In their book Predictable Surprises, authors Max Bazerman and Michael Watkins define the eponymous phrase in their title as an "event or set of events that takes an individual or group by surprise, despite prior awareness of all of the information necessary to anticipate the events and their consequences."1 Among other such "surprises" in the recent past, such as the collapse of Enron, 9/11, and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, the authors characterize the destruction of fisheries worldwide in modern times as "one of the most clear-cut predictable surprises that the natural environment has ever faced." Indeed, in the past quarter century, commercial fisheries in the Atlantic, the eastern Pacific, and the Mediterranean have essentially collapsed as a result of overfishing, despite repeated dire warnings from scientists and fishery experts, international agreements to manage fish stocks, and government attempts at regulation.
Fishing fleets from many countries, faced with diminishing catches and profits, increasingly have turned their attention to the remaining healthy source in the world: the tuna fishery in the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). This exists in a vast, sparsely populated region, and much of the targeted fish stock is "owned" by some of the poorest countries in the world, the recently independent Pacific island nations. Their economies depend on income from the fishery for sustenance and to allow them to maintain political independence. If left unchecked, the increasing assault on their tuna fishery will cause it to collapse as it has elsewhere in the world. This could lead to regional instability, perhaps even to the overthrow of some Pacific island governments, which could have significant and long-term effects on U.S. national security.
The Mighty Tuna
Tuna are pelagic (live in the open sea, in the vertical water column to a depth of no more than 6.8 miles) and highly migratory. The four market species that commercial fisheries target are skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye, and albacore. Of these, skipjack is by far the primary targeted species, accounting for 67 percent-1,634,617 metric tons-of the total WCPO tuna catch in 2008.2 The vast majority of commercially exploited tuna are caught in the so-called tuna belt, the region between latitude 5° N and 5° S.
Tuna are being harvested at record levels in the western and central Pacific. The total catch of the four market species there for 2008 is estimated at 2,426,195 mt, the largest annual catch ever recorded. Of that total, the purse-seine fishery accounted for an estimated 1,783,669 mt (74 percent of the total catch, and a record for this fishery), with other catch methods-pole-and-line, longline, and troll gear-accounting for the rest. The WCPO tuna catch in 2008 represented 81 percent of the total Pacific Ocean catch of 3,009,477 mt and 56 percent of the 2008 global tuna catch, estimated at 4,311,823 mt.3 Perhaps most telling, during every year since 2004, more than 2 million mt of tuna have been harvested; in no year prior to 2004 was that total reached.
The continued high yields of these waters, record high prices (the composite delivered price for skipjack tuna increased 42 percent between 2006 and 2007), and depleted tuna stock elsewhere in the world have caused displaced tuna fishing fleets from the Mediterranean, Indian, and eastern Pacific oceans to shift to the WCPO.4 Huge, modern purse-seine vessels flagged in the European Union and in Latin American countries increasingly have been observed fishing in the WCPO. All of this activity presents a significant threat not only to the viability of the targeted fish species, but also to the ability of coastal states in the region to prevent illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in waters in which they have sovereign resource rights.
Kiribati, Then and Now
The Republic of Kiribati embodies most of the characteristics common to the Pacific island nations in the western and central Pacific and will serve as a representative nation. It became an independent nation in 1979 and comprises the Phoenix and Line Island groups to which the United States once laid claim, along with the Gilbert Islands, which became a British protectorate in 1892. Each island chain is geographically remote from the others. Collectively, Kiribati extends more than 2,000 miles east to west and more than 1,000 miles north to south, straddling the equator. The three island chains contain 33 coral atolls, 21 of which are inhabited. The land area of the entire nation is 811 square kilometers. The total population is approximately 100,000.5
Despite its tiny land mass, Kiribati has declared, in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), a vast, 1.37 million-square-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Inside this zone Kiribati is entitled to exercise sovereign rights over all resources, both living and non-living; determine the allowable catch of the living resources in its EEZ; and take such measures, including boarding, inspection, arrest, and judicial proceedings, as may be necessary to protect its rights over its resources.
