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By Jan TenBruggencate

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (August 31, 2000 – The Honolulu Advertiser)---Thorny issues of political sovereignty and access to fish on the open ocean threaten an international agreement on migratory tuna stocks, although delegates in Honolulu yesterday said they hope an agreement can be reached.

A new wrinkle is Japan’s suggestion that tunas north of 20 degrees north latitude be excluded from the agreement.

That line cuts right through the Hawaiian Islands, meaning fish around and south of the Big Island would be regulated, but those from Maui northward would not. That is a serious issue for the United States, said Tucker Scully, of the U.S. Department of State.

Hawai‘i’s albacore fishing fleet prefers to be part of the Pacific-wide tuna management proposal, and opposes the exclusion of waters around and north of Hawai‘i, said Paul Dalzell, a biologist with the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.

Delegates from 28 nations at the Seventh Multilateral High Level Conference on Highly Migratory Fish Stocks began a weeklong meeting yesterday at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. It is billed as their final effort to seek agreement. At risk is the over fishing of migratory tuna stocks throughout the Pacific.

The conference is proposing to establish a permanent regulatory agency that would establish fishing quotas based on scientific fisheries research, place observers on fishing boats, control transshipment of catch between ships at sea, and oversee the economic interest of small island political states, all with the intent of protecting the stocks of migratory tunas that cross the Pacific.

Ministerial-level representatives of the nations involved are arriving this weekend, in preparation for signing a treaty Tuesday. Conference chair Satya Nandan of Fiji said most of the major issues were resolved at the six previous conferences, but the remaining ones are difficult.

Japan delegate Masayaki Komatsu said Japan feels the focus of the conference is tropical tunas, and his nation’s fisheries believe cold-water tunas like the northern blue fin and northern albacore can safely be removed from consideration, so it would be appropriate to draw the northern boundary at 20 degrees.

Scully said other tuna species – bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tuna – swim in the waters from 20 to 50 degrees north latitude as well as those to the south. To remove the northern waters from regulation would mean the migratory fish convention would not be able to protect them, he said.

Another key problem for an agreement is China’s insistence that Taiwan, whose fishing fleet is the biggest in the Pacific, be treated as a "fishing entity" rather than a full-fledged voting nation. Taiwan is referred to in the conference as Chinese Taipei. Mainland China rejects Taiwan’s status as an independent nation.

Taiwan insists it must have the same status as the other countries.

China says granting that status would be tantamount to recognizing Taiwan as an independent nation.

Another sovereignty issue is the demand by the French territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia that they be treated as independent nations. Scully said the United States would be happy to have the convention treat them as independent once they are fully independent, but not until then.

Several nations, notably Japan, are concerned that under the proposed treaty, a majority of nations will make decisions that affect their national fisheries interests. Japan’s Komatsu said his country fears that a convention dominated by small island states will overwhelm his nation’s views. For instance, they might establish a fishing moratorium based on political or economic grounds rather than scientific ones, and Japan worries that as a major fishing nation, it could be seriously hurt.

"This is a great concern for us. We would like to protect our right to challenge decisions and opt not to follow decisions with which Japan disagrees," Komatsu said.

However, a situation that allows members nations to opt out of regulation creates a "dangerously weak and unbalanced arrangement," said Australian Joe Thwaites, a representative of the 16-nation Forum Fisheries Agency.

Delegates hope to adopt a final regulatory convention tomorrow, although they have scheduled a Saturday session if it is necessary. If they succeed, ministers of the involved nations will sign the convention Tuesday.

For additional reports from The Honolulu Advertiser, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Honolulu Advertiser.

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