‘Fisheries Observer’ victory at Tuna Commission: The Pacific’s ‘kapa haka’ moment!
Endorsing the ‘observer safety measure’ is a huge step symbolically for the Tuna Commission. It’s Pacific countries performing the Haka in front of DWFNs – letting them know they wont be pushed around anymore on issues important to them.
Charlie Lasisi, PNG; Wesley Talia, PNG; Larry Gavin, PNG; Usaia Masibalavu, Fiji; Keith Davis, USA – Fisheries Observers who all gave their lives in support and in protection of the Pacific’s tuna fisheries industry.
Five sons, fathers, uncles, husbands whose deaths are still under investigation, yet in the industry are those who openly believe, and say, the men were murdered.
“In Charlie Lasisi’s case there were six Filipino people, crew members who were indicted,” Mr Bubba Cook of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told media on the final day of the Tuna Commission meeting held in Fiji earlier this month.
“[But] after a couple of hearings they were subsequently released and sent home. The best I can say is that the assumption was that Charlie was murdered and I am not afraid to say that all the evidence that I have seen points that way.”
There are similar accounts relating to Wesley, Larry, Usaia and Keith (a close personal friend of Mr Cook), that point firmly in the direction of Bubba’s statement.
For six years, Bubba Cook and Pacific nations have fought a fruitless battle for better conditions and safety measures for Observers, and the wider tuna fishery in general.
It is why emotions ran high at the plenary session as another year seemed destined for the same meaningless end.
Bubba Cook took the floor on the fifth and final day and had this to say aimed at the Japanese delegation blocking the passage of the Observer Safety Measure.
“We’ve heard a lot about ‘domestic restraints’ this week. Prove it, make evidence available. Provide facts, show us the laws,” he demanded.
“Don’t make blind assertions, it wastes the time of everyone here,” he paused, then added “I am sorry for being angry — but this is about people.”
It is this tragic injustice dealt to many but the ultimate cost of inaction borne by five men that is at the heart of what will be remembered most about the 2016 Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting, the long title abbreviated to Tuna Commission.
It’s the reason why memories and recall will not be about the ‘Observer Safety Measure’ that was finally endorsed after six years of trying. A measure that would provide better protection for Observers working at the coalface – reporting activities and recording baseline data that goes on board fishing vessels at sea – a dangerous and lonely task that is of paramount importance to managing, conserving and protecting the fish stocks in the world’s largest fishery.
The symbolism represented by the five men who lost their lives that the 2016 Tuna Commission in Fiji will be remembered for: the contrasting perspectives on life by the two factions that dominate the Western Central Pacific Ocean – the Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFN), and Pacific countries that own the majority of the resource who finally woke-up to the power they possess after 14 years of self-doubt and frustrations.
Complex as these negotiations are, there is a disturbing simplicity to the frustrations. That year after year, Pacific nations are left to ponder ‘why’ the very reasons the Commission exists – to develop management rules for fisheries that will ensure we have tuna for tomorrow – seem to be ignored.
The simple fact is the Commission’s intent seems to be curving askew of its intended impact.
One can read through all 13 annual session reports and see between the politely deferred texts the West’s neo-liberal system neatly converging money, business, trade and power into the hands of the powerful few. These values yield a lifestyle perspective that more oft than not prizes commodities many times over the value of a human life, in a context where coercion and centuries of colonisation created rules and legal instruments heavily in their favour to take, in broad daylight, assets and resources that are not theirs.
While for all its pace-setting progressiveness, the Tuna Commission is still very new, beset with all the energy but hugely disadvantaged by the inexperience of youth in its largest bloc, the Pacific small islands developing states (SIDS) where the eldest, Samoa, at only 54 years old lack the westernized institutional infrastructure for trade, commerce and decision-making that conspire to undermine their rightful claim to ownership and an equitable share of their resource.
In 2015, Pacific SIDS endorsed a Regional Roadmap to ensure the world is put on notice; that Pacific states are on track, to keep in this region, a fairer slice of the economic benefits from its tuna fishery. But that visionary goal is itself mired on a treadmill powered by a foreign system that socio-cultural researchers and academics say promotes fragmentation and inequality, segregates ordinary citizens, leaving many impoverished and exploited, while creating a rich and powerful elite whose lavish lifestyles are perpetuated not from their tuna riches, but commissions from their distant masters.
