Pacifical Responds To Undercurrent’s Fake News With Facts

The menace of fake news and sensationalized lies has reached even the tuna world, with a London-based seafood website, Undercurrent News (UCN), releasing an article with misleading and false information on Pacifical, the successful joint venture between Sustunable and the PNA countries. Pacifical has responded to what appears to be a hit-job with a series of facts that aims to stop the efforts to spread misinformation about the joint venture.

Earlier today, UCN published an article titled, “Trouble in MSC tuna ‘paradise’ as PNG seeks to break from Pacifical”. Despite being provided with exact facts by the PNA Association, Pacifical and Sustunable two weeks ago that showed evidence that the claims of financial mismanagement within the joint venture were not true, UCN chose to publish the false claims.

Moreover, the UCN article appears to be promoting the commercial interest of just one Philippine-owned PNG fishing and processing company, Frabelle PNG, and its representative in PNG, Mr. Silvester Pokajam. Given that the website chose to publish Mr. Pokajam’s claims even though Pacifical provided it with the facts well in advance raises a lot of question about UCN’s journalistic integrity.

Pacifical has refuted the false claims made by Mr. Pokajam and carried by UCN today with facts it sent out in a mailing. Atuna is publishing the facts below:

UCN: An association of powerful tuna firms in Papua New Guinea (PNG), which boasts some Asian giants as members, intends to obtain its own Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification and terminate a collaboration with Pacifical, an EU-based sales company which uses the marketing line "sustainable tuna straight from paradise".

PNG is better off going it alone on MSC and breaking away from the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) country group partnered with Pacifical, said Sylvester Pokajam, president and chairman of the Fishing Industry Association (FIA) of PNG, which includes companies involving tuna giants such as Thai Union Group, Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Company (FCF), Frabelle Corp and RD Corp.

FACT 1: Thai Union and FCF are not members of the FIA, however these companies are J/V investors in PNG in 3 tuna plants in PNG. Thai Union is a minority shareholder in the PNG plant Majestic, together with Frabelle and Century Pacific of Philippines.

FACT 2: Mr. Pokajam does not speak on behalf of all the association members, but solely for the Philippine owned companies he represents in the FIA. Thai Union and FCF have not confirmed he represents their position or views. Mr. Pokajam does not speak on behalf of the PNG government or its National Fishery Authority, although he is continuously purposely trying to make it sound that way.

UCN: Pacifical is "not transparent with its accounts and financial operations and reporting",  Mr. Pokajam told Undercurrent News, when asked why PNG has decided to obtain its own MSC certification, as announced on Aug. 10.

: UCN has been informed by the PNA Association (the 50% shareholder of Pacifical) that the financial reporting of Pacifical has been fully audited and approved by certified accountants in The Netherlands. And that also the accounts of the PNA Association have been officially verified by the official representatives of all the PNA countries, and that even the PNA Office had the financials of the PNA Association up to 2017 financially verified.

FACT 4: Mr. Pokajam has never had access to financial statements of Pacifical, since he only represents a commercial Philippine party, which has conflicting financial interests with those of the 8 PNA countries + Tokelau. Pacifical is a C.V. and has no obligation by law to submit its financial reports to The Netherlands Chamber of Commerce.  Pacifical accounts have been made available and approved each year to each and every one of its shareholders, but indeed not to individual commercial parties, which lack any shareholding participation in Pacifical.

UCN: At present, PNG tuna is MSC-certified together with the other PNA nations, which have a deal to sell all their eco-labelled tuna, from free school trips, via Pacifical. However, PNG tuna firms, whose canneries process more than 80% of tuna caught in the country's waters, are planning to stop contributing to Pacifical "as soon as possible", said Pokajam.

FACT 5: Of the total volume processed under the Pacifical co-brand carrying the MSC logo, less than 10% came from PNG.

FACT 6: Most of the tuna caught for Pacifical was caught outside of PNG waters, in the zones of other PNA countries. The largest part of the PNG waters, the Archipelagic waters, have been excluded from the PNA’s MSC certification from the very start in 2013.

