PACIFIC Island Parties (PIPs) to the U.S Tuna Treaty have stood their ground and refused a proposed revision by the United States to the Statement of Intent (SOI) agreed to by all Parties in August last year.
The US proposed to reduce by 1,930 the number of fishing days it committed to in the SOI.
The revision would mean a reduction in revenue of almost US$23 million by the American Tuna boat owners to Pacific Island Parties, revealed the Honiara-based Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the administrator of the Treaty.
In a statement, the FFA deputy director, Wes Norris said the proposal was part of the November advice from the US Government and the American Tunaboat Owners Association (ATA).
In addition, the notice said that the ATA ‘cannot afford to make the first quarterly payment of approximately US$17 million, as agreed to in the SOI of August 2015.’
“The reason provided said the economic conditions within the fleet meant that some vessels no longer require or can afford the days that they committed to in August 2015,” said Norris.
Norris said Pacific Parties are concerned with the timing of the US proposal given that most countries have now entered into agreement with other vessels and flag States to sell their remaining fishing days.
“Most PIPs have completed their sales, so agreeing to reduce the US allocation by 1,930 days brings certain risks that could result in substantially reduced fisheries revenue to some or all PIPs.
“Given that PIPs are all developing states and have already budgeted on the projected revenue from the agreed SOI, this is an untenable situation,” said Norris.
He said, ‘The Pacific Parties are determined that at this stage, they cannot accept the revised proposal and as such, expect the US Government and the ATA to make good on the agreement that was reached and signed in good faith.’
PIPs, through the FFA Secretariat, have advised the US Government that no Treaty licences will be issued on 01 January 2016, ‘unless the complete expected quarterly payment is received.’
“It is actually a requirement in the Treaty that licences cannot enter into force until relevant payments have been made, so this is in no way a new condition being imposed by PIPs,” explained Norris.
Norris said the Honiara based Secretariat has had several informal communications with both the US Government and the ATA, and it appears that no payment will be forthcoming.
He said the timing of the US action is doubly unfortunate because it comes on the back of the meeting of PIP ministers in Nadi in October last year.
“At that meeting PIP ministers reaffirmed their strong commitment to the Treaty and put in place a process for the development of a more sustainable and flexible model for US vessels to obtain access to PIP waters in the future.
“PIP ministers made those decisions on the basis of the geo-political importance of the Treaty and its ongoing potential to be a ‘game lifter’ for the region.”
The FFA senior executive said this current impasse has made the PIPs suspicious of US commitment to the Treaty.
However, PIPs will continue to develop options for a more sustainable arrangement.
“This is unfortunate given that the US fleet has long been regarded as a proactive partner and the US Government as a responsible flag State.
“The Treaty itself has been a backbone of regional solidarity and has undoubtedly provided all PIPs with benefits and advantages that they would not have otherwise had.
“PIPs will be seeking to get the relationship back on track to secure such benefits into the future,” said Norris.
As of 01 January, no US vessels will be able to fish in the region’s fishing ground without any licences.
The 17 Pacific Parties to the US Tuna Treaty are Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, United States, and Vanuatu.