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Where the Pacific meets the Artic

This week in Reykjavik, Iceland, Pacific fisheries and ocean experts took part in a two-day exchange to explore the similarities between these two extreme regions of the planet.

Cook Islands Prime Minister H.E. Henry Puna and Kiribati’s Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development (MFMRD) Hon. Tetabo Nakara led a delegation of 16 representatives from the Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, Marae Moana and the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

The inspiration for the exchange (11-12 October) came from former President of Iceland and Conservation International Distinguished Fellow Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and had three themes:

  • how a small nation (with a population of 144,000 people at the time) has become one of most advanced countries in the world (companies visited were all founded with just one small boat but have become global leaders in their industries)
  • how modern high-tech management of vessels and catch has completely revolutionised operations and transformed fisheries into a prosperous industry (eg, there is 100% use of fish, including for medical products)
  • how small island developing states (SIDS) can combine efforts to create an ‘ocean defense’ organisation (the EEZs of the 10 smallest SIDS is 20% larger than the combined EEZs of USA, Russia and China)

“Iceland’s progress has involved sacrifices – fishing boats lost, people drowned at sea, trade embargoes and retaliations – the road to prosperity for Iceland has not been a smooth ride,” says President Grímsson. “We were regarded as a developing country until the 1970s but we have grown from one of the poorest to one of the richest countries in the world in terms of income per capita because of the success of our of fishing industry. We have much we can share.”

Prime Minister Puna says he welcomes how much common ground there was between Pacific Island countries and Iceland – both are large ocean states with an extraordinary dependence on fisheries: “We may come from different oceans but we face the same challenges and hard choices, such as how do we best manage our fisheries so that we can feed our families, enrich our economies and defend ourselves against the intensifying effects of climate change.

Iceland’s path to sustainability is inspiring and innovative, and I am very grateful to the Iceland Government and the Arctic Circle Assembly for so openly sharing their knowledge and expertise.”

Hon. Minister Nakara says he is looking forward to bringing Icelandic experts to the region to share their extensive knowledge of fish processing and global fish markets, particularly in identifying possible new products based on skipjack tuna.

“Introducing more people in the Pacific to Iceland’s success story should help many Pacific Island countries appreciate that our best path to prosperity is better utilization of our tuna resource. It’s not about catching more, it’s about being smarter and developing high value products to sell.”

Conservation International, the Arctic Circle Assembly, the Government of Iceland, Conservation Equity, and the Emerson Collective sponsored the fisheries exchange which preceded the 2017 Arctic Circle Assembly (13-15 October).