AWAKENING GIANT: HOW THE OBSERVER MEASURE WAS WON
This is why the endorsement of the Observer Safety Measure is the undisputed highlight of the 13th Tuna Commission meeting for Pacific SIDS, and the many environmental advocates who have been fighting hard for measures to sustainably manage the biodiversity of the Pacific fishery as its impacts affect the well-being of global ecosystems.
Developments that came to a head at the Fiji summit forced Pacific countries to look inwards at the power garnered through their solidarity, and the realisation that they can, independently, forge their own future.
It woke them up, that by influencing the first ever ‘measure’ the Commission would take to a vote, it was okay for them to enforce the rules if consensus doesn’t fit the future of their fisheries, or the regional roadmap their leaders approved as the best way forward for them. This ‘awakening’ though, is a small step to an arduous and long journey ahead. But ibyn physically taking the step, they have acquired a new positive experience to build upon and grow the confidence to take more steps towards the desired destination.
“I’m glad that we got it [Observer Safety Measure approved]. That we now have the protections that have been needed for the Observers for a long time,” Bubba Cook told Pacific editors when the Japanese delegation finally reneged and voted in favour of the measure proposed by the United States.
A result that looked impossible as negotiators headed into the final day of the summit.
From the Observer Safety committee all nighter session on the fourth day that ended two minutes before midnight; through the full plenary session well into the evening of the fifth and final day, the Japanese delegation were staunch in their opposition. To pass requires consensus, something that has not happened on this measure for the past six years.
In desperation, the only other option would be to call for a vote – something that hasn’t been done for a ‘Management Measure’ since the Commission was established in June 2004.
But Pacific countries would no longer be passive and fragmented. They, Pacific SIDS plus Australia and New Zealand made their intentions clear that they will force the Commission into a vote if the Japanese continue to block the US proposal.
This was significant and historical. This was their kapa haka moment.
It was a clear that the ‘solidarity’ approach successfully employed by Pacific nations in negotiating the US Treaty was about to be expanded and actioned beyond that event. There was confidence on the extent and scope of their newfound power.
THE INFLUENCE OF RHEA MOSS-CHRISTIAN
Unbeknown to the Pacific bloc, there was one other development that would work in their favour.
It was the new and innovative negotiations management tool introduced for the first time to the Tuna Commission by Chair, Ms Rhea Moss-Christian. A tool that would end up enhancing the voice, confidence and influence of Pacific parties.
It was not strategic or planned, it was a matter of timing – some say it was divine intervention.
The Chair’s new tool had a familiar look to it. Essentially it aimed to isolate difficult issues, that instead of discussing these in the panorama of plenary, they were parcelled for debate by a small committee containing the relevant players with the aim of working towards consensus. The committee structure and dynamics sounded similar to the ‘indaba’ concept employed by the French to successfully negotiate the endorsement of the Paris Agreement by 195 countries in December 2015.
Here, the Paris and Fiji committee goals were the same – that each party would voice their opinions and state their ‘red lines’, positions they don’t want to cross. At the same time, while telling others their red lines, they are encouraged to provide solutions to find common grounds in order to move forward collectively.
A day before the Commission meeting, Ms Moss-Christian explained the general concept to the Pacific Editors Dialogue group and with it, her hopes for success.
“The reality is progress often comes in very small steps; incremental steps and those incremental steps, even if they are small, are still really valuable, especially for giving the Commission a base to move forward,” she explained.
“We [Tuna Commission] have traditionally been dealing with very polarised views among stakeholders and that polarisation has not resulted in big progress but if members are willing to accept small steps as valuable progress, then in that light, the Commission has actually come a long way.
“We all agree on where we are and where we need to be. It’s just how we get there and everyone comes with a willingness to work with each other and to move the issues forward.
“And my expectations for [this] week are that we will take some important steps, no matter how small they are but that these will form the basis for continued progress into the future.”
Her words were prophetic. Her new concept quickly gained favour amongst members. The CEO for the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), Mr Ludwig Kumoru was especially enthused.
“In the past we used to have a one-day workshop before the main meeting. But what happens is when we go into the [main Commission] meeting it is all dominated by the DWFN. They would discuss what to do as if we don’t exist,” Mr Kumoru told a media briefing.
“But by breaking down into small groups, it gave us the opportunity to really sit down with them and have our views heard and bring up our ideas. So I think that is good and building up for next year is very good progress.”
The combination of Pacific solidarity and small committee groups instigated by Ms Moss-Christian, was powerful enough to eventually turn and break Japanese resistance to support the US proposal.
