On The Nation: Ambassador Shane Jones & James Movick.

Published: Sat 21 Mar 2015 05:44 PM
On The Nation:
Lisa Owen interviews NZ's Pacific Economic Ambassador, Shane Jones, and the Director General of the Pacific Islands Forum Fishing Agency, James Movick.
This morning I’m joined by New Zealand’s Pacific Economic Ambassador, Shane Jones, and Director General of the Pacific Islands Forum Fishing Agency, James Movick. Good morning to you both.
James Movick: Good morning.
If I could start with you, Mr Movick, you’ve been leading the negotiations to bring this treaty back to life. Have you got a deal this week?
Movick: No, no, we actually did not come here with the expectation of reaching a final deal here, but rather this meeting will focus on setting the new structure of the treaty to go into the future to serve the new needs of the Pacific Islander community in particular.
So a ways to go there. Mr Ambassador, in layman’s terms—
Shane Jones: Good morning.
Good morning. Can you explain to us what’s the problem? Is it overfishing, too many boats? Spell it out for us.
Jones: Well, in a nutshell, the Pacific Island leaders want to generate income from this precious resource. They’ve got pressures on their national budgets. They’ve mandated James, who leads the peak body in the Pacific, to find a way that they can sustain earnings. The industry is saying the value of tuna has crashed in the international commodity markets. They can’t match the price that’s demanded, so common ground has to be found. And if it’s not found, the fear that exists is that a lot of these key species will become biologically non-viable.
So they’ve selling days – the amount of days that you can fish – to the highest bidder, so have you got too many boats out there in the water in the Pacific?
Jones: Well, as James would possibly correct me, to the best of my knowledge, there’s about 300 boats – purse seiners. These are monstrous vessels. And we could probably catch the current amount of fish with fewer boats, but these are boats that are licensed and fishing in Pacific sovereign waters. They’re very rarely in New Zealand waters, so the sovereign leaders of those Pacific Island nation states need to strike a balance between the zest for revenue and providing an example that if you fish too much, if you have too much capacity, there’ll be no fish left.
Mr Movick, who’s doing the overfishing? There’s a lot of concern about the Asian nations, and, actually, you’ve raised that yourself, haven’t you?
Movick: I think everybody’s engaging in overfishing to some extent, that they’re participating in the fishery, but I think we need to understand the scale of the problem perhaps a bit better. It’s clear that the overfishing that is occurring is occurring on the big-eye tuna stocks, which is a very small component of the overall tuna catches in the region. And it’s the concern over that which is causing all the other current concern. But the problem there is that the bigeye tuna is taken both by large super-frozen long-line vessels, which are primarily foreign – Asian-owned – which operate primarily on the high seas, and they’re also taken by purse seine vessels, which tend to fish within the exclusive economic zones of the Pacific Island countries. In seeking to adopt the appropriate management measures, both of these fleets have to concede something – have to reduce their level of fishing. And the question then is – in what way and to what extent does each do this? But we need to recognise that any reduction in the effort that is taken by purse seiners in the exclusive economic zones of the Pacific Island countries does have economic consequences to them. And so what we are saying is that while we are prepared to make reductions in that catch, the distant water, foreign-owned fleets need to make reductions in that alternative sector and any disproportionate burden of conservation that is borne by the small island states needs to be compensated.
All right. Mr Ambassador, you’re particularly worried about the Chinese, aren’t you, the Chinese fleet?
Jones: You know, the current treaty negotiations relate to the Americans. Some of the American vessels, as James would agree with, are actually Taiwanese vessels, but they fly an American flag. And I’m the sort of person that I’m really not into stigmatisation, and the real challenge is that when you have subsidies, and New Zealand’s had a proud record over the years of challenging subsidies – we’re one of the last fishing nations that doesn’t have subsidies – subsidisation leads to distortionary outcomes.
So who’s subsidising their boats and to what extent?
Jones: Well, there’s a subsidy inside the American Tuna Treaty worth $21 million. There’s subsidies association, I think, with the Taiwanese, the Koreans and the Chinese as well.
Movick: The European Union.
Jones: The European Union. And little old New Zealand, our biggest fishing company is just a part of the Pacific Sanford’s. They had a proud record there. We don’t have subsidies, but unless you challenge subsidisation, I fear that people will continue fishing after it’s actually economically not viable to do so. But if you have a subsidy and your fuel costs are underwritten, you don’t need to face the full costs of your activity.
