Senior representatives from eight Government Departments met in Port Vila for the first meeting of the Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) programme-funded By-catch and Integrated Ecosystem Management (BIEM) Initiative Steering Committee.

Participants approved a wide range of activities to support coastal communities, government authorities and other groups, as well as to protect threatened marine species and restore coastal ecosystems to improve food security, livelihoods, resilience to climate change and biodiversity. Marine survey equipment paid for by the PEUMP Programme was also presented to the Vanuatu Fisheries Department at the meeting.

The meeting was held on 16 September, 2020 at the Grand Hotel and Casino and was officially opened by Esline Garaebiti, Director General, Ministry of Climate Change, Meteorology & Geo-hazard, Environment, Energy and Disaster Management.

Mrs Garaebiti stressed the importance of the task that lay ahead in protecting our marine and coastal resources.

“Our ocean and islands have provided us with a boundless reservoir of natural resources on which our people are reliant. However, as demonstrated by Tropical Cyclone Harold and the Coronavirus, we must do our utmost to protect and enhance our environment in order to continue to benefit from the protection from storms and food sources that healthy coastal ecosystems provide, especially in times of need. The activities funded through the BIEM Initiative will help ensure that these vital resources will continue to sustain the generations to come,” she said.

The BIEM Initiative is comprised of two components, the integrated ridge to reef management component implemented by the Department of Environmental Protection and the marine species conservation and by-catch reduction component implemented by the Fisheries Department.

Donna Kalfatak, Director, Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation, added, “We have established the inter-Departmental BIEM Initiative Steering Committee to ensure excellent collaboration across Government to deliver our shared priorities to deliver integrated ‘ridge to reef’ management and climate change adaptation activities with selected coastal communities on the islands of Malekula and Pentecost. This will help us to deliver our commitment to establish and successfully manage new Community Conservation Areas for the benefit of people and the ecosystems they rely upon.”

William Naviti, Director of Vanuatu Fisheries Department, was pleased to accept the new survey equipment funded by the PEUMP Programme that will be used to study the health of coral reefs, sea grass beds and fish in the coastal focal areas. He also acknowledged the port-based fisheries extension activity that will build the capacity of tuna longline skippers and their crews to reduce the un-intentional catch of protected marine species and reduce marine pollution.

“By-catch of turtles, sharks and toothed whales in Pacific longline fisheries is known to be a significant threat to their long-term survival. This initiative will help fishing companies meet their legal commitments to fish more sustainably and reduce their impact on the health of the wider marine environment,” he said.

Jamie Davies, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP)s BIEM Initiative Manager, who joined the meeting virtually said, “SPREP is committed to working with Departments, communities and local organisations to implement the conservation priorities agreed here today. We have recently appointed Kalo Pakoa as the Vanuatu BIEM country coordinator who is providing expert support to help deliver these positive actions for coastal communities and marine biodiversity in the face of increasing challenges caused by climate change and other development pressures”.

The BIEM Initiative is implemented by SPREP in five Pacific countries, with Vanuatu and Fiji jointly receiving the most funding.

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