Pohnpei, FSM: A new comprehensive national Fisheries Policy for the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is firmly set on accessing up to US85m in annual revenues from its ‘blue gold’ oceanic fisheries sector. That figure was flagged amidst all the numbers, data and acronyms dominating a just-ended national Fisheries seminar in FSM. Standout quotes during the seminar included a straight and clear reminder on the reason for the current renewed focus on FSM's budget-boosting Tuna resources-- "Fish is our blue gold".
As leaders from Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap think through and share their four days of talking Fisheries with the lead government officials in the sector, the new term, coined on the opening day of the seminar, will keep coming to mind as they look to opportunities at state level and their fit at national level, for investment opportunities in FSM’s fisheries.
“Fish is our “blue gold” and fisheries has become our biggest revenue generator, increasing nearly 300 percent since the introduction and implementation of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) Vessel Day Scheme (VDS),” Vice President Yosiwo P George had noted in his opening statement. He said revenue from the sale of fishing days has increased substantially, but "the overall FSM economy has not grown, as one would have expected. The challenge is therefore how can we best use our valuable days to achieve higher economic growth? What kind of fisheries and related policies do we need to put in place to maximize the overall economic benefits of our fisheries resources to support economic growth?"
Vice President George had not minced words in his keynote to the “Aligning Fisheries Policy to Support Economic Growth in the FSM” first national seminar for FSM. Highlighting the role of the Vessel Day Scheme led by FSM and the seven other Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) plus Tokelau, he and the meeting organisers are keen to see its transformational impact on the national budget groweven more returns to the national purse.
"In 2014, fisheries access revenues were $47.5 million, which comprised 36% of the total government revenues. I am advised that, with the number of vessel days that FSM can expect into the future, straight maximization of fishing access revenues could yield USD70 million or even as high as USD85 million per year to the FSM. As we face the termination of the current Economic Assistance package under the Compact of Free Association (CFA) this income source will have significant importance to the FSM’s future political economy. That is the challenge that the fisheries sector has to be conscious of; that this is a resource managed by government for the benefit of the people of the FSM."
Acknowledging that opening up FSM to potential fisheries investment partners would require updates to law and policy, the Vice President told leaders the changes needed must be seen "as an opportunity to not only seek benefits to the states we represent but to appreciate our shortcomings and strive for a cohesive policy that all can benefit even if it means one central fisheries development location or two. We can all still benefit, the challenge is where, how and what can we offer as individual or collective stakeholders."
"We need to think about creating jobs, new business and security in investment to diversify our economic base. We also have to be mindful that our partners feel welcome and invest in the long term. Short-term gains are not sustainable when you ask me to put millions in a fish processing facility or any other investment of the like. We need to re-strategize and focus; changing our approach to fisheries investment," he says. “While we strive to increase our returns, we must also exercise due diligence to ensure that our partners deliver what they promise us and nothing less”.
Throughout the seminar, co-conveners Director of FSM's National Oceanic Resource Management Agency, NORMA Eugene Pangelinan and Secretary for Resources and Development Hon. Marion Henry had echoed the need for a refreshed, whole of government approach across all states, and at many levels, to ensure the Oceanic breadwinner for FSM is managed within a revised, more comprehensive Fisheries policy.
“This is not the end of the process, this is just the beginning,” says Pangelinan of the ongoing consultations with stakeholders across and within the states.
“Domestic development is an increasingly important part of the investment picture of the tuna industry in FSM,” he says, “when we look at Fisheries interests from distant water fishing nations wanting to do business in our EEZs, the key criteria for us will be returns to the people of FSM in capital investments, job creation, and social responsibility partnerships.”
“It’s a lot of work, but we are talking about a resource bringing the world to our part of the ocean. We now want to bring more value-adding, revenue-generating fisheries activity ashore, to gain more economic opportunities and spread the benefits around.”
The FSM National Fisheries Seminar included a range of guest presenters including Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Director General James Movick and FFA Economist Dr Chris Reid, Incoming PNA Executive Director Ludwig Kumoru, of the National Fisheries Authority of Papua New Guinea, International Fisheries Consultant Stan Crothers of New Zealand (also Fisheries Advisor to Tokelau), and FSM officials. Industry insights came from Peter Sitan, CEO of the FSM’s National Fisheries Corporation, NFC.–ENDS/NORMA Press Release.