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The Pacific islands region encompasses a unique grouping of some of the world's smallest countries surrounded by a vast maritime estate. The combined exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of the Pacific island States are home to the world's richest and largest tuna fisheries. The significance of these EEZs, and the rights and responsibilities attributed to coastal States by the Law of the Sea, assign a critical role to Pacific island States in the development and implementation of oceans governance throughout this region.
The Pacific island States have established a number of cooperative agreements and institutions to support the management and conservation of these tuna fisheries and are a critical membership bloc of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). Despite these arrangements overfishing and overcapacity now threaten the long term sustainability of some of these tuna fisheries and significantly lower the benefits available to coastal and distant water fishing States.
These sustainability and economic concerns require national and regional policy and regulatory responses that are challenging to conceptualise, negotiate and implement. While regional arrangements are inherently necessary due to the migratory nature of tuna stocks, effective implementation primarily falls to the coastal and flag State governments. This requires effective institutions and governance at the national level and the political will to implement, at times, contentious and difficult decisions.
The sustainable management and profitable development of the region's tuna fisheries is the key ocean governance challenge for the Pacific islands region in the short and medium term. Resolving these challenges is fundamental to the long term future of the region and its ability to implement oceans governance across all resource and conservation concerns.
This paper identifies some key implementation challenges facing Pacific island States and proposes a comprehensive new sub-regional approach to cooperative management that will be ultimately required for the Pacific islands States to effectively implement their coastal State obligations and sustainably manage fishing for tuna within their EEZs.