Defending our rights and our fish: Camille Movick-Inatio

FFA’s Moana Voices series on women shaping the future of oceanic fisheries is edited, researched and produced by Lisa Williams. This interview for Moana Voices 2021 edition is with Camille Movick-Inatio, of Federated States of Micronesia, who at the time worked as a VDS administrator at NORMA. The interview is published here to mark International Women’s Day.

Untitled 1“There’s nothing more rewarding and exciting for me than that moment where people commit their countries to a common goal. Putting aside their differences so that, as a region, we can progress makes me happy and proud because that’s almost impossible in other regions. And that’s what makes us people in the Pacific unique. We put our people first, and we may not always agree, but we will always look after one another.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but my first job at the FSM Department of Resources and Development shaped me for the step into Oceans and Fish. I was the assistant secretary of the Trade and Investment Division. We were doing quite a lot of trade negotiations with the European Union (EU) for fisheries market access. From those access issues and trade talks, I began to glimpse an entirely different world around the tuna question, especially around conservation and management rules of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), which has its headquarters in Pohnpei.

In my resources and development work, the focus was primarily on being able to export our fish to the EU market, not so much on the conservation and preservation of the stock. My NORMA [National Oceanic Resource Management Authority] role has brought in that extra layer of ensuring you make the best of the economic opportunities now, while ensuring you do have something to export in the future – so it’s made me realise the journeys in fisheries work involve a lot more than fishing.

At meetings like the WCPFC sessions, much of why we are here is around the conservation aspect of it. And in spaces like this you come to realise just how important fisheries is, not just to FSM but to the entire

Pacific region. Perhaps Papua New Guinea is an exception with all its other resources, and Fiji to some extent with its tourism lead on the rest of the Pacific. But for the rest of the small island, large ocean developing states, that’s our bread and butter right there. If you’re going to talk about trade, our fish is perhaps the only commodity most of us can trade.

So, throughout my career so far, the significance of fisheries was and remains that ongoing need to generate revenue to sustain economies. It’s an attractive option for those who can see that it’s a career choice where there’s so much going on and a lot of range when it comes to choices.

Even from the trade corner, I can see the support and priorities when it comes to budget for fisheries compared to other sectors, simply because it’s an area that generates so much revenue back. It’s what made me decide to move into this field; to see how much I can do to ensure this resource, which we greatly depend on, continues to feed our economy in the future.

My role as the VDS [Vessel Day Scheme] Administrator is to ensure vessels fishing in our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) are within their reported vessel day allocations. I monitor those fishing under the FSM arrangement in the same way, monitoring activities to ensure the proper trades, processing and purchasing of vessel days are managed.

On the economics side, I provide analysis and advice to the board and management, presenting options for the best economic returns from our fishery. While we are keen to see domestic fleets benefit from preferential arrangements to support domestic development, at the same time there is substantial foregone revenue to the government from these preferential arrangements, funds that could support our hospitals, schools, etc., so we need to ensure that whatever preferences, or concessions, anyone is given, generate greater economic returns back to FSM. Maximising fisheries access revenues is important, especially with demand for fishing in our EEZ high, but domestic or onshore investments are equally important, too, because they provide additional economic benefits in the form of local employment, tax revenues, etc.

It’s fascinating doing assessments and working on scenarios informed by the data, or whatever information we have at hand. Are contributions from those given concessions proving their value? How would proposed WCPFC measures impact on FSM? What would be the financial or economic impacts to our country? How do the measures impact at the PNA level? At the WCPFC level? So many questions, so many lives affected, it’s a big part of the work.

A big part of my move into fisheries has been the influence of my father, James Movick. He’s basically lived and breathed fisheries most of his life. He’s done so much not just for FSM, but also for the region, and looking at what he’s been able to do, I would love to continue that legacy. My work in fisheries and his own experiences make for some great conversations! He’s been around long enough to know so much of the history, and is a great mentor.

Speaking of mentors, my Executive Director at NORMA, Eugene Pangelinan, is also a huge influence in my decision to take a career step into fisheries. I knew how the sector was evolving from my time in trade and was intrigued by the really complex types of work they do, especially as members of the PNA and the FFA group, and given FSM is the host country of the WCPFC, the Tuna Commission. To be linked to all that, through a team like this, working with the people I work with, I’m happy and proud to be here.

For me, having family support has been key to that career journey. I have 4 children now, and had my first child at a very young age. Through great family support, I was able to eventually complete my education and advance to where I am in my career today. That support from my husband and my extremely amazing and supportive parents who step in to help with the kids is beyond words. I will forever be grateful for all that they do – it’s why I work hard, so I can provide for them to repay all that they have done for me.

I was 24 when I joined the FSM resources and development team as a trade official. I was seen by many as too young and perhaps inexperienced to be in a senior level post, but I can say with confidence I proved that perception wrong. I worked hard, focused on doing my job, and gained a promotion to become Assistant Secretary of R&D, which was the highest level I could reach in the organisation under the Minister or, in our case, the Secretary.

