US-Pacific tuna fishing rights hit US89m to end of next year --FFA special ministerial to decide what comes after Dec 2016 

10th August 2015, FFA RFSC Honiara, SOLOMON ISLANDS –  Pacific Island Parties (PIPs) to the treaty on fisheries with the United States have reached agreement with the US on an Interim Arrangement of the Treaty that will enable US tuna purse seine fishing vessels to fish in the waters of the Parties in 2016. The agreement was reached in Brisbane on Wednesday, August 5th. 

The successful extension of the Transitional Arrangement follows earlier agreement by the two sides on most of the other provisions of a new Treaty, including sensitive areas of US recognition of the application of PIP national laws, leaving only a few remaining issues.

In short, the agreement entails 5,700 days fishing in the EEZs of VDS participants; 250 days in the Cook Islands EEZ; and 300 days under an exploratory fishing arrangement in the EEZs of Fiji, Niue, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu for a total financial package of $89,271,350.

This represents an increase in the payment per day fished for all VDS parties and Cook Islands, as well as a larger proportion of the share divided equally amongst all PIPs as economic assistance. “For the first time, US tuna purse seine fishing boats are looking to undertake exploratory fishing in the EEZs of PIPs where there has been relatively little or no fishing in the past.  It is also likely that based on the Treaty arrangement US vessels will seek additional access through bilateral arrangements. This clearly represents an improvement for PIPs,” says FFA Director General James Movick.

He says while the agreement is very favourable to PIPs from a financial perspective, “it was nonetheless difficult to achieve and relied upon a significant degree of flexibility and creativity, particularly for VDS (Vessel Day Scheme) participants to identify the number of days sought by the US.”

Difficulties experienced in the negotiations over the last two years or so also came to a head and are now threatening the existence of the Treaty beyond 2016.

“Several areas of significant contention arose, relating to the application of PIP conservation and management measures and previous exemptions for the US fleet that had been agreed in the context of previous Transitional Arrangements extending the current Treaty while renegotiations continue. PIP officials were unable to agree to the US request in this respect, as they would need a Ministerial mandate. It’s our hope this can be progressed at a special FFA ministerial to be convened within a month,” he says.

While the US eventually agreed to the above package without the concessions that they had sought, they essentially informed PIPs that this was solely in the interests of securing access for their fleet for 2016, but that it would threaten the longer-term participation of the US in the Treaty.

PIP officials recognised the ongoing value of the Treaty and were not prepared to end the session with a simple agreement involving such heavy ramifications.  It was therefore agreed with the US that the 2016 agreement would be sealed, and that FFA, as Treaty Administrator, would attempt to organise a special session for Ministers to consider the outcomes of RS16 and provide guidance on any moves that can be made to foster a longer-term relationship.

The South Pacific Tuna Treaty, also called the US Treaty, entered into force in 1988. It sets down the fishing and operating rules for the U.S. tuna purse seine fleet in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO), including waters under the jurisdiction of FFA member countries, who form the Pacific Island Parties to the Treaty. The Treaty provides a unique model of international and fishery cooperation. It has helped establish fisheries observer and data reporting requirements as well as monitoring, control and surveillance standards for the region’s tuna fisheries, all of which are vital to deterring illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The Treaty has gone through various extensions and amendments since 1988, with current access at a historic payment giving the US purse seine fleets 8,300 days for US 90m for the 12 months until December 31, 2015.  

US Treaty renegotiation sessions in 2015 have included sessions in Auckland and Nadi prior to the just-ended Brisbane talks this month. --ENDS

Photo gallery from 2015 FFC Ministerial in Tuvalu.

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