Other than fish, however, Kiribati has few natural resources and is one of the least developed Pacific island nations. With an annual gross domestic product (GDP) of $596.5 million in 2009, its economy ranks 208 out of the 227 nations recognized by the United States; most of the nations ranking behind Kiribati were also Pacific island nations.6 The annual per capita GDP in 2009 was $6,100. According to the Asia Development Bank, whose declared mission is to reduce poverty and improve the standard of living in Asia and the Pacific, fishing and related activities account for 21.5 percent of Kiribati's GDP (up from an estimate of 11.78 percent in 1999).7 The Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission estimates the contribution of capture fisheries to Kiribati's GDP to be 57.7 percent.8 The commission calls the fishing industry fundamental to the Asia-Pacific region "in terms of food security, revenue generation, and employment," and describes fisheries income as playing a "critical role" in the national economies of small island developing states. The main income most Pacific island nations receive from their tuna fisheries takes the form of fishing license and access fees for foreign fleets to operate in their EEZs.9 According to the State Department, these licenses generate annual revenue worth $20 million to $35 million in Kiribati.10
Most of the Pacific Island nations have signed the UNCLOS III treaty, which is central to establishing rights and obligations, including over resources, in the world's oceans. Although the United States has not ratified the treaty, it considers many of its provisions, including those relating to the EEZ regime, so widely accepted as to be binding customary international law. The treaty permits a coastal nation to declare an EEZ up to 200 nautical miles from its baseline (which is typically the low-water level), and most PINs have declared 200 nautical-mile EEZs. As zones can be declared around any island capable of sustaining human habitation, and as there are thousands of islands in the WCPO that can be characterized as such, vast ocean areas fall within the Pacific Island nations' EEZs. Coastal states have sovereign rights over the resources, including fish, in these zones. Waters seaward of EEZs are considered to be high seas. The resources of the high seas are owned by no nation, and can, with some limitations, be freely harvested.
UNCLOS III requires coastal states to ensure, through proper conservation and management, that the resources in their EEZs are not overexploited. The 1995 United Nations Fish Stock Agreement, to which most Pacific Island nations also are parties, details minimum international standards for conserving and managing highly migratory fish stocks; ensures that measures taken to conserve and manage the stocks are compatible and coherent; and establishes effective mechanisms for complying with and enforcing the measures.11 The agreement also led to the formation of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Council in 2004.
The council comprises 25 member states, including the United States, seven participating territories, and five cooperating non-member states. Coastal states and nations that fish in the western and central Pacific meet to discuss issues of sustainability "and to implement and enforce conservation and management measures through effective monitoring, control and surveillance."12 The council has adopted tough conservation and management measures. They now require a vessel monitoring system on all ships fishing for migratory fish on the high seas in the area; all fishing vessels must carry an observer to monitor catch and degree of compliance with conservation and management measures; and preservation measures must be taken to protect target species through catch limits and gear restrictions.
Although the tuna fishery represents a significant percentage of the Pacific island nations' GDP, and despite their "ownership" of the vast resources in their EEZs, most are ill-equipped to prevent vessels from engaging in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in their zones.
In most cases, their maritime assets consist of a patrol boat or boats provided to them by Australia in the late-1980s to mid-1990s. Known as the Pacific Patrol Boat Project, this initiative was designed to provide island nations that possessed insufficient or no patrol resources with lightly-armed vessels that could conduct search-and-rescue, surveillance and interdiction patrols, and protect the fishery. The program ultimately delivered 22 vessels with a range of 2,500 nautical miles at 12 knots, and sprint capabilities of 20 knots, well-suited, among other things, for EEZ patrols. However, Kiribati has only one boat to patrol its 1.37 million-square-mile zone. These boats, many of which have already reached the end of their design lives, are frequently inoperative due to maintenance issues, or lack of crew or fuel. Be-cause of these limitations, the State Department estimates that Kiribati alone probably loses millions of dollars per year from unauthorized fishing in its EEZ.13 This is almost certainly a phenomenon that extends to other Pacific island nations.14
Weak Fishery Threatens U.S. Security
The depleted fishing stocks elsewhere in the world, the profitable tuna fishery in the western and central Pacific Ocean, and the Pacific island nations' weak enforcement of their fisheries laws have prompted a modern-day gold rush by international fishing fleets. If trends continue, the region's tuna fishery will collapse. The resulting instability would include increased poverty, both at the individual and governmental levels; the pursuit of alternate sources of income, both legal and illegal; and a possible lapse into lawlessness and anarchy, which could lead to governmental collapse. Such a situation invites maritime terrorists, weapons and narcotics traffickers, illegal fishers, and human smugglers, all well-suited to exploit unstable environments.15
Somalia presents a sobering example of the dangers of neglect, resource theft, and the absence of effective governance. Its problems with piracy and support of terrorist organizations have been attributed to "poverty, lack of employment, environmental hardship, pitifully low incomes, reduction of pastoralist and maritime resources due to drought and illegal fishing, and a volatile security and political situation."16 Somali pirates principally operate from three remote former fishing communities. According to a July 2005 report from the United Kingdom Department for International Development, "the absence of coastal security authorities in Somalia has allowed illegal international fishing and maritime dumping to occur in Somali waters, which in turn has undermined the economic prospects of some Somalis and may be providing economic or political motivation to some groups engaged in piracy."17 The report claims that the absence of a functioning government in Somalia remains the "single greatest challenge" to combating lawlessness, including piracy and support of terrorist organizations, in the region.
