Why are we considering setting up a Ministry of Fisheries, Oceans and Maritime Affairs?

Change is inevitable within a nation. It is also important that citizens question why changes are taking place. Citizens have a civic right – and duty – to hold leaders accountable for their actions. Clarity and transparency are necessary to progressively move a nation forward. 


In recent developments, the Vanuatu Government has announced their intent to dismantle the Ministry of Justice and Community Services and replace it with a Ministry of Fisheries, Oceans and Maritime Affairs (to be referred hereafter in the article as Ministry of Oceans). 


There are, no doubt, various perspectives on this proposed change. One is that it could benefit Vanuatu by creating a new stream of revenue and potential job opportunities. In fact, the Government previously provided this as a justification, stating that this proposed new Ministry of Oceans would boost the economy and empower Vanuatu’s citizens. The Director General of the Office of the Prime Minister has suggested that there is a need for a stand-alone Ministry of Oceans given Vanuatu’s very large Exclusive Economic Zone of more than 600,000 square kilometres. The idea is that in comparison to Vanuatu’s more limited land resources, this large ocean territory would allow Vanuatu to extract and maximize the benefits from the ocean.


The key questions are how exactly the economy would be boosted by this proposed change, and why these efforts could not be aligned under an existing Ministry. For example, Vanuatu’s Fisheries Department, under the Ministry of Agriculture, currently carries out several of the functions that a Ministry of Oceans might seek to accomplish. Beyond overseeing projects relating to the tuna fishery and aquaculture development, the Department also deals with policies and regulations relating to ocean governance. These include Vanuatu’s National Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, and the Vanuatu Monitoring, Control, Surveillance and Inspection Plan that focuses, among other things, on monitoring fishing vessels within Vanuatu’s Exclusive Economic Zones. 


Across the globe, South Korea and Canada – both of which have a significantly larger economic base than Vanuatu – are countries that have dedicated bodies relating to ocean governance (in the case of Canada, this is combined with fisheries under Fisheries and Oceans Canada). These kinds of government bodies ensure that ocean governance is a key component of political life, and that impacts on fisheries and oceans are considered when a range of government decisions are made. In Vanuatu, however, this work is closely aligned with what the Fisheries Department and the Government of Vanuatu itself already promote. For example, Vanuatu signed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1999. This cutting-edge international agreement is aimed at conserving marine resources, monitoring activities within state waters and regulating the usage and preservation of marine resources. Vanuatu is also part of the Pacific Parliamentarians’ Alliance on Deepsea Mining that advocates to safeguard the Pacific Ocean and protect marine and deepsea resources.


An alternative viewpoint on the rationale for establishing a Ministry of Oceans at the expense of the Ministry of Justice and Community Services suggests other motivations. According to some Government sources a key reason for the proposed establishment of a Ministry of Oceans is based purely on the current Government’s coalition arrangements and their broader intentions. Without the various bodies and functions of a unified Ministry of Justice and Community Services to uphold laws and other legislative matters not covered by the mandates of other Ministries, would this create a lack of accountability? Would there even be a safety-net in place to protect our natural resources and prevent destructive deep-sea mining for example? The Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office has also stated that it is, in fact, part of the Government’s longer term plans to proceed with controversial deep sea mining in the future. 


During his final opening speech to Parliament’s First Ordinary Session of 2022, Vanuatu’s outgoing president, His Excellency Obed Moses Tallis, encouraged the government to invest more into ‘vibrant industries including agriculture, [and] fisheries and to use the natural resources of the land and sea’. He emphasised these areas particularly given the threats of climate change and the volatility of the tourism sector. He also followed this with comments aimed directly at the proposed dissolution of the Ministry of Justice and Community Services. According to the President, “The Judiciary of Vanuatu under the leadership of the Chief Justice has played a big role in the stability, growth and progress of the nation, given its uniquely independent standing”. He urged the Government to reconsider its decision to dismantle the country’s Ministry of Justice and Community Services, and to recognise the importance of an independent judiciary in providing a basis for policing and justice services, even warning against the danger of sliding into “dictatorial” practices. It is up to each of us as citizens to question these decisions of the government, to seek more information, and to weigh the relative merits of all paths. 


Press Release HERE

Article 2 HERE