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‘Now is the time to act'

Author James Borton tackles threats to Pacific fishery in his new book

James Borton

By Pacific Island Times News Staff


James Borton is a foreign correspondent and the author of the new book, “Dispatches from the South China Sea: Navigating to Common Ground,” which reflects current efforts to embrace marine science cooperation, including the production of more marine protected areas for peaceful and sustainable ocean use.

“Dispatches” tackles the impact of continuous coastal development, reclamation, destruction of corals, overfishing and increased maritime traffic places.


Borton, a regular freelance contributor to the Washington Times, has reported on issues including U.S.­Vietnam relations, territorial clashes in the South China Sea, and energy policy in East Asia.


Borton discussed his new book with the Pacific Island Times.


What can Guam and Micronesian nations learn from you book?


JB: Let’s be clear, Chinese fishing trawlers are plundering the oceans. Foreign tuna distant water fishing vessels and a changing ocean, associated with climate change are placing enormous pressure on small-scale fishers. Pacific islanders know that their waters are overexploited, especially by China.


Dwindling catches in China’s coastal waters have seen the country’s distant water fishing fleet travel to the farthest reaches of the Pacific. Of course, longline fleets from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, along with smaller local fleets out of Hawaii, and other islands target bigeye and yellowfin tuna.


Almost all of the tuna caught in the nearby islands are captured by purse seine fishing boats netting skipjack tuna. Each day longline vessels catch bigeye and yellow fin and are often destined for high-value sashimi markets. It’s a lucrative industry where a single tuna can net $3 million.


In 2018 in the Western Pacific region, the provisional catch estimate of bigeye tuna was nearly 142,402 million tons with an estimated value at $780 million.


In the case of Guam and the Federated States of Micronesia, the fees paid by foreign vessels have also become a significant source of revenue for national governments. Unfortunately, much of the tuna fishing remains unregulated. “Dispatches” reveals the devastating impact of overfishing.


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What can be done or is being done to protect the local fishermen in these waters?


JB: Despite the efforts of the Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission that oversees an international convention that aims to ensure rules are fair for all foreign nations operating in exclusive economic zones (EEZs)— up to 200 nautical miles off shore of the Pacific nations as well as in the high seas (international waters) falls short.


Too many commercial trawlers remain unregulated and so the management of shared stocks of highly migratory species, like tuna, often fails.


The presence of extensive areas of international waters among the EEZs complicates the region’s fishery management efforts. The management or lack of it in the high seas is the biggest single threat to the sustainability of the tuna fisheries and to the livelihoods of the local artisan fishers. Given the importance of the tuna fisheries, their sustainability needs to be monitored through the collection of a broad range of biological, economic and fisheries data.


What role does the U.S. play in combatting illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing?


JB: To be clear, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is an extensive security threat to U.S. national interests. That’s why in the waters off Guam, the location of the Seventh Fleet and the largest of the U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed fleets, has maintained a continuous forward presence in the Indo-Pacific, providing security and stability in the region. Yet, it is the expanding role of the U.S. Coast Guard patrols in the region that is now in the supporting role of tracking down industrial scale fishing vessels deployed by irresponsible and aggressive flag states like China.


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Your book raises awareness for the conservation of marine biodiversity and sustainability of fisheries. What role does or can science play in paving the way for a transformation of fishery policies?


JB: Yes, I count among my close friends many international marine scientists who have enabled me to view the seascape through their lens. Our oceans are at a tipping point. The sea’s remarkable coral reefs, which provide food, jobs and protection against storms and floods, have suffered unprecedented rates of destruction in recent decades.


Now, more than ever, nations and citizens must pay attention to the science and act on lessons learned. My book places faith in science and examines the role for science cooperation and the implementation of science diplomacy as a strategy to address climate change, food security and rising tensions. What I have learned is that the fishers are the first to encounter the limits of the sea.


Overfishing is not just a Pacific islands’ problem; it is a major threat to food security for all. As a result, the marine scientists and oceanographers inform me that we need many more marine protected areas. The environmental perspective can no longer be ignored.


How will your proposed solutions apply to this region?


JB: Pacific island leaders already know that climate change is the single greatest existential threat facing the Blue Pacific and so measures must be taken to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050. Furthermore, collectively, the Federated States of Micronesia can and must encourage the World Trade Organization to address the final steps of the fisheries subsidies negotiations.


Now is the time to act to create climate-resilient fisheries and identify climate finance mechanisms for development of aquaculture.




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