French Polynesian new marine protected area and artisanal fishing zones could benefit people and nature

The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project on Friday, 11 February 2022 applauded French Polynesian President Édouard Fritch’s commitment to conserve roughly 1 million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) by creating a new large-scale marine protected area and establishing artisanal fishing zones around 118 islands in the South Pacific Ocean.

During the One Ocean Summit in Brest, France, President Fitch pledged to launch an effort to create a 500,000-square-kilometer (193,000 square miles) marine protected area in the southwestern area of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ)—a move long supported by local mayors and community members. In fact, President Fritch acknowledged the local proposal, calling it by the name Rāhui Nui, or “big rāhui”—a Tahitian reference to the traditional Polynesian practice of restricting access to an area or resource to conserve it.

President Fritch also announced that fishing would be limited to “traditional methods” in all coastal areas by the end of this year. According to the president, about 20% of commercial catch—all from longlining—currently comes from these areas. 

The waters around French Polynesia, a French overseas territory in the South Pacific Ocean, make up the world’s largest contiguous EEZ; the new fishing restrictions would cover about 10% of the EEZ. These healthy waters are home to 21 species of shark and an exceptional reef system that supports 176 corals and 1,024 known fish species.

The fishing measures announced by President Fritch could have significant conservation benefits, such as larger fish and increased fish populations, and enjoy the support of industry, which sees the restrictions as a way to better manage conflicts between industrial and artisanal fishermen.  

The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project has supported for nearly a decade the efforts to create effective marine protections in French Polynesia, working with governments, communities, and Indigenous groups, and providing financial support for research examining the economic and ecological impacts of the marine protections.

Tuanainai Narii, mayor of Rapa in the Austral Islands, said: “This is welcome news for our waters, people, and future, and it raises hope for the additional marine protections we need to maintain an abundant ocean for generations to come.”

Dona Bertarelli, co-chair of the Bertarelli Foundation and Patron of Nature for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said: “Firmly anchored in rāhui—a traditional practice of limiting access to an area or resource as a way to conserve—these new measures recognize the common good. This is a great win for these rich, healthy, and biodiverse waters and the communities that depend on them.”

Donatien Tanret, an officer with the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project who is based in French Polynesia, said: “The French Polynesian government and the people of the Austral Islands have taken an incredible step toward preserving their ocean and way of life. We look forward to continuing to work closely with the communities, fishermen, scientists, and government to help the people of the archipelago conserve the natural resources that have sustained them for centuries.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts and Dona Bertarelli joined forces in 2017 to create the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project, with the shared goal of establishing the first generation of ecologically significant, large, and effective marine protected areas (MPAs) around the world. Today, the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project also seeks to connect MPAs and help conserve key migratory species and entire marine ecosystems. These efforts build on more than a decade of work by Pew and the Bertarelli Foundation, led by Dona Bertarelli, to create large-scale highly or fully protected MPAs. Between them, they have helped to obtain designations to safeguard nearly 9 million square kilometers (3.5 million square miles) of ocean by working with communities, local leaders, philanthropic partners, Indigenous groups, government officials, and scientists. Dona Bertarelli is a philanthropist, investor, sportswoman, and strong advocate for ocean conservation. The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems, including the need for effective marine conservation.

This feature was originally published at PEW on 11 February 2022, reposted via PACNEWS.

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