So is that pushing New Zealand tuna boats out of the game?
Jones: The reality is that Sanford’s have already announced that their four boats are gone. One of them’s been sold to the final remaining totara tree of the fishing industry in New Zealand in the Pacific, and it’s Peter Talley. He’s the only one still up there.
And the reality is the growth where the new boats are coming from, that’s China, isn’t it?
Jones: I don’t have the exact numbers, but let’s face it – throughout the Pacific, where Pacific nations and even me in my current role, we’ve learnt to accept that the mix of the economy has changed. China does have an interest in the Pacific. New Zealand is actually working in a JV project in Rarotonga at this very moment with the Chinese, trying to upgrade sanitation and water supply. And my role really is to find a common way to work with these fishing nations without alienating our neighbours, because they are a permanent reality of the modern Pacific.
So who is going to tell China and some of these Asian nations that they’re being irresponsible in their approach?
Movick: We have been, and we’ve raised our concern with China about the introduction of the hundred or so vessels into the Southern albacore long-line fishery over the last two years. And we’ve encouraged them work with the Pacific Island countries so that those fleets can work with the island countries and bring some of the benefits to the island countries by shore-side offloading, processing as well as working with Pacific Island fishing operators, so that some of the subsidy benefit that they do enjoy perhaps might also be enjoyed by those other participants, the Pacific Islanders.
Because the point is, isn’t it, the resource belongs to these pacific nations, so they are well within their rights, aren’t they, to sell it to the highest bidder? That’s their prerogative.
Movick: Of course. Of course.
Do you agree with that, Mr Jones?
Jones: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, these are sovereign island nations. And the only cautionary note I always strike, having come and seen the ups and lows of our own fishing industry, is that never let the pursuit of revenue eclipse the importance of sustainability. Don’t ever let that happen. We’ve had that problem in New Zealand.
But doesn’t it just come down to bad luck for American and New Zealand? It’s their right to sell it – they’re selling it to the highest bidder. Who are you to tell them otherwise?
Oh, look, yeah, I mean, you see Sanfords, a well-known Kiwi company, has said, “Look, I can’t match the price. I can’t make money. I’ve out of Dodge.”
Okay. Mr Movick, you’ve spent the last week negotiating with the US and other countries over this, and it’s a short time after we found out that New Zealand is spying on countries in the Pacific. Was there much concern about that during these discussions? Was it raised?
Movick: No, it was certainly not raised openly, although yes, a few people would make comments on the side and seek clarification.
What sort of comments, Mr Movick?
Well, ‘Is this true, and does this make any difference?’ Quite frankly, we’ve always taken the view, many of us on the secretariat side, that a lot of the information that is being discussed internally does get shared. It’s done by everybody in the course in the course of normal diplomatic contact.
Shared or spied on?
I would say to some extent, you share information, if you’re trying to reach an agreement with anybody, particularly where you have a common interest. And this is not just with New Zealand, but quite a number of the Pacific Island countries as well.
But do you think your organisation is being spied on? Because we’ve heard that spying is not just for security reasons; it’s for economic reasons. And here you’ve got a big country, the US, wanting to do a deal. Do you think you’re being spied on?
Movick: We take active precautions. We presume that others, particularly the distant-water fishing nations, will try to get access to the data that we have at the agency and what we are doing, so we have very strict information security rules in order to try to ensure that we protect against electronic surveillance of our systems. But on the other hand, a lot of the scientific data that we deal with is open and very transparent, and we want to encourage that and keep it that way.
So Mr Movick assumes he’s being spied on, Ambassador. Does that concern you?
Jones: Without wanting to become the Willy Moon of your show today, you need to take that question to someone like Minister Finlayson. The ambassador could speak on a topic too foreign. Look, when I go to fishing plants, people are talking to me about fillets and loins. They never talk to me about spying.
But does it make your job more difficult?
Jones: I haven’t encountered any static in that regard, but I would say that I’m dealing at a very sort of gut level in the fishing industry in the Pacific.
All right, we’ve got to go. What’s your call for the by-election in Northland? Is your mate Winston going to win?
Jones: That is a foreign topic, too far for the ambassador to comment on.
All right, thank you for joining us this morning, gentlemen.
Transcript provided by Able.
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