AFT cites unfair US enforcement in exit from tuna market

San Diego, California, U.S.A.-based AFT Holdings said it will withdraw its direct investment in the U.S.-flagged fleet of ocean-going tuna seiners this year, citing punitive government regulations.

AFT Holdings is the largest shareholder of The Global Companies, which operates the South Pacific Tuna Corporation. The corporation currently owns and operates 12 vessels in the Pacific tuna fishery,  which collectively have an annual harvest of approximately 100,000 metric tons valued at USD 200 million (EUR 164.5 million).

AFT Chairman J. Douglas Hines told SeafoodSource from Seafood Expo Global in Brussels, Belgium, that overlapping and unfair standards for the U.S. fleet were the primary reason for the decision. 

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Management (NMFM), which has oversight of the distant water tuna fleet operating in the Western Pacific under the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, assesses fines that have different interpretation than other areas as the Eastern Tropical Pacific and the Western Central Pacific ocean regions, he said.

“The U.S. agency applies its own set of interpretation of rules for each ocean, regardless that they overlap in the Pacific. These interpretations are subject to a wide variance in their views, [allowing] maximum flexibility in prosecution … The U.S. agency has determined not to adopt an equal and fair interpretation of definitions, especially in the violations of fish-aggregating devices,” Hines said. “These abject interpretations can be subject to the [will of those doing the] enforcement ... as can the amount of the fine to an operator.”

Conversely, U.S. agencies “allow China and other nations to pack and ship separate species of tuna that are not part of the normal species considered as ‘tuna,’ Hines said.

Those fish “have a lesser quality as well as zero duty,” he said. “In doing this, the [U.S.] government allows these IUU fish to enter commerce, while holding the U.S. operators to a separate standard.”

In 2010, there were 42 U.S. vessels registered to operate in the Western Central Pacific Ocean, while today, there are between 34 and 35 in 2018, according to Hines. Hines said between two and four additional vessels will withdraw from the U.S. tuna fleet in 2018.  

“The action of government is one of the reasons for the departure of the U.S. fleet participation, though not the only reason,” he said. “Before long, we will see U.S.-flagged vessels leaving the fishery altogether, transferring their boats to other nations who do not share our commitment to sound sustainability and fair labor practices.”

Instead of tuna, AFT will now focus on salmon, herring, sardines, “and creating value-added products in these areas,” Hines said. In partnership with its new venture, Freedom Foods North America, AFT plans to supply seafood into Australia, New Zealand, and other emerging areas. 

“In addition to global supply development, we will market functional foods created in Australia and internally in the U.S.,” he said.

Hines said AFT will work to ensure a smooth transition and exit from the tuna market within the next year.


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