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    Wednesday, October 23, 2019-2:21:21A.M.






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Regional News

Pacific group: US seeks to renege on 2016 fishery agreement

BALI, Indonesia (Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency) — The United States is seeking to renege on an agreement it signed with the 17-member Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency or FFA member states, admitting it now cannot afford to pay the full $89.2 million deal it signed in Brisbane with Pacific Island nations.

The United States, which operates a fleet in the waters of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement or PNA, has written and asked Pacific Island countries to go back on the agreement signed in August in Brisbane in 2016. The U.S. now says it cannot afford to fish in PNA waters under the Vessel Day Scheme or VDS scheme. They were given 5,700 days under the signed agreement and are now asking PNA to take back 2000 days which will cut the deal considerably.

Non-PNA nations like Fiji, Niue, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu would benefit from this new initiative from the U.S. and get an upfront payment of $150,000 each plus a chance to benefit from access for U.S. fishing vessels operating in their waters.

However, the Pacific Island Parties say they have signed a business agreement with the United States State Department and they want to maintain the arrangement for 2016.

PNA Chief Executive Officer Dr. Transform Aqorau said the development simply reflected the issues he had been addressing for the last six years particularly, “the need for flexibility and anticipating that within the treaty there are different vessels with different levels of efficiencies and it is hard to operate these kinds of arrangements when you have a vessel day scheme that operates on market based conditions.”

“Unfortunately for the treaty in 2015 and 2016, these are the years in which my predictions and sentiments on the issue are now becoming a reality,” Aqorau said.

“I have not been saying that we scrap the treaty but we should restructure the treaty to reflect the reality of the conditions, which they have now come to understand. The result is that they are reneging on an agreement which they have signed.

“I don’t know how they will resolve the issue because on one hand you have one party [the U.S.] that has signed an agreement to pay for fishing access in our waters and are now not able to pay — while on the other hand you have countries who have made days available to the U.S. treaty for 2016 and will face difficulty if they have to take them back now with only a month away from the start of the fishing season.

“I think there are much more flexible arrangements that can be developed beyond 2016. This is a short term problem but a serious problem that will need to be resolved for 2016.

“But I am confident that there are more flexible arrangement that can be developed around the treaty that maintains the importance of the relationship between the US and the Pacific Islands and we have already been giving some thought to those arrangements that we will be putting before PNA and the other countries involved.”

Tokelau fisheries advisor Stan Crothers said Tokelau’s budget was 98 percent financed by revenue earned from fisheries access fees from the Vessel Day Scheme and three quarters of that came from the U.S. treaty.

“So we are heavily committed on the U.S. treaty we have contributed over 75 percent of our VDS days to make the treaty work so if it falls over we will lose very heavily,” Crothers said.

“This is the sort of money that builds schools that pays teachers, builds new hospitals and pays doctors and nurses and there will be serious consequences for Tokelau if we are not able to make up the revenue we could potentially lose from the treaty.

“Because we have relied in the past on the U.S. signature on the agreement, we have put those financial projections in our budget.

“It is a pretty sad day when you really can’t rely on a written agreement between the 16 Pacific island nations and the United States of America.

“I am hopeful that we can develop quite a new business model for the treaty in the future because clearly the existing model is not robust enough for the 21st century and we need something new, if not, then the future of the treaty looks bleak. I really hope the U.S. honors the agreement that we signed in Brisbane a few months ago.”

The U.S. fleet fishes mostly in PNA waters, including Tokelau, where large schools of skipjack tuna are found — 50 percent of the world’s skipjack tuna is sourced from PNA waters.

The Parties to the Nauru Agreement are eight Pacific Island countries that control the world’s largest sustainable tuna purse seine fishery supplying 50 percent of the world’s skipjack tuna, a popular tuna for canned products. They are the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.