As the drama unfolded and the hard-fought victory celebrated, it quickly dawned on many that the win was so much more.
SYMBOLISM AND KAPA HAKA MOMENT
“This is a huge accomplishment to get it across the finishing line,” Bubba Cook told media.
“A lot of credit needs to go to the US delegation and to the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) [member countries] particularly to take the unprecedented step of demanding a vote on the issue.
“But I’m hopeful that this wasn’t just about the Observer Safety issue. That this is bigger,” said Bubba.
“Not only is this important to the Observers who serve in the WCP but this is a precedent that should be applied in all Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO), the InterAmerican Tropical Tuna Commission; the International Convention on the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna; the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission.
“They should all be taking note of the endorsement of this important measure because it lays the foundation for all of those other RFMO to implement their own.
“We’ve shown that it can be done and that’s hugely important and represents a huge step forward.”
Then he added with emphasis, “I think it’s a huge step symbolically. That what Pacific countries [with Australia and New Zealand] have unequivocally done is perform the Haka in front of the DWFNs and let them know that they wont be pushed around on issues that are important to them.
“That’s a very very important symbolic step.”
When Ngāti Porou haka master Henare Teowai was asked to explain the haka he replied, “Kia kōrero te katoa o te tinana – the whole body should speak.”
And that is exactly what the Pacific bloc, as a body, did.
Yet the historic win is tinged with regret. And poignant that a young man raised in a Western society setting could see the tinge that’s always been visible through a Pacific communal lens.
“My only regret is that it took people dying to make this happen. And it should not have taken the pressure of going to a vote to get that measure passed,” cried Bubba.
“You would think that on issues of human health and safety that it would be a given. That it wouldn’t require negotiation, that it wouldn’t require coercion to get people to agree to the protection of people serving them.”
Tuna Commission 2016 would be remembered as the symbolic awakening of the Pacific bloc, a giant with powers to give future measures life.
Of those, like Bubba Cook, who voice and fight for the people and families who can’t, and the environment decimated by global man-made systems driven by greed, profit and power.
And of Charlie Lasisi, PNG; Wesley Talia, PNG; Larry Gavin, PNG; Usaia Masibalavu, Fiji; Keith Davis, USA – names intimately tied to the ‘haka’ that woke up the giant from daze and slumber.
Names remembered, chanted even, when the Pacific tuna story relives the ‘kapa haka’ moment.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: KAPA HAKA
New Zealand was the last place settled by Polynesians around 1300 CE. It gave rise to the Māori people whose traditional ‘Kapa Haka’ has become an internationally recognized symbol for New Zealand and polynesia.
The Māori word ‘kapa’ means to stand in a row or rank, and haka is a dance.
The term ‘kapa haka’ means a group or groups standing in rows to perform traditional Māori dances, accompanied by sung or chanted words. It is both an ancient and a living art form.
The world champion All Blacks Kapa o Pango is a prime example of a modern-day rendition that stays true and authentic to its ancient roots and spiritual construct.
Haka and social status
Traditionally, the haka was not merely a pastime but a custom of high social importance. A tribe’s reputation often rose or fell on its members’ ability to perform the haka. The leader had to be an expert, who influenced the performance of his team by the timing of voice and movement.
Haka: more than a war dance
There are many different types of haka, each appropriate for a different occasion. It provides a platform for its composer to sing someone’s praises, to welcome his guests, to open a new meeting house or dining hall, to pay his respects to the dead, to honour his ancestors, to teach his traditions to the succeeding generations.’
But what each has in common is the mauri (life force) that permeates every aspect of the art.
Haka draws on the performers’ spirits as well as their thoughts.
The ‘war’ haka
In the case of war dances, the very graphic postures and gestures used were intended to daunt, to psychologically intimidate the enemy.
There were two types of war haka – one performed without weapons, usually to express public or private feelings, known as the ‘haka taparahi’, and the war haka with weapons, the ‘peruperu’.
The ‘peruperu’ was traditionally performed before going into battle. It was to invoke Tumatauenga, the god of war, and warned the enemy of the fate awaiting him. It involved the use of pūkana (fierce and graphic facial expressions, eye bulging and grimaces), whētero (protruding tongues), grunts and cries, and the waving of war weapons.
When asked to explain the art of performing haka, the Ngāti Porou haka master Henare Teowai replied, ‘Kia kōrero te katoa o te tinana – the whole body should speak’.