The Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry A.C.E.O, Joyce Samuelu-Ah Leong, represented Samoa at a meeting in Fiji last week.
The urgent meeting was called when the United States announced its withdrawal from the Treaty last month. The Treaty will cease to have effect at the expiry of one year following the receipt by the depositary of such notification.
The Treaty is important to the Pacific and has provided a strong foundation for cooperation between the Pacific and the United States, not solely on fisheries access, but a wide range of other matters including conservation and management of marine resources, efforts to combat illegal fishing, and capacity building in a range of management and technical areas.
In this piece, the Forum Fisheries Agency (F.F.A) Director-General, James Movick, speaks to the Australia Broadcasting Corporation’s Jemima Garrett, about the meeting:
James Movick: The outcome that we put to the United States is one that we hope will meet their request when they asked for a reduction of the number of days under the Treaty for this year, and allow them to make a decision to go forward with these terms as quickly as possible. In other words we tried to be as accommodative as possible, recognising that we do want to enable the fleet to get out back fishing as soon as possible.
Jemima Garrett: So essentially what you are saying is that you’ve managed come up with an agreement and essentially buckled to the US demand which was to reduce the number of days that it had originally agreed to which had caused so much outrage? Is that essentially what you are saying--for 2016, in order to see resumption of fishing and money flowing through to Pacific Island countries, that in the short term you’ve had to come up with that compromise?
James Movick: Well the compromise that we have come up with actually goes back to the position we had prior to the United States request for the number of days in 2016. We hadn’t wanted to give the US as many days because we felt that there was other Distant Water Fishing Nations (D.W.F.Ns) that also were seeking access as well as our domestic boats, so really what we’ve done is not buckled down to the US, but rather found a way in which to accommodate these other interests within the total number of days that we have available for this year, so while to some extent yes, we’ve accommodated the United States, it’s also been an accommodation of our own interests that we had set aside in seeking to give the US extra days when they requested it in August last year.
Jemima Garrett: Now at this stage after two days of discussion, this is just a proposal that you will be putting forward to the United States fishing fleet and I assume the US Government which also put a large amount of money into what is the total of around USD68 million-dollar deal-- is the US likely to accept do you think?
James Movick: We hope so. We’ve structured it in a way that we think will enable the US to make a fairly quick and positive decision. It would be very unfortunate if they are unable to respond quickly and for us to reach agreement quickly on this package because the available time for other meetings to bring all the parties together is very limited and so there would be further delays. So we looked at that and we’ve tried to structure a proposal that the US can agree to quickly and we certainly hope that they will do so.
Jemima Garrett: Is there room for further negotiation?
James Movick: On this one, very little, given the time that is available, and I would hope that it would be a matter of clarification of details rather than opening up of negotiations on the part of the United States.
Jemima Garrett: So at this stage there are fishing fleets that are simply tied up and people out of work at the moment waiting to be given essentially the green light. How soon do you think that licences could be issued if the US does agree to this proposal?
James Movick: Certainly a week. There is a process whereby the payments would be received from the United States and the official request from the United States with a list of vessels to be licensed. We are able to provide those licences fairly quickly, so we are hoping that within a week we’d be able to have the fleet go back to sea.
Jemima Garrett: Now of course this is just focused on the 2016 season but what about beyond that? This Treaty has been around for nearly 30 years but many have in their observations of what’s been happening said that at least this provides for opportunities to re-negotiate the way that the US is involved in the Pacific in regards to fishing. What are your thoughts? Are you going to discuss that today in further meetings?
James Movick: Yes we are. Our leaders and Ministers have made clear that they would like to see the continuation of a relationship with the United States in the fishery sector, under the Treaty, but certainly we all recognise that the current Treaty structure needs to change to accommodate the new circumstances in the region. And so that’s the purpose of our own internal meeting today, is to look at those possibilities.
Our initial discussion with the US indicates that there is an informal agreement on their side that new structures would be possible and so we are looking forward to finally conclude and to enter into those negotiations within the first half of this year, and to try to conclude them within a time frame that is suitable to all the parties within this year.