The collapse of the western and central Pacific tuna fishery could lead to a parallel situation. The strategic importance of the region was recognized both by Japan, which occupied these Pacific islands during World War II, and the United States, which expended enormous amounts of blood and treasure to wrest them from Japanese control. The region is of no less strategic importance to America today. Vessels carrying goods between the United States and its two largest maritime trading partners, China and Japan, routinely transit these waters. China and North Korea are actively expanding their military capabilities in the region, China primarily through investments in national infrastructure projects. Terrorist organizations could exploit a political vacuum to launch an attack on the United States or its Pacific possessions. Obviously, we have an interest in maintaining stability and influence in the region, which can only occur if its principle natural resource and source of revenue, the tuna fishery, is sustained.
Winning the Fight for Fish
The United States should develop and promote a framework to ensure that the mutually supporting goals of food-supply security and regional stability are met. The framework should include a coordinated, long-term strategy to address the significance of the region to America and the world; a plan to strengthen law-enforcement regimes that deliver persistent presence and improved maritime situational awareness to counter-threats to national sovereignty; and a multilateral approach to improve Pacific island nations' capacity to promote stability and prosperity.
Develop a WCPO strategy. As we have done through National Security Presidential Directive 66 for Arctic Region Policy, we need to develop a comprehensive strategy for the WCPO. While the United States has several national policies and strategies that touch on our interests there, these were not created and are not being administered as part of a strategic plan for engagement with the region.
Make "persistent presence" and "maritime situational awareness" a reality. The United States must take the lead to help Pacific island nations enforce their rights over their fisheries. It is imperative that developed nations with interests in the region, including France, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States, collaborate on a successor to the Pacific Patrol Boat program and expand programs that make surface assets and aircraft available to Pacific island nations to carry their law-enforcement personnel to patrol their EEZs. The United States should use Department of Defense assets to support the Coast Guard's patrol and surveillance efforts in its own EEZs in the Pacific and help Pacific island nations and fisheries councils enforce fisheries laws and regulations. Finally, the charter of Joint Interagency Task Force West should be broadened to allow it to serve as the operational component to combat all transnational threats in the region, not just those that are drug related. Alternatively, a task force should be created to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in the region.
Strengthen self-governance and law enforcement among Pacific island nations. The United States provides monetary assistance to these nations through a variety of charters and treaties. Many rely on infusions of foreign aid. Other nations recognize this fact and avidly attempt to exploit it to enhance their own interests (for example, Iran recently provided funds to 25 Solomon Islands students to attend medical school in Cuba). To ensure stability and maintain influence in the region, we must continue to provide strategic aid. Our strategy must include capacity-building and a coordinated program of training, education, and technical support to local law-enforcement agencies. We must remain extensively involved in the fisheries council to manage the fishery and ensure its sustainability.
America can either wait for the struggle in the western and central Pacific Ocean for fishing rights to escalate and threaten the region's stability-and our own national security-or we can begin to develop a comprehensive strategy for this remote, yet vast and essential, area of the planet. The tuna fishery is critical to the well-being of the region, and the United States must develop an overarching, strategic plan for engagement with the Pacific Island nations in the region to protect the resource and our own national security.
2. "Overview of tuna fisheries in the western and central Pacific Ocean, including economic conditions," 11-22 August 2008, WCPFC-SC4-2008/GN WP-1.
3. Summary Report of the WCPFC Scientific Committee, Fifth Regular Session, Port Vila, Vanuatu, 10-21 August 2009.
4. Coast Guard Pacific Area intelligence analysis: Illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, 23 April 2008, pp. 2, 14.
5. U.S. Department of State website, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/1836.htm.
9. "Tuna: Pacific's Most Valuable Asset," Greenpeace fact sheet revised December 2007.
10. Ibid., note 10.
14. As succinctly stated in the Coast Guard intelligence analysis (see note 4), "The virtual absence of maritime enforcement capabilities for Pacific Island nations emboldens vessels to violate national boundaries and exceed quotas. The near certitude that illegal activity will not be detected, and the greater profit that can be realized, means that the benefits far outstrip the costs, leaving no financial incentive to fish responsibly."
15. "Piracy off the Horn of Africa," Congressional Research Service, 28 September 2009, p. 7.
16. International Expert Group on Piracy off the Somali Coast, Final Report: Workshop commissioned by the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations to Somalia Ambassador Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, 10-12 November 2008, Nairobi, Kenya.
17. A July 2005 report from the United Kingdom Department for International Development estimated that Somalia lost $100 million to illegal tuna and shrimp fishing in the country's EEZ in 2003-2004.