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WATER WORLD
Obama highlights environment on Pacific atoll
By Andrew BEATTY
Midway Island, United States (AFP) Sept 2, 2016


Pacific tuna meet fails to agree on cutbacks
Tokyo (AFP) Sept 2, 2016 - Pacific island states and countries failed on Friday to strike a deal to protect shrinking supplies of tuna and adopt cutbacks following a regional conference, officials said, sparking condemnation from conservationists.

The Pacific Ocean is the world's largest tuna fishing ground, accounting for almost 60 percent of the global catch.

But supplies are dwindling and conservationists say urgent action is needed to ensure populations remain viable.

The 10 participants "could not reach an agreement" on proposed regulation after five days of talks at the Northern Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) annual conference, Japan's Fisheries Agency said in a statement.

The partipants, which include Japan, China, the United States, Fiji, Vanuatu, Canada, South Korea, the Philippines, the Cook islands and Taiwan, agreed to the conference in the Japanese city of Fukuoka after sharp declines in bluefin tuna brood stock last year.

Japan, which consumes roughly 70 percent of the global bluefin tuna haul, has suggested introducing cutbacks if stocks drop for three consecutive years.

But the Japanese proposal was opposed by other participants at the meeting, including the US, that want tougher measures to protect the species, fisheries agency official Kazuya Fukaya told AFP.

Fukaya added that the issue will be discussed again at the committee's next annual meeting in South Korea.

Environmental groups expressed frustration over the stalemate, with Greenpeace calling it "extremely regrettable as the stock of Pacific bluefin tuna is in a state of emergency."

"Japan, the world's largest consumer of bluefin tuna, bears the responsibility to strengthen domestic rules (on fishing)," Greenpeace said.

The conservation group has proposed an immediate two-year moratorium on all commercial fishing.

"The latest stock assessment for Pacific bluefin, released in 2016, found that the population has been heavily depleted to just 2.6 percent of its historic unfished size by nearly a century of overfishing," Greenpeace said in its proposal.

Conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature has recommended the ten countries introduce a catch limit and adopt a long-term bluefin tuna recovery plan.

President Barack Obama went off the beaten track Thursday -- way off -- to a newly expanded marine reserve on an atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, part of an effort to polish his environmental legacy.

Obama flew three hours west of his native Honolulu to Midway Atoll, on the far northwestern tip of the Hawaiian island chain.

The atoll is situated at the heart of Papahanaumokuakea, a vast Pacific marine reserve given protected status by then-president George W. Bush in 2006.

Obama recently quadrupled its size to make it the world's largest marine reserve, home to 7,000 marine species, including many endangered birds as well as the Hawaiian monk seal and black coral, which can live for 4,500 years.

"This is going to be a precious resource for generations to come," Obama told reporters on Midway's Turtle Beach.

All the atoll's 40 inhabitants -- mostly US Fish and Wildlife Service staff -- greeted him.

Until recently, the area was perhaps best known to military history buffs.

Seventy-four years ago, the Battle of Midway was a decisive naval fight in World War II that turned the tide of the war against Japan.

Obama praised the "courage and perseverance" of the vastly outnumbered American soldiers who repelled Japanese forces. "This is hallowed ground," he said.

Now, he added, protecting the vast ecosystem "allows us to study and research and understand our oceans better than we ever have before."

- 'Existential threat' -

The president was later set to go snorkeling with friends away from journalists, the White House said.

Since taking office in 2009, he has designated more protected areas than any of his predecessors using the Antiquities Act, signed in 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt, who established the first national monuments.

For the outgoing president, the visit is part of an eight-year effort to put the environment and tackling climate change higher on the political agenda.

Scientists would be able to undertake "critically important" study of climate change in the marine reserve, he said.

Although Bush created Papahanaumokuakea, he also earned international scorn by rejecting the global climate deal reached at Kyoto.

Obama, in contrast, has led the charge to secure the recently struck Paris climate agreement.

"Rising temperatures and sea levels pose an existential threat to your countries," he said in Honolulu earlier to representatives of Pacific island nations at the World Conservation Congress, a major conference of thousands of delegates, including heads of state, scientists and policy makers.

"And while some members of the US Congress still seem to be debating whether climate change is real or not, many of you are already planning for new places for your people to live," he added.

Asked on Midway whether he would focus on tackling climate change as part of his work after he leaves office in January, Obama said he may try to influence Republican politicians who deny the phenomenon.

"This is something that all of us are going to have to tackle and maybe I get a little more of a hearing if I'm not occupying a political office," he said.

After his Hawaii visit, Obama is set to attend a G20 meeting in China, where he is expected to announce the joint formal joining of the Paris climate accord with President Xi Jinping.


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