Pacific Island nation shuts fishery to protect tuna

BY William Brangham  June 16, 2014 at 5:25 PM EST
Because of high demand for tune, worldwide stocks of the popular fish are dwindling.  Photo by Flickr user Danny Hope

Due to the high demand for tuna, worldwide stocks of the popular fish are dwindling. Photo by Flickr user Danny Hope

President Anote Tong of the tiny Pacific Island nation of Kiribati announced Monday the closure of a vast fishing ground known as the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. The area, which spans over 150,000 square miles of ocean — roughly the size of California — will become one of the world’s largest marine sanctuaries for tuna and other endangered species.

In large part due to overfishing to feed the global appetite for tuna, worldwide stocks are in a dramatic decline. While Kiribati’s protected area covers just a small part of the Pacific where tuna migrate over the course of their lifespan, President Tong hopes his nation’s step will encourage others to follow suit. More than 4 million metric tons of tuna are caught annually by tens of thousands of vessels worldwide.

Tong made his announcement this morning at the State Department’s two-day “Our Ocean” conference, where political leaders, ocean scientists and industry officials are gathering in Washington to address various threats to ocean health including overfishing, climate change and pollution.

“Action is our obligation for our children and our children’s children,” Tong said. “The closure of the Phoenix Island Protected Area will have a major contribution for regeneration of tuna stocks, not only for us but for our global community, and for generations to come.”

Secretary of State John Kerry introduced President Tong and acknowledged that while there are many international crises to attend to, it was important to focus on the health of the world’s oceans because the “survival of the planet is at stake.”

Watch for NewsHour’s interview with President Tong later this week.