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The Contemporary Pacific 15.2 (2003) 424-439

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The Region in Review:
International Issues and Events

The Pacific has been portrayed as a sea of islands, whose peoples' identity, culture, and livelihood are fundamentally defined by their relationship with the marine environment. Islanders have always relied on the sea as a source of food and as a conduit for trade and communication with the outside world. In the contemporary Pacific, successful development depends on the ability of sectors such as tourism, fisheries, and aquaculture to sustainably manage the marine environment. Pacific Islanders at all levels of government and civil society have focused much of their lobbying and diplomatic energies on measures to preserve the natural environment.

In no area has the regionalism of the Pacific Islands shown such unity of purpose as in the campaign to protect the marine environment from undue exploitation and pollution, especially by outsiders. In the past this unity was evident in the campaign to end nuclear testing and prevent nuclear waste dumping in the Pacific. Today it is apparent in regional efforts to coordinate monitoring and management of water, waste, coastal areas, coral reefs, and the high seas, notably with respect to tuna stocks. Antinuclear sentiment has persisted in opposition to nuclear shipments through the region. Climate change is an enduring concern. In 2002 these issues provided a focus for regional lobbying and action at several international forums.

The 2002 Pacific Islands Forum leaders summit adopted an important initiative in the form of a Pacific Islands Regional Ocean Policy. The policy's vision is to maintain "a healthy Ocean that sustains the livelihoods and aspirations of Pacific Island communities." It emphasizes the economic opportunities offered by the ocean but draws attention to the increasing number and severity of threats to its long-term integrity. The new policy is a framework of guiding principles for collaborative action to promote sustainable management of the ocean's resources. It is meant to prevent a fragmentation of programs and conflict between different sectors as use of oceanic resources escalates. New Zealand offered to assist with setting up the initiative (PIF, 2002 annex 2).

The overriding "goal of the policy is to ensure the future sustainable use of our Ocean and its resources by Pacific Islands communities and external partners. The guiding principles to achieve this goal are: improving our understanding of the Ocean; sustainably developing and managing the use of ocean resources; maintaining the health of the ocean; promoting the peaceful use of the ocean; creating partnerships and promoting cooperation." The document outlines specific actions to be taken nationally and regionally to realize these principles over the next five years. The principles and actions form the basis for a Pacific Ocean initiative, a regional summit to define current knowledge and activities, a review process, and an integrated framework of existing [End Page 424] programs and future actions (PIF, 2002 annex 2).

No sector depends more on collective environmental management than the region's fisheries, and this sector is in turn the linchpin of many economies. The alarm has been raised over a persistently low replacement rate of tuna stocks in recent years. This is largely due to juvenile tuna being caught inadvertently by purse-seining nets. Forum leaders urged distant-water fishing nations to increase the mesh size of nets to reduce the destructive by-catch (PIF 2002 , para 47-48).

Leaders welcomed the extension until 2013 of the Multilateral Fisheries Treaty governing fishing access fees paid since 1987bythe UnitedStates to the fourteen Forum Fisheries Agency member states. Other distant-water fishing nations have sought to lower fisheries access fees paid in their bilateral agreements with island states (already at only 5 percent of catch value) on the grounds of low market prices for tuna and increasing fuel costs. However, under the new agreement, fees paid by the United States were increased by $3 million compared to the previous treaty, for a total of $21 million per annum: $18 million paid by the US government and $3 million by the fishing industry (Tarte pers comm 2003).

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