Skip to main content

The Pacific Ocean: A Unifying Force for APEC Economies

By Mónica Rojas Noack Palm Springs, The United States | 21 February 2023

OFWG Chair

While APEC seeks to find common scientific bases to understand the ocean that unites members, it must also start to take concrete steps to craft policy and effect changes immediately.

The economic value of our oceans and coasts cannot be overstated. Healthy oceans and coasts are critical for food security, poverty eradication, sustainable and equitable economic growth, as well as preserving traditional culture and promoting trade in APEC.

The 21 APEC economies are linked by the Pacific Ocean, the largest ocean in the world, which is endowed with rich resources and from which the economies gain high value, including both economic and non-market benefits.

The Asia-Pacific region is the world's largest producer of fish according to the FAO. By weight, the region accounts for more than 50 percent of the world's catch of marine and river fish and 89 percent of global aquaculture. Eight of the top ten aquaculture producing economies in the world are in the Asia-Pacific, with inland fisheries accounting for 68 percent of total world inland fishery production.

Also watch: Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture Boosts Better Livelihoods, Food Security

The fisheries and aquaculture sectors significantly contribute to the food security, livelihoods and income of rural and coastal populations. Around 90 percent of fishers and fish farmers in the region are small scale, highlighting the impact of the sector at the local scale. About 93 percent of people working in aquaculture and fisheries worldwide are located in Asia.

While APEC is aware of the benefits, the forum is likewise aware of the dire predictions of financial and ecological disaster if it does not take heed of the dangers posed by illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, or IUU, or the pressing need for remedial action on marine plastic debris in the APEC region among others.

The Oceans and Fisheries Working Group (OFWG) supports APEC’s wider mission to foster sustainability and inclusion objectives. In 2019, we worked together to further two important roadmaps, the first on marine debris and the other on IUU fishing.

Oceans-related issues have raised their profile in the APEC process, and this is a positive development. Members are building upon this synergy and continuing to discover methods or processes that are of common benefit by sharing information globally. We especially recognize the input given by other international organizations that deal with these same issues and non-governmental organizations who also represent stakeholders who have common objectives.

For example, Chile approved the Municipal Ordinance Model, establishing collection and recovery goals and other obligations associated with containers and packaging. The economy is also the first APEC member to implement a certification after forging an agreement to implement and formalize waste management between fishing industry alliance, Alianza Latinoamericana para la Pesca Sustentable (ALPESCAS) and certification agency, Certpro. Notwithstanding work in this area, Chile continues its efforts to strengthen the inclusion of women following the La Serena roadmap and is working toward an intergovernmental negotiating committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution including the marine environment.

In Chinese Taipei, a marine debris recycling coalition has been established and the industrial chain of marine debris recycling has begun to take place. Recycled marine debris product labels were also launched. By 2022, 18 labels have been issued to enterprises for products using marine debris as raw materials. Further, the regulations for identification of fishing gears in gillnet fishery yielded a completion rate of 100 percent for identification of fishing gears with more than 5,200 boats as reported at the OFWG plenary during the First APEC Senior Officials' Meeting and Related Meetings in Palm Springs.

The Philippines made policy changes and launched a number of initiatives that align with the APEC Roadmap on Combatting Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. The economy developed the Philippine IUU Fishing Index and Threat (I-FIT) assessment tool and started the implementation of port state measures, catch documentation and traceability. It is also collaborating with domestic enforcement and non-enforcement agencies. To strengthen its public-private engagement, other than capacity building, the Philippines established the Malinis at Masaganang Karagatan—a campaign which adopts an incentive or recognition to encourage participation of local government units and fisherfolks to protect the municipal waters.

The WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies is a major step forward for ocean sustainability by prohibiting harmful fisheries subsidies. It is a very important milestone to combat IUU fishing that overlaps with the work of the OFWG. We have the same goal to share information and implement to contribute to IUU fishing combat.

We are willing to look deeper at identifying current fisheries subsidies related issues that APEC member economies are facing by holding an in-depth discussion on measures to tackle the matter. The OFWG may explore cross-fora collaboration with other organizations or groups in APEC that are also looking into this agreement to help economies better understand its requirements and also to advance implementation.

The theme, "Creating a Resilient and Sustainable Future for All," highlights the priorities that the United States, APEC 2023 host, has defined for this year which are focused on resilience, sustainability and inclusion. All of them relate in one way or another to the work that OFWG undertakes and are linked to the actions our group has taken to contribute to the implementation of the Aotearoa Plan of Action and the APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040.

Undoubtedly, the OFWG can actively contribute to advancing this year’s priorities, but also the vision of APEC in the coming years. We are not only continuing to implement the roadmaps on IUU fishing and marine debris but also starting the work on the new small-scale fisheries and aquaculture roadmap adopted in February 2022. Some members have already started the work related to this area.

For example, Thailand has begun issuing artisanal fishing licenses and improving data collection for this sector. It collaborated with Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center to jointly promote gender awareness raising in the value chain of small-scale fisheries and aquaculture in the region, developed a standard on sustainable small-scale fisheries to support and promote responsible fishing practices and established a standard on processing of traditional fishery products to promote safe and good quality local fishery processing. Apart from the standards, Thailand has also initiated new marketing channels for fishery products from stall holders available for both online and offline via the fisherman shops of the Department of Fisheries in all its 77 provinces. This is to help reduce the suffering of fisherfolks and aquaculture farmers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have several on-going and new projects to come, all of which address relevant topics related to sustainable growth—such as climate change, waste management, and protection of the marine resources and ecosystems—but also to other relevant topics such as inclusive growth by promoting the participation and empowerment of women, indigenous peoples, artisans and small business, among others. This will require greater commitment, stronger data and evidence and a considered approach to addressing structural barriers to equality, to be reflected in all working groups, including OFWG.

While we seek to find common scientific bases to understand the ocean that unites us, we must also start to take concrete steps to craft policy and effect changes immediately.

With the conclusion of the OFWG meetings this week, I am confident that our experience will carry forward the example for consensus building and effective policy formulation and program implementation.


Mónica Rojas Noack is the lead shepherd of APEC Oceans and Fisheries Group.

Subscribe to our news

Never miss the latest updates