Maritime boundaries high-level dialogue

Opening remarks by Forum Fisheries Agency FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen

Your Excellency Honourable David Panuelo, President of the Federated States of Micronesia
Honourable Henry Puna, Pacific Oceans Commissioner and Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
Dr Stuart Minchin, Director General of the Pacific Community
Distinguished representatives and partners

It is a great honour to join you today to celebrate the efforts in our region to progress the formalisation of maritime boundaries. We sincerely thank our host SPC for bringing us all together to mark this important work.

At the outset, we applaud the significant progress made by Pacific Island countries in the formalisation of their respective boundaries. We also acknowledge the support to the region provided by the Maritime Boundaries Consortium and other entities.

We also acknowledge the vision of our Forum Leaders in the 1970s who led the way on claiming maritime boundaries in national legislation. These claims coincided with international agreement on maritime zones in the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea that began in 1973. These claims were made as part of an elaborate strategy put in place by Forum Leaders that shadowed negotiations at this United Nations Conference.

History shows that as a result of concerted action at the regional level, many countries in the region enacted legislation to claim the maritime zones in the late 1970s even well before the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was adopted.

Decisions by Leaders in the 1970s supported the need to coordinate and harmonise their policies on the Law of the Sea so as to ensure the maximum benefits for their peoples and for the region as a whole. At the Forum Leaders meeting held in Port Moresby in August 1977, Leaders agreed on the Declaration on the Law of the Sea and a Regional Fisheries Agency. Leaders undertook to complete as early as practicable, “the legislative and administrative actions necessary to establish extended fisheries jurisdiction to the fullest extent permissible under international law and to apply within their zones principles and measures for the exploration, exploitation, management and conservation of the living resources.”

Aside from the directions on the Law of the Sea, the 1977 Leaders Declaration also put in place the steps for the establishment of the Forum Fisheries Agency. So the creation of the FFA is linked directly to the strategy for each country in the region to establish “extended fisheries jurisdiction” in order to realise their common interest in the conservation and optimum utilisation of the living marine resources in the region.

It follows that in the early years of the FFA from 1979 to the 1980s, there was a programme within the Agency on maritime boundaries. The objective of the maritime boundaries work was to primarily: (i) support Members in the conservation and management of fisheries, in particular, highly migratory species within their waters; (ii) support efforts on monitoring, control, surveillance, and enforcement; and (iii) ensure that funds from regional access arrangements were distributed in accordance with the respective maritime boundaries delimited.

With delimited maritime boundaries, Members were able to take enforcement action against foreign fishing vessels. For example, Papua New Guinea arrested and instituted legal proceedings against the US purse seine fishing vessel Danica in 1982. In 1984, Solomon Islands arrested and instituted proceedings against the US purse seine vessel Jeanette Diana.

The delimited boundaries also served the purpose in the distribution of funds for fishing access by US purse seine vessels under the US Treaty. At the regional Maritime Boundary Delimitation Workshop held in Apia in August 1988, the meeting recognised the need for all Pacific Island Parties under the Treaty to have “uniform, fair and compatible frames of reference for deriving EEZ and boundary coordinates” and recommended the application of “provisional treaty lines” for the purposes of revenue distribution under the Treaty, as a matter of priority.

With the introduction of GIS and Vessel Monitoring System technology in the early to mid-1990s, there was an added urgency to ensure that maritime boundary maps were as accurate as possible. In the application of the “provisional” lines in the VMS maps in the 1990s to the 2000s, it was apparent from a fisheries compliance and enforcement perspective that there were issues that had to be addressed.

Given their technical competencies, the maritime boundaries project was transferred to the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) in 2001. SOPAC later became the Geoscience Division of the SPC. In the late 2000s, Members of the FFA provided their authorisation to SPC for the sharing of their maritime boundary data so that these could be reflected on the FFA VMS maps.

The effective governance of fisheries and marine resources throughout the region depends on formalised boundaries. As our Leaders declared in 1977, the establishment of our extended fisheries jurisdiction goes together with the application within our zones of principles and measures to explore, exploit, conserve and manage the living resources. Without clear and formalised boundaries, the governance of the resources will be very challenging.

Much good work has been undertaken to progress maritime boundaries, there are a number of boundaries that are yet to be resolved. We remain ready to provide our continued support SPC and the consortium toward that important goal.

While our region works steadily to conclude the remaining boundaries, we highly commend the hard work of Pacific Leaders, delegations, and negotiators in Glasgow for the permanent ocean outcome in the UNFCCC processes which will continue to increase further action and ambition.  The recognition by COP26 of Oceans within the UNFCCC process provides us with much hope.

As Reverend Bird stated in his prayer – the power of human solidarity – indeed it is this solidarity that brought our Leaders together and has continued to pave the way for the significant progress on formalising maritime boundaries.

As we continue to honour our Leaders’ visionary decision, we remember why we do we what we do and why we must give it our best – Our Oceans, Our People, Our Future.

HONIARA, 16-17 November 2021

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