PAGO PAGO (Samoa News/ Radio New Zealand International/ Pacific Media Watch): Fresh negotiations are underway this week in Brisbane, Australia, with the hopes of reaching a new agreement on the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, first implemented in 1987 between the US government and Pacific Island countries.
As previously reported by Samoa News, an interim agreement was signed last October between the US government and 17 Pacific Island nations, as members of the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).
The agreement allowed the US purse seiner fleet to fish in the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of FFA members.
The interim agreement, which is only valid for 2015, links US aid access to Pacific Island Parties (PIP) fishing grounds.
Currently the US pays $90 million in aid and rent. The federal government pays $21 million, and the industry, mainly boat owners pay $69 million, according to an American Samoa Government report in April this year.
In a statement, the San Diego-based South Pacific Tuna Corporation says the treaty meeting is set for August 3-5, and it will be historic as members of the US distant water tuna fleet, and representatives from the US Departments of State and Commerce will meet with fishery officials from the 17 member Pacific Island Parties (PIP’s), and representatives of the FFA, in an effort to work towards solutions to extend the 26-year partnership.
Although the financial challenge continues to escalate for all fishing vessels in the global fishery community, South Pacific Tuna Corporation (SPTC) executives say it is critical that the industry continue to address and support the US government in these efforts.
“In providing economic assistance to all participating PIP’s, the treaty is a visible demonstration of the ongoing commitment to the region,” said J. Douglas Hines, executive director of SPTC, which represents 14 purse seine vessels under the treaty.
Hines said the company has considered comments of the parties; including those of parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) along with many members of the PIP’s, the US government and Industry after the latest round of meetings in Fiji and “will work towards maintaining our decades long commitment”.
“We are not ready to give it up as some would hope, and as the largest member of the US fleet we retain our dedication to long term fishery conservation and partnership with our Island partners,” Hines said, adding that it’s critical to solidify a 2016 agreement.
“Now is not the time to be short sighted; it is the time to commit to the treaty and to our island partners in the Pacific.”
American Tunaboat Association (ATA) executive director Brian Hallman confirmed to Samoa News that he would be attending the Brisbane meeting, along with around ten other boat owner representatives, including those from the South Pacific Tuna Corporation.
“The highest priority for ATA will be negotiating 2016 access arrangements for the US fleet for waters of the Pacific island countries that are parties to the tuna treaty,” he said.
Tri Marine International said they don't have any specific message to share at this time, or details of who, of if anyone, may be attending on their behalf.
But last month Radio New Zealand International reported that Tri Marine International seeks an emergency exemption to federal rules so its vessels can supply its American Samoa tuna cannery.
As a conservation measure, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration closed off an area of ocean to the US flagged fishing fleets earlier this year.
The closure means Tri Marine's fleet of 12 purse seiners based in American Samoa will struggle to supply enough tuna to Samoa Tuna Processors cannery.
Tri Marine is asking for an emergency exemption based on the limited fishing grounds now available to the American Samoa-based purse seiner fleet.
It states that the unusually low tuna price, and the higher cost of fishing grounds in the region mean the ability of American Samoa-based tuna vessels to operate profitably, is in serious question.
It adds that the loss of a reliable supply of tuna from these vessels will jeopardise the ability of the canneries in American Samoa to compete in world markets.
Kiribati, whose EEZ contains prime fishing grounds north of American Samoa, has refused to allow US vessels access to its waters for more than 300 fishing days for 2015, after allowing 4313 fishing days the year before (60 percent of all US flag fishing days in the region).
“US purse seine vessels based in American Samoa are now denied access to much of their traditional fishing grounds because of this breakdown in prior treaty arrangements,” says Tri Marine.
At the conclusion of its meeting last month in Honolulu, the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council says it recognised that the combination of the US high seas purse seine effort limits by the international Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and the removal of historic levels of fishing days in Kiribati waters available under the Treaty, may result in a reduced supply of tuna offloaded directly to the Pago Pago canneries by US purse-seine vessels.
The council has recommended that US National Marine Fishery Services and the State Department improve the current terms of the Treaty with regards to Pago Pago-based US purse seine vessels.
US State Department official Judith G. Garber told the US Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs in May that their department leads US efforts to revise and extend the terms of the Treaty and explore other ways to ensure economically viable fishing access to waters under the jurisdiction of Pacific Island parties.
She says the parties met most recently in March this year to discuss renegotiation of the treaty, as well as fishing access opportunities for the US purse seine fleet in 2016.
“We remain committed to working with the Pacific Island parties to achieve an outcome that meets the economic objectives of both sides and contributes to an effective and transparent conservation and management regime,” she said.
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