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Pledge To Ban Industrial Tuna Fishing Around Kiribati Slow To Materialize

Questions have begun to emerge about the extent of commitment President Anote Tong of Kiribati has displayed since his pledge to make strong efforts to protect the waters around his island nation. In 2010, he committed to making the region a huge marine protected area.

While the pledge raised Tong’s profile and won him international accolades, concerns about his true commitment to the project have come to light.

During a 2010 interview, Tong announced that the whole 404,250 square kilometer Phoenix Island Protected Area (PIPA) was strictly prohibited for commercial tuna fishing. But according to the PIPA management plan, currently only 3.1 percent is off limits.

Betarim Rimon, information officer for PIPA, said that more than 400 vessels fish legally within the remaining 97 percent of the area, and on average each purse seiner catches 32 tons of tuna per day. Fleets come from Japan, China, South Korea, US and EU.

In order to close the remaining 97 percent of PIPA to tuna fishing, President Tong has requested financial compensation. Currently the sale of fishing licenses to foreign fleets raises USD 27 million per year, accounting for a whole 40 percent of Kiribati’s national revenue.

So far, USD 5 million has been raised towards the goal. Half of the money was donated by Conservation International and the other half came from the Kiribati government. However, Dr, Gregory Stone, Executive Vice President of Conservation International, believes this will probably go towards the cost of management and not leave much for compensation.

Stone said: “This USD 5 million is a key step in our long term plans to attract new investment. The trust fund will grow larger; we have other interested donors we are working with.”

It is thought that by closing PIPA, as originally committed by Tong, would not affect Kiribati’s income in selling fishing licenses to foreign fleets. The marine park only accounts for 11 percent of the island’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and it has been calculated that commercial ships can continue to catch the same amount of tuna in the remaining 89 percent.