A new look Pacific Regional Fisheries Ministers Meeting, which started virtually yesterday, has tabled key concerns on the state of coastal fisheries, climate change and marine pollution. Their decisions reflect regional priorities for the fisheries and marine sector.

Cook Islands Prime Minister and Minister of Marine Resources, the Honourable Henry Puna, addressed the meeting stating that “One undeniable and tangible resource, asset, and lifeline that we all possess is our shared fisheries resources” and called for initiatives to diversify the use of fisheries and marine resources, using innovative and collaborative approaches. While highlighting the Pacific’s strong response to the national and regional security threats the COVID-19 pandemic has posed, he stressed the importance of enhancing fisheries management, maintaining food and economic security.  “Our collective response must always reflect how much we value our people, and the mana, resilience and Pacific community spirit, that underpins the very fibre of our nations’’ he said.

The meeting, chaired by the Honourable Marion Henry, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) Secretary for the Department of Resource and Development was hosted online, gathering Fisheries Ministers and officials from the Pacific Island Forum countries and territories as well as regional organisations

The talks covered regional coastal fisheries and aquaculture priorities and the impact of COVID-19 on these fisheries, the 2020 Coastal Fisheries Report Card, and options for enhancing discussions on community based management of coastal fisheries. Ministers also endorsed the Regional Framework on Aquatic Biosecurity.

One of the key resources that helped to frame the meeting was the Coastal Fisheries Report Card, presented by the Pacific Community (SPC). It provides annual regional reporting on the current state of Pacific coastal fisheries across a range of biological, social and economic indicators. The report card highlights the importance of coastal fisheries for food security and livelihoods in the region, with 89% of households eating fish or seafood weekly and 30% of households participating in fishing. Ministers reflected with deep concern on the results that signalled a decline in the status of key indicator invertebrate and finfish species, and reef and ecosystem health, which have direct impacts on livelihoods and food security, and called for the strengthening of coastal fisheries management.

Moving from coastal fisheries to climate change issues, Ministers considered where the fisheries sector can incorporate climate change mitigation and adaptation into policies and plans, with a view to securing climate change financing to support such measures, where possible.  Ministers called for an advocacy strategy to enhance high level messaging at the UNFCCC and related meetings to advance measures to address the impacts of climate change on fisheries in the region.

In discussions relating to marine pollution, Ministers supported improvements in Pacific port waste reception facilities to enable them to receive fishing vessel waste on shore rather than have it dumped at sea. Ministers expressed concern about the impact of abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear, especially on coastal fisheries and coral reefs, and called for collaborative action to address this issue.

Ministers welcomed progress on the development of the 2050 strategy for the Blue Pacific continent being led by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

Secretary Marion Henry, as Chair of the inaugural Regional Fisheries Ministers Meeting, stressed that “the meeting marked a new chapter of strengthening regional cooperation, solidarity and friendship especially in these unprecedented times where the region has been greatly affected by the impacts of COVID-19”.

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