How Tuna is Shaping Regional Diplomacy / by Francisco Blaha

Many times when asked about fisheries in the Pacific, I always quickly clarify that whatever little I know is all in the operational and technical side, wich is not the "upper" framework in which the region's fisheries are contextualized. To understand that frame you have to understand the region's diplomacy and geopolitics, and one of the people in the world that understand that at its best is Transform Aqorau, the ex PNA boss.

He wrote a chapter "How Tuna is Shaping Regional Diplomacy" in a much larger book called "The New Pacific Diplomacy" (published by the Australia National University Press) that brings together a range of analyses and perspectives on these dramatic new developments in Pacific diplomacy at sub-regional, regional and global levels, and in the key sectors of global negotiation for Pacific states – fisheries, climate change, decolonisation, and trade.

Transform's chapter, and the book in general, are fundamental reading if one aim to understand better not only the global context in wich fisheries operates and the "place" it has among all the other sectors.

I just quote the start and the end of the chapter as the set a reality that many critics don't see:

The geopolitical underpinnings of the region’s tuna management provide an interesting backdrop to this analysis. All of the world’s major trading states are involved in this fishery — Japan, Korea, the United States, the EU, and China. Japan has the longest presence in the region’s tuna fishery. More recently, China has become a major force in the longline fishery. The region’s tuna resources have become a key focal point for the prosecution of the strategic geopolitical interests of these powers. Access to the region’s tuna resources allows them a physical presence over a large geographic area of the Pacific, from which they can pursue their strategic interests.

I don't think that any other region in the world has such a power asymmetry in between resources owners and resources users.  Tuna fisheries are not just fish to eat and money to be made... they are a geopolitical asset. This explains (to me at least) why subsidies are poured into maintaining a fishery that otherwise would be operated at much lower pressure levels.

He concludes:

The complexity of the dynamics in fisheries and the relationships between the Pacific Island states and their external partners is creating new challenges to the way these issues are addressed. The diplomacy of the past, the ‘Pacific Way’, and doing things by consensus is not going to work because of the complexities of the issues that the Pacific Island states now confront. These challenges raise questions about the efficacy of existing regional architectures, the role of nation states, and the need to explore models of integration that can best deliver outcomes for the various fisheries. The PNA arrangements, in which measures are legally binding and where a common currency is shared amongst VDS membership, might be a model that could be considered by other Pacific Island states. It is imperfect, but it has strengthened the negotiation hands of its members.

I have a great appreciation for the work has done at the helm of PNA, but more importantly (at least in my world view) for him personally as a very humble and calm man, I have known him for years now and learned a lot listening to him... and now reading him too!