U.S. vessels are to resume tuna fishing in the Pacific in a matter of days, thanks to an “extraordinary effort” on the part of Pacific island countries.
“I commend the Pacific Island Parties for once again being able to use their strong commitment to regional cooperation and unity to find solutions to a problem that has been foisted on them by the actions of others, in this case the U.S tuna fishing fleet,” says F.F.A Director General James Movick.
The resumption of fishing under the Treaty by the U.S purse seine fleet, follows the surprise U.S action in late 2015 to request a substantial reduction in their fishing commitments in PIP fishing zones in 2016 despite an agreement reached earlier in August 2015.
Pacific Island parties met in Nadi for three days in early February to discuss the U.S request for less fishing access and on February 9th offered a revised package to the U.S with fewer fishing days. Samoa was represented at the meeting.
The lower number of fishing days reduces the required U.S payment commitment from almost US$90 million to about $US66 million.
PIPs will now reallocate and sell the unused fishing days to other fishing fleets including their own domestic operators although the rates of financial return may not be as high as the rate agreed under the U.S interim arrangement because the fishing year is already underway.
“We received official notice last week advising the terms of the revised proposal from the Pacific parties to the Treaty were accepted by the U.S but with a request for a slight change on the quarterly payment schedule,” says Director-General Movick.
That revision was submitted to Pacific Parties for approval, he says, as it does increase the difficulties that PIPs would face if the U.S fleet defaults on payments throughout the year. “In agreeing to the revised payment schedule Pacific Parties are hopeful that the reduced number of fishing days and the more generous payment schedule will help to avoid that scenario.”
“It’s taken a lot of extraordinary effort and compromise for 17 Pacific governments to come together where all have agreed to accept the U.S requested revision.
“Pacific Parties clearly want to settle the 2016 fishing access and its financial uncertainties and move quickly on to the bigger challenge we now face of ensuring that any future arrangement after this year learns from the events of the last few months,” says Movick.
Pacific Island Fisheries Ministers established a Small Working Group of regional fisheries officials last October to consider the options available for a more appropriate long-term fishing access arrangement under the Treaty. Depending on how the Pacific Island nations and U.S move on restructuring the treaty, a notice of withdrawal lodged by the U.S in January can be formally revoked.
“The issues that have driven the U.S to lodge its withdrawal are well known to us and we have been grappling with them for the last few years,” says FFA Deputy Director-General, Wez Norris, who is facilitating the small group’s work. Pacific Fisheries Ministers are looking at new approaches to providing fisheries access, aiming for more clarity and separation of the current treaty mix of geopolitical and development assistance and fisheries objectives.
“Moving forward, the key will be flexibility” says Norris. “The Treaty must be built on arrangements that as far as possible treat the U.S fleet consistently to other fleets.
This is to their advantage because it allows them to compete more directly and commercially and also allows them to tailor the access they buy to their own operational needs, which is not the case in the current arrangement.”