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Treaty on fisheries allows choice of how many fishing days to purchase

Can be paid semi-annually, cost of days locked-in for 4 years

The US purse seiner fleet can choose the number of fishing days to purchase under the newly signed six-year Multilateral Treaty on Fisheries, in which the US fleet pays $12,500 per fishing day, says American Tunaboat Association (ATA) executive director Brian Hallman.

The Treaty document, also known as the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, was signed between the US government and 16 Pacific island nations on Dec. 3 in Nadi, Fiji (Dec. 2 in American Samoa.)

The new Treaty, administered by the Pacific Islands Fishery Forum Agency (FFA) on behalf of Pacific island governments, was agreed to in “principle” during another round of negotiations in June this year in Auckland, New Zealand.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries over the weekend, Hallman said ATA, which represents the US fleet in Treaty negotiations, is “glad that the Treaty negotiations were finally successfully concluded, after 7 years of difficult and complicated negotiations.

Asked about major revisions to the new Treaty that would be beneficial to the US fishing fleet, Hallman said, the “changes that the fleet likes the best are the fact that there is stability now for 4 years in terms of fishing days and the cost of those days, vessels can choose the number of days they wish to buy, and that the high seas is no longer part of the Treaty arrangement.”

Samoa News also asked how much the US fleet will be paying under the new Treaty, and if the payment would be made in a lump sum amount for the entire year or per month.

“The payments are $12,500 per fishing day, and can be made semi-annually,” Hallman said via email from Fiji where he is attending the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Committee meeting, which opened yesterday (Monday in Fiji). “There is not a lump sum payment due from the US fleet, but rather individual vessels pay, through ATA, for the fishing days they want.”

“With the new Treaty, vessels are entering a new world of fishing access to the waters of Pacific island countries,” he said. “The fishing days are expensive, and it will be necessary to obtain bilateral fishing agreements if boats are to maintain their traditional level of fishing access in the western Pacific.”

Hallman told Samoa News in late July this year that a “requirement” in the Treaty is that US vessels, each year, are supposed to advise the US government, which in turn will advise FFA by July 1, the number of next year's fishing days each vessel commits to purchase under the Treaty.

“It is not just the American Samoan based boats which need to do this, but all US flag vessels,” he said yesterday. “Although a requirement, this notification of fishing days desired is not a negative thing.”

Hallman said that ATA had asked for the Treaty to be structured with this kind of flexibility so that vessels would no longer be forced into buying days they did not want and could not use.

Speaking at the Treaty signing ceremony on Dec. 3, US Ambassador to Fiji, Judith Beth Cefkin said, “We think this agreement helps build a more solid and sustainable basis for long-term cooperation under the Treaty,” according to a copy of her speech released by FFA.

“It establishes more flexible arrangements that should serve the interests of both sides. It strikes a balance between increasing the economic returns from fisheries for Pacific Island parties, while establishing greater certainty to support the continued viable operation of the US purse seine fleet,” she said.

“And it will highlight the importance of $21 million in related US government economic assistance to the region each year, while also working together to improve the flow of information about how that money supports sustainable development,” the US diplomat says. “These are great achievements.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has signed the note to rescind the US withdrawal from the Treaty, she said, adding that Kerry has express appreciations to all of the efforts that have gone into these negotiations, particular over the past year.

Following an impasse last year over the final terms of a new Treaty the State Department filed a notice to rescind its participation in the agreement. The notice was to go into effect in January 2017.