American Tunaboat Association Advocates For Changes In Tuna Treaty

US fleet wants ‘reasonable terms of access’; more flexibility

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, June 3, 2016) – The American Tunaboat Association (ATA) plans to advocate a restructuring of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty when the next round of negotiations between the United States and 17 Pacific Island countries gets underway later this month.

The current interim Treaty, administered by the Pacific Island Forum Fishery Agency (FFA), is only for 2016 and negotiations held recently didn’t provide any final results. ATA represents the US fleet interests in the Treaty while the US State Department represents the federal government.  The current agreement became effective Mar. 4 this year.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, ATA executive director Brian Hallman says the next round of Treaty negotiations is scheduled for June 21-24 in Auckland, New Zealand.

“ATA will be advocating (at negotiations) for a re-structured Treaty arrangement, which provides the US fleet with reasonable terms of access to the waters of Pacific Island countries, and in a more flexible manner,” Hallman said yesterday.

“For example, disassociating high seas fishing with the Treaty, doing away with the lump sum payment system, and requiring vessels to only pay for the days they want to use,” he noted.

Asked how many American Samoa based US vessels currently fish in the Treaty area, Hallman responded, “It’s not always so clear which boats are 'based’ in American Samoa, since some vessels don't land their fish from every fishing trip in Pago Pago.”

“But I think it is fair to say that 15-20 US vessels that operate out of American Samoa have Treaty licenses,” he said, adding that there are 34 US vessels with Treaty licenses, and several US flag vessels without Treaty licenses which are fishing in the eastern Pacific.

Meanwhile, the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on May 25 issued an interim rule setting the limiting of 1,828 fishing days for 2016 for the US purse seiner fleet to fish in the US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and in the high seas area known in federal regulations as Effort Limit Area for Purse Seine, or ELAPS. The interim rule also became effective May 25.

Asked for a reaction to the set number of fishing days, which is the same as last year, Hallman said ATA would like to see the US government increase the number of high seas fishing days available to the US fleet.

According to NMFS, it expects the number of fishing days — 1,828 —  to be reached by sometime this month and this is the reason no advance notice was issued on the interim rule. Asked if he agrees with the NMFS’ assessment, Hallman responded, “I have no reason to doubt the NMFS count of days fished on the high seas and in US waters.”

According to NMFS, the rate of purse seine fishing in the ELAPS so far in 2016 has been great compared to almost all previous years, with the exception of 2015, which saw an unprecedented level of fishing in the ELAPS.

As in 2015, the relatively high rate of fishing in the ELAPS in 2016 is likely related to the very limited number of fishing days available to the U.S. purse seine fleet in the Kiribati EEZ, it says.

However, the situation in 2016 is quite different than in 2015, in that the U.S. purse seine fleet did not receive licenses to fish in the Treaty area, which includes most of the ELAPS, until Mar. 4.

NMFS also says there are limits on where the Treaty fishing days can be used, the most constraining of which is that only 300 fishing days are available in the Kiribati EEZ, which has traditionally constituted an important fishing ground for the U.S. fleet.

The Samoa News
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