The Kiribati government has announced that it will open one of the world’s largest marine protected areas to commercial fishing, citing economic benefits for its people.
The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) covers 408,250 square kilometers (157,626 square miles), an area the size of California, and was created in 2006 with the entire area declared a “no-fish” zone in 2015, meaning that commercial fishing is prohibited.
Kiribati, a collection of islands in the central Pacific that has an EEZ larger than the size of India, catches 700,000 tonnes of tuna annually. More tuna is caught in the waters of Kiribati than in the waters of any other nation in the world.
In a press release issued on Monday, the Kiribati government’s prime minister’s office confirmed that it was opening up the protected area, citing the enormous economic cost to Kiribati, a developing nation. of the ban.
“As in any government, our decisions, as we make them, put the livelihood of our people first and have been carefully considered and agreed upon as a government,” he said.
“Our decision as a sovereign country and government is people-centered and in line with holistic options for marine protection and management, economic diversification, sustainable tourism and fisheries, to promote the growth of Kiribati’s blue economy and improve the lives of all the people of I-Kiribati. . “
Dr Richard Jeo, Conservation International’s Senior Vice President of the Asia-Pacific Field Division, said they “understood that this proposal has not yet been submitted to the Kiribati parliament.”
“It would have to be formally approved by parliament before it goes into effect, which probably won’t be until next year at the earliest. There is significant geopolitics at stake in the Pacific region and, as a sovereign nation, Kiribati has the authority to decide on the future of PIPA. “
Jeo said they were hopeful that Kiribati would maintain PIPA’s marine protected area designation and would choose “to continue as a world leader in conservation, alongside a global community that is committed to protecting 30% of the land and sea by 2030. “.
But the Kiribati government said that when it established PIPA it was assured that it could recoup lost income from fishing licenses, which represents more than 70% of Kiribati’s total annual income, but that this had not occurred.
The government said that years after the start of PIPA it was not enough to meet the current needs of the people of Kiribati and the future development needs of the country.
The declaration also reiterated the Kiribati government’s commitment to conservation efforts by investing in marine and biodiversity protection and promoting climate resilience.
The government said that since the closure of PIPA to commercial fishing, there has been an 8% decrease in demand for fish in the Kiribati EEZ, resulting in a loss of revenue of up to USD $ 146 million from 2015 to the present.
Former President Anote Tong, who was responsible for overseeing the creation of PIPA, expressed strong disappointment with the announcement, but said the proper process, which involves a parliamentary vote on opening PIPA to fishing, has yet to be observed.
“I am very, very disappointed,” he said. “I never expected this to happen. And this was precisely the reason why we incorporated it into the legislation. Because it had to be something that was maintained regardless of political changes.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism