30 years seems to be the limit for treaties! That is the impression we get with the recent news that the United States is withdrawing from the treaty that has allowed US fishing boats to fish for tuna in the Pacific. Of course, there is a strong possibility that the dispute will eventually get solved by the Forum Fisheries Agency working with its US counterpart and that there may be a downward revision to the US$89 million initially agreed for payment in 2016.
The Pacific has huge marine resources and while other nations can exploit our tuna stocks to earn hundreds of millions of dollars annually, there is also a compelling argument that marine resource owners should be more proactive in cashing in on their vast fishing waters. Unfortunately, my travels around the Pacific and the outlying islands of Fiji have shown that too often we have a smug sense of entitlement. We have this spiritually possessive view that God bequeathed us with these vast land and marine resources and it is our birthright to sit back and wait for all kind of goodwill payments and subsidies. Since we live off these payments, we do less work and become obese. The result is that in many areas of Fiji and the Pacific, people are satisfied consuming imported tinned fish and cheap processed foods. We have become a shadow of what our forefathers were. Now and then, we have well meaning people sailing around in boats purported to be of the type used by our forefathers eons ago. There is a perception that this is a romantic view of culture that plays into Western notions of Pacific people being idle, fun loving and promiscuous.
We need to get off our backsides and work hard to utilise our resources. The sad sight of people in many coastal areas walking unsteadily like dazed zombies from too much grog or beer and canned fatty foods should give way to fit people walking upright with pride just like our forefathers did. I have even come across places in Fiji where fishermen go out fishing but sell everything and buy cheap tinned foods. This kind of behavior should change because it increases incidences of NCDs.
One of the challenges of marine resource owners, for example, charging exorbitant amounts for goodwill payments to fishermen who wish to fish in their waters is that it artificially increases the price of fish and marine products. It is also illegal because the payments are not subject to a legal agreement and encroaches on public sector regulatory provisions. It also gives an unfortunate impression to young people that it is okay to sit back and live off the payments made by others to fish in their waters.
In many of the Pacific Islands I have visited and around Fiji, these people readily talk about God. There is the perception that it is not good to run fishing ventures which might lead to prosperity. We shouldn’t store the riches of this world as it will rot unto dust, they argue, and isn’t prosperity an American evangelical idea that is evil? they say contemptuously. I think our devotion to God through fasting and praying loudly and speaking in tongues and jumping and laughing in the spirit should continue unabated. However we should also realize that our bodies are the temple of God and it would just be nice if we can plant more locally grown foods and go out to catch fish and marine products to consume so that our bodies are healthy in a Godly way. Better still, resource owners can go a step further by going beyond subsistence living to developing small and micro fishing ventures and even developing fishing fleets. We could use the profits to build bigger churches, invest in education, send people on missions and support worthy social cause.
It is reported that the collapse of the fishing treaty has caused a “high level of frustration from Pacific nations where budgets are being skewered.’ My understanding is that there will eventually be some compromise and the treaty will move forward with a conservative amount offered to Pacific states.
The point of this article is that we should develop a culture of entrepreneurship (and not make the excuse that it is unChristian.). We should utilise our marine and land resources instead of relying on goodwill payments and subsidies of the kind paid by the US. We should go to a quiet place (perhaps the bathroom) to search our souls, cry out to God and seek spiritual rejuvenation to come out of our smugness and realize that hard work and the prosperity it brings are also good in a Godly way. .