee. Except in the French territories and the Solomon Islands there is no limit to the catch that may be taken by the foreign vessels.
Specific details of fishing access agreements are given in Table 6. 5. The trend, however, is away from licensing agreements and toward joint ventures. From the standpoint of the distant-water fishing nation, joint-venture agreements are attractive because of cost minimization and the prospects of gaining entry to foreign or domestic markets. Joint-venture agreements with a state like Vanuatu offer the additional attraction of low tax rates. Joint ventures with American Samoa offer the lucrative prospect of foreign catches (unprocessed or processed) entering the American market free of duty or other charges.
For the owners of the resource, the joint-venture arrangement holds the prospect of maximizing returns on minimal investment and the even more lucrative possibility of ultimately replacing the foreign partners and fully exploiting the resource on their own. Ridings (1983: 10) points out that there are three mutually exclusive categories of joint ventures:
1. A foreign company and local private interests have equity in the same company;
2. A foreign company and the host government have equity in the joint-venture company;
3. A company wholly owned by outside interests is registered in the host country.
Table 6.6 shows joint-venture arrangemcuts currently in force. Little reliable data are available on how successful these joint ventures have been, particularly from the standpoint of the island nation partners. An impressionistic view is that the economic benefits to governments in the region are minimal. Aside from tax revenues and other income (direct and indirect), little else accrues to the resource owners because of unrestricted repatriation of profits, which is the rule rather than the exception in the Pacific. Neither can it be argued that the joint ventures have been labour-intensive-for the number of jobs created, although important, has not been large.
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