The International Day of Peace, celebrated on September 21st, is an open invitation to cease hostilities in the world. It is also a moment to reflect on how people interact with the environment on land and at sea. Tuna is well-loved across the world and is an ecological mainstay of the warm waters of the South Pacific. An equally important discussion surrounding tuna and its consumption is climate change, responsible fishing practices, and sustainable development for Pacific Island countries. However, in years past, the answers to the questions these issues inspire went unanswered or rather ignored. Pacific Island countries are small in landmass, economy, and population. These factors prevent any one individual country from having substantial political influence particularly when pitted against the interests of global business, and corrosive practices prioritize profits over sustainability.
The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), originally established in 1982, is an organization comprising of nine Pacific Island nations, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, and Tuvalu. When you add up the total area of their economic exclusive zones, these countries collectively administer 14.3 million square kilometres of ocean. An area that is one and a half times larger than the United States. 1.1 million tons of tuna are caught in these waters every year with a total value of USD 6 billion. In 2010 PNA members only saw about 50 million; in 2021 returns have increased to 500 million. This transformation is a direct result of cooperative governance.
In 2007 the PNA introduced the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) which has permanently changed the rules of engagement between international business and the Pacific Islands. Instead of the pre-existing model of payment, where international fishing fleets would pay a fee relative to the size of their catch, the VDS sees fleets auction timeslots to fish on waters within PNA member exclusive economic zones. This shift towards collective bargaining ensures that income from commercial fishing operations is consistent and distributed to all member states, additionally, this model limits opportunities for overfishing. Further capitalizing on this success, PNA countries have established Pacific tuna canning facilities to capture more of the industry, banned fishing devices that incidentally kill other marine life, and spread the gains throughout society. Beyond the business of fish, the income collected from the VDS is a critical component of Pacific Island economies that provides necessary funds to boost health outcomes, increase rates of education, and perform land reclamation exercises to improve resistance to rising sea levels.
The VDS is a program that is only possible because of two reasons: a likeminded cohort of countries that are willing to work together to achieve a common goal, and an internationally recognized and respected legislative backbone of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Despite the triumph of the VDS, it will be undermined by the existential threat of climate change. The PNA have found a successful strategy to address issues of ecological and economic sustainability on tuna, however, for the larger climate crisis to de-escalate, it requires stronger enthusiasm and global support. The International Day of Peace is an opportunity to reflect on the example of the PNA and examine how we can create peace between humanity and its environment. Whether it be through activism to inspire governments to make smarter climate decisions or calling on business to make ethical and sustainable choices.
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