REGIONAL offshore and inshore fisheries are becoming increasingly threatened by over-fishing.
But if leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group work together, they can reverse this trend and ensure Melanesia has thriving communities and sustainable national economies supported by healthy fisheries.
This was the message from a group of conservation organisations to Prime Ministers, Foreign Affairs Ministers and senior government officials attending the week-long MSG leaders summit in Suva.
A statement from the Roundtable for Nature Conservation in the Pacific Islands ù comprising Greenpeace, SeaWeb, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the University of the South Pacific (USP) ù stated that Melanesia was blessed with natural resources.
IUCN Oceania director Taholo Kami said that was recognised globally for its impressive biodiversity and the ecological services it provided.
"But that wealth of natural resources is attracting increased commercial interest, both regionally and globally," Mr Kami said.
Head of WWF's South Pacific Program Kesaia Tabunakawai said the MSG was in a powerful position to influence both national and regional processes for sustainable fisheries and responsible oceans governance through equitable engagement across the Asia Pacific region.
"The MSG must take on a strong leadership role in the stewardship of the Pacific Ocean through effective national level action as well as participation in regional initiative such as the parties to the Nauru Agreement, Coral Triangle, Oceanscape and other existing initiatives," Ms Tabunakawai said.
The statement said that MSG leaders were urged to consider a shared vision and roadmap for sustainable and equitable offshore fisheries and integrated oceans governance as part of a blue economy.
"With the global fishing industry in particular, turning their attention to the Pacific Ocean, there is an urgent need for Pacific Island countries to tighten up on their management of fisheries resources in a way that guarantees more benefits for their domestic economies and to support local fishing industries for food security and the sustainable livelihoods of the people of Melanesia," the statement said.
Solutions presented for consideration to the MSG ministers included: incorporating more balanced management approaches into national fisheries plans, such as eco-system-based fisheries management, voluntary eco-certification schemes and pursuing multilateral approaches to access arrangements in order to ensure maximum returns across the board as a negotiating bloc.
Conservation groups were also urged for increased coordination among government departments in MSG countries to ensure a holistic approach to marine resources governance covering the territorial seas and exclusive economic zones of each MSG member state and better control of licences and access to fish stocks within Melanesian waters.