South Pacific Tuna Treaty renewed for 2016; Long-term future uncertain

Published on
March 11, 2016

The United States and 17 Pacific Island nations have reached an agreement to restore the South Pacific Tuna Treaty (SPTT), which the U.S. withdrew from in January in a dispute over the high costs of the treaty.

U.S. tuna fishing vessels are back at sea following the accord, which lowered the number of fishing days the U.S. must pay for and lasts through the end of 2016. The total U.S. commitment for 2016 has been reduced from USD 90 million (EUR 80.7 million) to USD 66 million (59.2 million). The remainder of fishing days no longer being used by the U.S. fleet will be resold to other fishing fleets, according to the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).

“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,” FFA Director General James Movick said. “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."

An official with the U.S. State Department confirmed the agreement to SeafoodSource on Friday, 11 March. According to the official, under the revised terms of access for 2016, the U.S. tuna industry fishing in the Pacific is responsible for making commercial payments to the FFA on a quarterly basis for the remainder of the year. U.S. vessel owners committed to paying the same price per fishing day as they would have under the original terms, but will use fewer days overall under the revised terms.

“We have been communicating with Pacific Island party representatives and consulting with U.S. industry to help facilitate a resolution to the impasse over fishing access this year,” the official said. “Thanks to cooperation and compromise on both sides, we have now finalized revised terms of access for 2016. U.S. industry is responsible for making full and timely quarterly payments according to the revised terms in order to receive and maintain licenses from the Pacific Island parties to fish in the Treaty area for the rest of the year.”

The official also commented on the upcoming challenge of renegotiating the treaty past 2016, as U.S. tuna fishing companies operating in the Pacific look to move from a vessel-day scheme to paying per total weight of fish caught.

“Eliminating the impasse over fishing access in 2016 will pave the way for dedicated discussions on the long-term future of the treaty,” the official said. “The United States stands ready to engage actively and constructively with the Pacific Island parties to determine whether the treaty can be restructured in a way that is mutually acceptable and continues to provide benefits to both sides over the long term.”

J. Douglas Hines, the largest shareholder of The Global Companies and the executive director of South Pacific Tuna Corporation, which owns and operates 14 vessels in the Pacific tuna fishery, said he was relieved to see the impasse over tuna treaty resolved for 2016.

“The Global Companies Fleet, which honored its original commitment made in in Brisbane of access fees along with other independent vessel operators, had been tied up for 60 days at a cost of millions,” he said in a statement. “We are preparing to resume fishing operations and now have our first three boats scheduled to sail out of port heading to the fishing grounds with others hopefully within the week. With the fleet operating again we will be able to resume supply to factories in Georgia and California. This has been a painful process for us, and also costly to the US consumer.”

Hines said he hoped to see the treaty renegotiated to ensure U.S. access to the tuna fishery in the South Pacific past the current year.

“We at the Global Companies are committed to working closely with State Department, Congress, and the Senate Oversight Committee to develop a fair and equitable solution for all vessels operating under the U.S. flag, which should remain a cornerstone of U.S. engagement in the region,” Hines said. “A restructured treaty should never have these obstacles again and remain a cornerstone of U.S. engagement in the region.”

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