Behind the scenes
How do you make a high-level meeting with more than 120 people from 20 Pacific countries and territories across ten different time zones lively and engaging? Well, there is no magic wand. There is a lot of preparation and, most importantly, a long history of trust and relationship building between the Pacific Community (SPC) and its Pacific Island member countries and territories. This year, SPC hosted the twelfth Heads of fisheries (HoF) meeting in an online format for the first time.
“This is an unprecedented time,” said Connie Donato-Hunt, the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Adviser for SPC Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems (FAME) Division. “The COVID-19 crisis has brought new challenges to the oceanic fisheries, coastal fisheries and aquaculture sectors. Therefore, it was very important to hold this meeting now, in order to discuss how we can collectively address these challenges. Without the possibility of organizing a physical meeting, we had to adapt.”
The different time zones across the Pacific region meant that when the meeting started at 10 am in Noumea, some participants were already halfway through the afternoon, and some of these were still a day behind. Since SPC has two official languages, French and English, simultaneous interpretation was an additional challenge in the online format and required excellent coordination between the different teams involved to make sure that things ran smoothly.
So that all of the 126 participants had access to the same knowledge and information about the meeting content, FAME shared the relevant papers and presentations online ahead of the meeting. “We put a lot of effort into preparing this meeting,” said Tracey Holley, Planning Officer at FAME. “SPC has a long experience in disseminating technical information to different stakeholders. We managed to mobilize this expertise and find creative solutions so that everyone had access to key information before the meeting started.”
HoF12 was chaired by Tuvalu’s Secretary for Fisheries and Trade, Fakavae Taomia, who joined the meeting from Fiji, where he was stranded due to travel restrictions. The participation of the members and observers was very inclusive,” he said. “This is one of the major outcomes that we have achieved with more than one hundred and twenty participants at one point in time.”
Sapeti Tiitii from Samoa Fisheries commented on the transition from the traditional face to face meeting to the online format: “I greatly appreciated the opportunity to be part of the HoF12 virtual meeting. I would like to thank SPC for the excellent organisation.”
Fish matter now more than ever
Three two-and-a-half-hour plenary sessions over three days facilitated discussions on topics across FAME’s oceanic and coastal fisheries programmes, ranging from Pacific tuna fisheries – the largest tuna fisheries worldwide – to coastal fisheries and aquaculture.
These three areas are of paramount importance for the Pacific people: around 60% of the global tuna catch (which represented almost 3 million metric tons in 2019) is from the western and central Pacific region. Half of the population of the Pacific Islands live less than ten kilometres from the sea, and small-scale fisheries provides the main or secondary source of revenue for up to half of the coastal households in the Pacific. Aquaculture is becoming increasingly important as a sustainable source of protein for inland areas in the region.
“Fish and fisheries matter now more than ever” said Neville Smith, the SPC FAME Division Director. “Tuna fisheries are a key economic lifeline for the region and coastal fisheries are now under more pressure than ever. However, thanks to the ongoing support of the Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific (CROP) agencies, and all our other partners in the region and beyond, SPC will continue to do all it can to support members in understanding, developing, sustaining and managing their fisheries resources,” he added.
The impact of COVID-19 and key priorities
The HoF meeting usually addresses SPC members priorities for fisheries, focusing on small-scale fisheries, tuna stocks and aquaculture. This year intense and productive discussions with members and partners covered several important topics, ranging from urgent priorities resulting from the COVID-19 crisis to regional mechanisms for engaging civil society in Pacific coastal fisheries. During the meeting, it has been identified that the initial impacts of the pandemic are currently affecting fish supply and demand, food security and food systems, at-sea observer operations for tuna vessels and reporting of illegal fishing activities.
In addition to the COVID-19 crisis, climate change remains the most serious threat for the region and is a priority area of FAME’s work.
“Where there are challenges, there are also opportunities, so the faster we grasp these, the more we can define the new normal, and the more likely we are to thrive. It is in this kind of global crises and historical event that humankind has innovated and adapted most, and the Pacific fisheries sector can be part of that,” commented Neville Smith.
The meeting participants identified key priority areas for SPC to provide support to the Pacific Island Countries and Territories during the challenging year of 2020 and beyond. These include innovative, digitally-based ways to support capacity development remotely; scaling up community-based fisheries management to meet the pressures of an increasing dependence on coastal fish; integrated activities, including small-scale aquaculture to support food security, food systems and sustainable livelihoods; and, data management and governance.
For more information:
Connie Donato-Hunt, SPC Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Adviser for the FAME Division, [email protected]
Toky Rasoloarimanana, SPC Communications Officer for the FAME Division, [email protected]