To be the youngest at the table at all these regional meetings as part of the FSM delegation gave me a determination to learn more. In trade, I was working for a Minister who carried many portfolios beyond that, for investment, fisheries, agriculture, energy, tourism. Often, I had to be his proxy at meetings. From that I gained first-hand experience in diplomacy, negotiations, and sharing our national policy positions to many different partners and stakeholders.

There’s no doubt that we are in a region where we recognise the role of elders in our communities. For young ones who take up senior roles, it’s a chance to learn from the wisdom of being in a room with so many of the “tall trees” of the community but not being overwhelmed by it. You are there to do a job, and you need to get on with it.

As well as being young, being a woman in this field, yes, you do notice almost immediately how the age and the gender gaps are. But honestly speaking, I’ve never actually really felt that I was discriminated against in some ways because I was the youngest, or the woman, not in my office for sure. Maybe because of the position I held (and hold).

Like every other sector where there are decisions being made, there are far more men than women. It’s not just fisheries, but I have noticed an increasing number of women coming through. The years are passing, and the numbers are growing, especially in areas like fisheries and trade. Forum Fisheries now has its first woman director-general, and I anticipate that into the future we will continue to see more and more women assuming leadership roles in this sector.

I would encourage young career seekers out there who are wondering whether to take on oceanic fisheries to go for it! The work is complex and very demanding but when you see the result of the sweat that you put into it, it’s a wonderful feeling. It makes me happy to know that I contribute to the work that generates the revenue that funds our public services and projects and facilitates the onshore investments that employ our local people. I tell myself, “Wow! Did I really contribute to all of that?!”

And the wow moments continue at the regional level, often away from the public eye. Like ocean fisheries, ocean negotiations happen away from the public eye, so it’s not an area many are aware of. For example, at the 2017 WCPFC meeting in Manila, on that final night the plenary session went on until 3.40 in the morning, so the commission could come away with something we could all agree on. The country teams become smaller as people had to leave to catch flights, and the work of the negotiators, especially in those small hours, took on a new meaning. Every word is so important and after all day in the same conference room, the reality that we may be back doing the same thing in 12 months can be hard to cope with. Frustrations are becoming harder to manage; compromise and drama come through.

But these Pacific nations, some of them with just one or two delegates, will be there fighting the Pacific fight, and not giving up. We don’t usually get everything we want; no one ever does, but to be able to walk away with some form of win and benefit, and save the rest of the fight for another year – those moments are something I will never forget.

In one year, I represented FSM at a key FFA meeting, called the Management Options Consultation, or the MOC. To sit at the main table, not in the back seats being an information or advisory support person, that was a huge learning curve. To be shaping and in the debate among all Pacific countries and hearing everyone else’s different positions on issues that we need to come to a regional agreement on, it was an unforgettable moment. It’s when it really dawned on me that the only way to progress past all our unique positions and differences is to keep the goal of cooperation above everything. Cooperation is key. We all come to the table with our national interests, ready to fight and die for those positions, but regional solidarity and cooperation is why we are successful in many of our fisheries conservation and management efforts. So certain sacrifices almost always have to be made to achieve more for the entire region.

There’s nothing more rewarding and exciting for me than that moment where people commit their countries to a common goal. Putting aside their differences so that, as a region, we can progress makes me happy and proud because that’s almost impossible in other regions. And that’s what makes us people in the Pacific unique. We put our people first, and we may not always agree, but we will always look after one another.

I’m in my 30s now. Looking back, I’ve learnt to celebrate those milestones in life without letting them get to your head. No one is better than anyone else, and there’s always something to learn from the person next to you. Being kind, humble, open-minded, of good heart – these qualities are life goals worth pursuing.

Where will I be five years from now? I will take things as they come, but hope to still be in fisheries, whether with NORMA or at a regional level. I still have so much to learn about fisheries. It’s an extremely complex and dynamic sector so it takes a while to get a full grasp of the issues. Where I have been so far has shown me the value of hard work and patience in getting where you need to be. Looking back at my younger self, I’d have told young Camille to have more faith in and less worry about the future. Hard work and patience are going to eventually get you where you need to be.

As for the future of fisheries, the goal is to ensure that we don’t end up like other regional fisheries management organisations of the world. Our ocean is what we live off. For our Pacific nations, our oceanic resource is all we have.

For FSM it’s especially important, because the financial assistance package from our compact with the US is terminating in 2023. If and when that really ends, the only other revenue that we will have is from fisheries access fees.

My biggest hope is when my kids grow older, we will still have the fish stocks to depend on. It’s why we come into a room like this, defending our rights and our fish; it’s what our people rely on. I know it’s a difficult process, but I think slowly we’re getting to where we want to be, and I hope we maintain it into the future. The futures of our children and their children depend on it.