The government of Kiribati, a collection of islands in the central Pacific, has announced it will open up one of the world’s largest marine protected areas to commercial fishing, citing economic benefits to its people. The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) spans 408,250 sq km (157,626 sq miles) – an area about the size of California – and was created in 2006 with the entire area declared a “no-take” zone in 2015, meaning that commercial fishing is forbidden. As a sovereign nation, Kiribati has the authority to decide on the future of PIPA
The office of the president of the Kiribati government confirmed it was opening the protected zone citing the huge economic cost to Kiribati, a developing nation, of the ban.
“Similar to any Government, our decisions, as we make them, put the livelihoods of our people at the fore and have been carefully considered and agreed to as a Government,” it said. “Our decision as a sovereign country and Government is people-centric and commensurate with holistic options for marine protection and management, economic diversification, sustainable tourism and fisheries, to promote the growth of Kiribati’s blue economy, and uplift the lives of all I-Kiribati.”
The Kiribati government said that when it established PIPA it was assured it would be able to recoup the revenues lost from fishing licences, which make up more than 70% of Kiribati’s total annual revenue, but that this had not eventuated. The government said years after PIPA’s inception it was not sufficient to meet the present need of the people of Kiribati and the country’s future development needs. The government said that since PIPA’s closure to commercial fishing, there had been an 8% decline in demand for fishing in Kiribati’s EEZ translating to a loss in revenue of up to USD$146m from 2015 to the present.