Cook Islands To Benefit From U.S. Tuna Fishing Deal

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Significant boost in local fisheries revenue expected

By Emmanuel Samoglou

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Oct. 11, 2014) – Ministry of Marine Resources Secretary Ben Ponia says a tuna fishing deal hammered out between Pacific Nations and the United States could provide a significant boost in local fisheries revenues.

This week, officials from both sides secured a deal in the final moments of a three-day negotiating session in Hawaii.

Under the deal, the 17 member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency will receive $90 million from the US government and the nation’s tuna industry in return for 8,300 fishing days in 2015.

Ponia said the agreement represents better value for the region and its fishery – said to be the source for over 60 per cent of global tuna catches – much of it caught by distant water fishing nations such as Spain, Taiwan, Japan, and the US.

In 2009, the treaty – which allows US purse seiners to continue accessing the region’s abundant skipjack stocks - was worth roughly US$21 million, climbing to $63 million in 2012.

"This is a better deal for the Pacific, simply on the basis that the Pacific gets more value from fishing," Ponia wrote in an email.

He said the eight nations that are parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) will receive US$10,000 dollars per day fished, versus US$2000 dollars a day under previous agreements.

While not subject to the PNA agreement, Ponia said the Cook Islands will see substantial benefits under the new deal.

"The Cook Islands are quite important to the US fleet operating out of Pago, and in fact, our purse seine fishery is the most productive in the region with catches averaging 50 tonnes a set compared to 35 tonnes in the most productive PNA waters," he said.

With 1,250 days of purse seining available to the Cook Islands under Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission arrangements, Ponia said the country could theoretically generate revenues of up to $10 million per year under the new treaty.

The Cook Islands is part of the non-PNA portion of the treaty, where 300 days of fishing have been budgeted at US$8000 dollars a day of fishing - an increase from US$5000 dollars a day last year – and worth $2.4 million.

An additional payment of $600,000 will also be made to the Cook Islands, as part of further benefits under the deal.

Ponia said MMR expects US purse seiners to fish more than the 300 non-PNA days assigned to the nation’s EEZ, paving the way for additional revenues by securing additional days through a bilateral arrangement with the US, or through joining the PNA pool.

Earlier this year, two addendums to the US treaty provided American vessels with and extra 400 fishing days, netting the government an additional $2.5 million in revenue.

"Whichever strategy and option we exercise will depend on the guidance we receive from the Minister and Cabinet," he said.

Ponia said the Cook Islands, with the support of Prime Minister and Henry Puna and other Government Ministers, played "... a very constructive role in ensuring that the treaty was maintained for the betterment of the region."

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