WCPFC13: Small steps for harvest strategy, managing stocks beats no-steps says Chair

Statement of the WPCFC Chair Rhea Moss-Christian, FSM, after her salutations for the opening formalities this morning for the 13th annual regular session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

...I want to open today by talking about small steps. Specifically, the power of small steps.
You all know what is at stake here; you all know what needs to be done; you all know how challenging the next few days will be.
This challenge stems partly from a tendency amongst stakeholders to stay tied to strongly held views and to hold out for progress in giant leaps. Anything less is sometimes couched in terms of failure.
But such rigidity has not always served the Commission well.
By its very nature, agreement in a multilateral environment is tough to achieve. And the stakes get higher each year if positions remain entrenched.
I understand how past disagreement on critical management action may have left some of you feeling discouraged.
But a willingness to be more flexible and to find ways to move forward should be our mantra.
In this context, I am asking you to commit to taking – at the very least – some small steps this year on the issues before us.
Big leaps forward would obviously be great. But that’s a stretch in this forum. So let’s not diminish the value of incremental progress as a platform for reaching our goals.
Some will hear this and say ‘We need a greater sense of urgency. We don’t have time for small steps’.
To this I say, we certainly don’t have time to make no progress at all – and that’s what we risk when members adopt an ‘all or nothing’ mentality.
We’ve already seen this risk play out in some previous sessions.
And I want to remind you of some of the times when your small steps have accumulated real progress for this Commission.
Firstly, the Multilateral High Level Negotiating Conferences, or the MHLC’s, required regular and ongoing commitment to dialogue to develop a Convention text.
You made agreements, step-by-step, over a sustained period of time and achieved the adoption of our Convention.
Secondly, the series of Preparatory Conferences that followed, took place over several years where you agreed, step-by-step, to the mechanisms that support how we operate in the Commission.
You didn’t set up the Commission overnight. Likewise, the tough decisions facing us now won’t be solved overnight.
This week, we will consider elements of a Harvest Strategy Framework. There is nothing more incremental than this work.
You have committed to the process and, with a spirit of cooperation, we can take steps that will contribute to the future development of the Framework.
We will also be reviewing conservation and management measures for tuna stocks to apply beyond 2017.
We already know from experience how complex this exercise is and how valuable even the smallest gains are. Your discussions this week are designed to move you forward in any way, as a foundation for continued efforts throughout next year.
Last year, you agreed that the protection and safety of our fisheries observers was a Commission priority and you adopted some measures to that end.
You also committed to build on those agreements and this year you will be finalizing a draft measure to that effect. A stepwise approach can facilitate careful consideration and a preparedness to move forward when it matters most.
The development of measures to conserve and manage non-target, associated and dependent species has occurred over time and we have in place today a number of measures for different species.
All of this has formed the basis for progressing our efforts, particularly in relation to sharks. A commitment today to further action on this issue would be powerful in itself.
I am as optimistic today as I was when you first granted me the opportunity to take this role.
And although I’m well aware of the challenges in trying to reach agreement, I want to support you to keep moving forward.
So, I ask that you focus this week on the value of incremental progress toward meeting Commission objectives.
Let me take this opportunity to thank our Executive Director and his Secretariat team for the fine work they do each year to put the annual session together. I again acknowledge the generosity of Fiji and its minsters who have joined us today.
I want to close my remarks this morning by remembering three people who passed away this year:
 Robert Matau was a journalist from Fiji and worked with the Parties to the Nauru Agreement;
 Nannette Dilyaur Malsol was a Senior Fisheries Official from Palau who headed her delegation to many Commission meetings;
 Minister Elisala Pita was the Tuvalu Minister for Fisheries who, in recent years, was a vocal advocate for his small island nation’s interests in this Commission.
These people were known to most, if not all, of you as colleagues and friends, each devoted to their work in their own way.
Their contributions to the Commission can be seen in various ways and I know we will be thinking of them as we move through our discussions this week.
With that, I wish you all much success over the coming days and I look forward to working with you.
Thank you.