UCN: PNG canneries "have their own marketing brand" and can qualify for MSC certification and "all benefit shall accrue to the PNG fishing and processing industry and its PNG people," said Pokajam. "We want PNG MSC [tuna] to be 100% PNG-owned."

The largest part of the PNG tuna industry is owned by Philippine companies, so in fact if their PNG based companies would get their own MSC certification it would then mostly be eventually indirectly “Philippine owned”. The PNG FIA (Fishery Industry Association)  has planned a meeting in Manila, Philippines on September 18th focused at obtaining their “own” MSC certification.

FACT 8: Currently nowhere in the world can a PNG marketing brand be found, only in PNG own local market.

UCN: Pacifical promised "windfall revenue to PNA members, starting initially with 5% revenue sharing on a 50/50 basis", said Pokajam. This would mean Sustunable takes 2.5% and the eight PNA nations, and Tokelau, one-ninth each of 2.5%, Pokajam said. However, revenue has been less than promised, he said. Today, it has declined to a "mere 2%", so 1% for Sustunable, and one-ninth of 1% for the other nine countries, Pokajam said.

FACT 9:  Mr. Pokajam has never been present at any Pacifical shareholder meetings. The shareholding countries, their officials and ministers have always been informed that Pacifical was since 2010 a start-up company, which would initially, in its first 3 years, have a hard time to obtain profitability. Like any company the earnings are divided between shareholders based on their share.

FACT 10:
  After a lot of pressure from the market (and also FIA members) on Pacifical to lower its service fee, the Pacifical board decided to lower the service fee from 5% to 2%, in order to make the sustainable product even more competitive, and accessible to consumers worldwide.

Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr, of Frabelle, echoed Pokajam's comments. "Many of us in the [PNG tuna] industry [have] lost faith in Pacifical. PNG has funded most of Pacifical and it is getting almost nothing, there is no transparency in Pacifical. They don't even have audited financial statements for every year of operations. The sharing scheme is flawed," Tiu Laurel told Undercurrent. "They even incorporated Pacifical in the Netherlands. For what? And to whose advantage?”

FACT 11:  Mr. Laurel CEO of Frabelle of Philippines is the one paying Mr. Pokajam as his representative in the FIA. The 2 largest exporting tuna companies in PNG, RD Tuna Canners PNG and SSTC both have a close successful cooperation with Pacifical and have signed MOU’s.  Frabelle also has an MOU with Pacifical but has been disappointingly underperforming compared to the other companies in landing less than 200 M/T of MSC catch in 2018 so far.

FACT 12: PNG has not funded any amount in Pacifical. We invite Mr. Laurel and Mr. Pokajam to provide any evidence of such payments.

FACT 13: As often explained by the PNA shareholders they have decided and requested for legal and commercial advantages that the company should be located in The Netherlands. The local legal system and the most central location within the EU market, also the largest market for MSC certified tuna, were major considerations.

UCN: Undercurrent was unable to obtain any recent audited financial report for the company, as the Dutch CoC confirmed that no financial statements for the registered firm Pacifical had been filed by its management. “There is not one financial statement dropped for Pacifical. I cannot give you what has not been delivered," an employee at the CoC told Undercurrent.

FACT 14:  Pacifical informed UCN already 3 weeks before the publishing of the article as follows: that CoC only publishes the financial numbers of a BV (Limited). It does not publish financial numbers of a CV (which is Pacifical CV) . This explains why UCN did, however, find those of Sustunable BV. Anyway Pacifical financial numbers have been subjected to a financial compilation report by external auditors from 2011 to 2017. The Dutch financial system knows 2 kinds of controls: Compilation report – and for large complicated financial companies an EXTENSIVE AUDIT report. Due to the lack of complexity of the financial bookkeeping of Pacifical the external auditors found such an extensive audit not needed. At the Pacifical shareholders’ meeting, which takes place every year all PNA country officials have approved the financial year compilation audited reports, also this year 2018.