Back to Kiribati for the 1st job of 2019 / by Francisco Blaha

Is always hard to restart with work after the festive season, my teenage kids are growing relentlessly and they would not be home in few years, and being a part-time dad and husband is never easy... (being a consultant is marriage killer). So getting on the ferry of my island heading to the airport is always quite anguishing for me. 

not the usual plane window scene

not the usual plane window scene

 I been now working with my colleagues from Kiribati’s fisheries authority under a NZ MFAT funded programme for almost 2 years on “fly in and fly out” basis, I do this work in coordination to my work in the Marshall Islands.

I’m not going to go into the challenges that small atoll countries face, as it could take days of writing… but just as a figure: look around you wherever you reading this and see all the things, services and goods you take for granted and they are part of your daily life… well.. none of them is granted here... Working in atolls has been a truly humbling experience and the level of resilience of my colleagues and the locals is beyond admirable.

My role here (as most of my work worldwide) is operational, I’m providing support on PSM, transhipment monitoring, market access guarantees and “EU Yellow card issues”. 

I written enough about the EU Yellow Cards so not going to repeat myself. Supporting countries to work themselves out of them has been a stable staple (and a bit of speciality) of my work for the last 6-7 years at least.

I have worked with Vanuatu, Fiji, PNG, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Thailand who successfully convinced the EU DG MARE that the reforms implemented were deserving of their unilateral approval. 

Kiribati is our last standing yellow card in the Pacific, and I’m hoping that after this one I can put this “chapter” of my work to rest. (I have chosen not to work with Taiwan -and will also not work with China if ever they get the totally deserved yellow/red card- as major DWFNs they should have enough capacity themselves, or go down)

A big issue for small countries is to understand all the scenarios around the Catch Certification process, as it is quite complex, particularly in function of the sidestep the EU took with the “weight in” notification in 2010 where it actually became a “export certificate” instead of real catch certificate. This transferred a massive “fish accountancy” structure back to flag and processing countries where fish would be processed and exported many months after being unloaded and small administrations would have to sort through tons of records to relate a particular landing to the fish being exported. (To understand the complexity feel free to look at the catch certification chapter on this book I wrote about EU Market Access)

Hence my work on this area has been to tie up and package operational SOPs and training on: Vessels arrival screening and clearing inspection (as PSM best practices), the organisation of transhipment monitoring, and the standardization of the Catch certification process, including the development of a certification database that brings into account all volumes and operations. And while not on DG MARE’s domain, then one has to link all this to the parallel issues of EU and Non EU Health Certification, eligibility, certification of origin and so on… 

Is worth to remember that the issue of Catch Certification is normally only a small element of the issues raised in the yellow card reports… all sort of higher level issues come up there to that need to be dealt at legislative and higher management level.

Off course is hard to argue that all of this good for the country and the DG MARE’s officer are trumpeting this fact worldwide at every conference I have been to…  My issue has been that is a disproportionally massive effort for a small development country to set all this up, since to an extent the development and implementation of the systems is independent of the volumes of usage. Many developed countries seems to struggle with it (i.e. Taiwan and Korea have got yellow cards) so imagine what is for challenged countries, with less than 40 years of being independent and managing their own affairs with very limited human and resource capacities. 

If it wasn't for the vital support of FFA (and now NZ MFAT) coupled with substantial local efforts, I doubt any of the Pacific the most yellow carded region in the world) countries would have managed to progress as they have done.

At a personal level, while I been a critic of the EU system, it has always been from a constructive angle, as it has been “revolutionary” and my aim was and is to make it more effective and fair (the promised 2019 online based structure - almost 10 years after announced - will help with that). Furthermore, my relationship with them has been very good, and in many cases as in the case of the retired boss there (Mr Cesar Deben), he has been a supporter of my work. 

Additionally, and I have always stressed this fact, the EU is the major donors for fisheries in the region and much of my FFA work has been funded by them, even if they only have a handful of vessels fishing around here… and their support is no tied up to nationality eligibility (i.e. you have to be a EU citizen) and one has to respect and knowledge that. In over 20 years in consulting I still have to work in a Korea, China, Japan or Taiwan funded program.

So yes I’m looking forwards to some weeks of work with my friends and colleagues here in Kiribati and keep sharing whatever I can do on my areas of work, and learning from their relentless resilient attitude, good spirit and hospitality.