In the heart of Polynesia, where turquoise waters lap the shores of small islands like Niue, Josie Tamate's journey has unfolded with the ebb and flow of the tide. Always wearing with a friendly face and a jovial smile, Josie embodies the warmth of her island home wherever she goes. Here is a tale of humble beginnings, unexpected turns, and an unwavering commitment to her people.
The oldest of four siblings, Josie was born and raised in Niue, a place where family bonds are deep and community spirit echoes in every corner. Josie’s father is a retired Deputy Director of the Niue Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (DAFF). She remembers him attending many meetings, including fisheries meetings during his time with the Department. Little did she know that these modest beginnings would shape the trajectory of her life, leading her to become a powerhouse in the world of fisheries.
The journey began with a twist of fate. Josie’s early fascination with economics led her to pursue tertiary studies overseas following the completion of her final year of high school in New Zealand. A Masters degree followed in 1998, painting a future that seemed miles away from her world in Niue.
The first turning point arrived when the ebb of the tide pulled her back to Niue to work as an economist for DAFF, standing on a career that she never envisioned. On her first day, she was welcomed with a pile of fish catch reports. Her task was to analyze and aggregate the data into a summary report, This task led makes her discover the whole world of fisheries.
"It was at that time that really made me think about all this work. I was blown away! Fisheries was never on my radar. I was studying Economics. And the Fisheries were capturing my attention! The politics around it were fascinating to me!"
Six months later, she participated in a two-week attachment at the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) in Honiara, Solomon Islands, which she considers a defining moment. During that time, she attended her first workshop on negotiating access agreements, which opened her eyes to the vastness of fisheries, sweeping away the simplistic view of people merely going fishing.
After she obtained her master’s degree in the Economics of Development and was pondering when she returned home to Niue with a burning question: "What can I do?". The answer was unexpected; a former colleagues from FFA who was in Niue to do some country work motivated her to apply for a newly-vacant position of Project Economist at FFA, a role that solidified her connection with the Pacific and its people. Also, this position gave her the opportunity to continue to expand both her knowledge of fisheries and her personal network across the western and central Pacific.
“Part of my job was to prepare the Negotiation Briefs for the FFA member countries on request. Another key part was providing support for the Parties to Nauru Agreement. That’s where I learned about yellowfin, bigeye and skipjack tunas and the longline and purse seine fisheries, and fisheries politics. And being at FFA, I was still able to be in the Pacific, still with my people.”
The journey, akin to the tides, had its highs and lows. When Josie's contract at FFA ended, she found herself in New Zealand, contemplating her next steps. However, a call, a reminder of her duty as a public servant, beckoned her back to governmental responsibilities in Niue, and she embarked on a career as a public servant, like her father before her. Working as Economic Advisor for the Government of Niue, gave her a more profound understanding of the challenges faced by small island developing States like Niue.
In subsequent years, the allure of fisheries management and its geopolitical complexities never faded from her subconscious, and reminders were everywhere.
And the fisheries world, like a persistent melody, called Josie back. When the meeting of Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC) Ministers was held in Alofi, Niue in May 2009, and though she wasn't part of the hosting, Josie felt a magnetic pull. Conversations with former colleagues and friends ignited the decision to marry her dual passions and pursue a Ph.D. on Pacific tuna fisheries with focus on the PNA as a model of regionalism. Her doctoral thesis was entitled “Balancing the scales: the experience of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement.”
From there, she assumed the role of Director-General of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Niue from 2014 to 2023, during which time she was responsible for three big departments: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Department of Meteorology and Department of Environment.
Josie's leadership journey reached one crest after another when she was appointed Vice-Chair of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in December 2018 and Chair of the WCPFC four years later in December 2022. She credits her academic studies and professional experiences with Pacific tuna fisheries and regionalism for providing her with the acumen to navigate the complex dynamics of the Commission.
As she traverses those choppy waters of the WCPFC, she still senses the ebbs and flows of the tides beneath her feet, but she’s been expertly charting her own course for a long time now. She’s broken a few boundaries as well, becoming the first Polynesian to chair the WCPFC and one of the few Niueans to ever attain such a high-level regional position.
For all her accomplishments, Josie has never considered herself a solo navigator and has expressed her appreciation of the moment with characteristic enthusiasm and modesty. “Chairing isn't just an honor; it was the culmination of a journey where each step was a lesson, every challenge a stepping stone." In Josie's words, "It was a learning and supporting journey and working as a family. It’s all of that!"
As she navigates the currents of leadership, one can't help but wonder about the chapters that lie ahead for this woman from Niue, whose dreams, much like the vastness of the Pacific, know no bounds.