US Wants Reduction In Fishing Days Committed To In Agreement

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

‘Too late’ to take cut as countries have budgeted for revenue: FFA

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Jan. 5, 2016) – Not only does the US government want a reduction of fishing days in the treaty for US vessels to access Pacific Island Party (PIP) waters in 2016, it is also seeking a large reduction in the amount the US fishing fleet pays annually as part of the agreement, according to a Dec. 31 news release by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries (FFA), the administrator of the Treaty. However the FAA says, "this is an untenable situation."

The release provided what FFA says, is an "Explanatory Note on the status of the Treaty between Pacific islands countries" and the US government. It recalled that last August the Parties to the Treaty reached an agreement regarding the conditions for access to PIP waters for 2016 and signed a "Statement of Intent" (SOI) that reflected this agreement.

While the agreement is between PIP and the US government, it describes obligations that fall to US vessel owners through the American Tunaboat Association (ATA).

The SOI provides 6,250 fishing days in the region and in return the industry agreed to pay $68.27 million — which is to be paid in quarterly installments with the first payment due Jan. 1, 2016 and the payment is made through ATA. Additionally, the US government provides $21 million annually for economic assistance to the PIPs.

Last November, FFA says it received an advisory from the US government that the US industry was unable to make the first quarterly payment because of economic conditions within the fleet and that means some vessels no longer require or can afford the days that they committed to last August.

FFA revealed that the US proposed to revise the 2016 agreed SOI — to reduce the number of fishing days by 1,930, with an associated reduction in the ATA annual payment of almost $23 million.

However, PIPs had a number of concerns with the proposed revision.

"The principal issue being faced is the timing. Having made an agreement with the US in August 2015, most PIPs, and particularly those who participate in the Vessel Day Scheme — the Parties to the Nauru Agreement and Tokelau — have entered into agreements with other vessels and flag States to sell their remaining fishing days," FFA says.

Additionally, most PIPs have completed their sales, so agreeing to reduce the US allocation by 1,930 days brings in certain risks that could result in substantially reduced fisheries revenue to some or all PIPs.

"Given that those PIPs are all developing States, and have already budgeted on the projected revenue from the agreed SOI, this is an untenable situation," FFA says. "As such, PIPs have determined that at this stage they cannot accept the revised proposal and as such, expect the US government and the ATA to make good on the agreement that was reached and signed in good faith."

In implementing their decision to hold the US to the agreed SOI, the FFA says PIP has advised the US government that no Treaty licenses will be issued on Jan. 1, 2016 unless the complete expected quarterly payment of about $17 million is received.

FFA stressed that the quarterly payment is not a new condition imposed by PIPs, but a requirement in the Treaty that licenses cannot enter into force until relevant payments have been made.

As of Dec. 31, FFA says it appeared certain that no payment would be forthcoming and that the US government has not lodged any license applications — as required by the Treaty — which further indicates that payment would not be forthcoming.

"It is unclear how this situation arose on the part of the US industry. The main point of contention in the August 2015 negotiations was that the US fleet insisted on more days than the PIPs were willing to provide," FFA explained.

"After several rounds of negotiation, PIPs were eventually able to allocate the number of days that the fleet was requesting," it says. "PIPs do not understand how the US delegation, and particularly the industry members, overestimated their required effort in the order of 30%, especially given that they were already complaining of being burdened with excess days for 2015 at the time.

PIPs are also unable to comprehend how the US would expect them to accept such a substantial change to the agreed SOI some 3 months after it was signed and only 2 months before the fishing season commences, said FFA.

"The timing of this issue is doubly unfortunate" as it comes on the back of a PIP Ministers meeting in Nadi last October where Ministers reaffirmed their strong commitment to the Treaty and put in place a process for the development of a more sustainable and flexible model for US vessels to obtain access to PIP waters into the future.

According to FFA, the PIPs will continue to develop options for achieving a more sustainable arrangement, but this impasse has raised many questions about the commitment of the US to the Treaty and doubts about the reliability of the fleet to live up to its commitments.

"Again, this is unfortunate given that the US fleet has long been regarded as a proactive partner, and the US Government as a responsible flag State," FFA said, adding that at this time, "US vessels will not be able to fish in the region’s most productive fishing grounds without the issuance of Treaty Licenses so there is definitely a mutual benefit for finding a resolution."

BACKGROUND

ATA executive director Brian Hallman told Samoa News last week that ATA, which represents all US Treaty vessels, is working with the US government pursuant to its agreement with FFA to reduce the number of fishing days the fleet would be obligated to buy for 2016.

"The simple fact is that the fleet cannot afford to buy all of the 5,700 days contemplated in Brisbane, when the price of fish was almost 40% higher than it is now," he said. "The economic situation is so bad that many boats are having difficultly just paying their bills."

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