Fish Talk - The US Treaty and the FSM

There has been a lot of media coverage in recent months, weeks, days about the United States Multilateral Fisheries Treaty with Certain Pacific Island States or commonly referred to as the US Treaty. The US Treaty is a fishing arrangement that allows U.S. flag purse seiners to fish in the Pacific Island Parties (PIPs) waters including Australia and New Zealand. Since its first licensing period some 30 years ago , it has operated under a traditional fisheries access arrangement where licenses are issued annually and they fish all year round with payments of fees and a U.S. Government Economic Assistance package to support Pacific Island Countries economic development programs. Financial package started with $12 million, eventually going to $18 million then $21 million. In the last 3-5 years, that all changed with the introduction of the vessel day scheme to the US purse seiners that would limit their fishing effort annually. This increased license fees to $40 million to what is now in the 2016 Statement of Intent (SOI) $89 million of which $68 million was from industry. Since then, the relationship has taken a turn for the worse due to a number of factors mostly resulting from the inability of a component of the industry to pay for their fishing days. The increasing value of the PNA VDS and the high demand for fishing days by foreign fleets meant the US fleet had to compete for these days and pay the commercial value of these days, something the US fleet couldn’t really adapt. The US Government assistance cushioned that impact by a portion of those funds being used to help pay for access to the VDS. Another reason is the US fleet is a mixture of ex-Taiwanese, ex-Korean flag vessels with several traditional US purse seiners. The traditional US fleet that normally fish to support their canneries in Pago Pago in Amercian Samoa are inefficient because of the nature of their operations and age. They have to fish close to Pago Pago and can’t go large distances when fish move farther west. Fish prices have fallen in the past year and a half and has further aggravated their situation. The media in recent time is about the US agreeing to a SOI for 2016 for some 5,700 fishing days from PNA, non-PNA waters and exploratory fishing in some waters of PIPs. The SOI was signed in Brisbane last August. In November last year, the US advised that they would be unable to pay for the days and asked that days be taken back and some concessions be provided despite those requests earlier being rejected by PNA Ministers. In December, when payment was due, the US did not pay and FFA, the treaty administrator, was directed not to issue their licenses until they pay. To date, no payment has been made and no licenses have been issued. PIPs, but most importantly, the PNA which includes the FSM must now consider the implications if the US does not pay for the days they got under the 2016 SOI. PNA members are taking steps to mitigate the risks of non payment as these are important for their national budgets. A meeting is being held in Fiji among PIPs to look at their options. From the perspective of the FSM, the US Treaty remains an important treaty because it is the foundation for Pacific Regional Solidarity through the US Treaty. It also serves as a model for monitoring control and surveillance as well as employment. The problem is the fleet is divided between those that can pay for these days and those that can’t afford them (pago pago fleet) and therefore everyone is affected. FSM would like to see these issues quickly resolved as 10% of the fishing season is past and the longer it takes to resolve these the situation on worsens for both sides. PIPs are developing a future treaty model that will form the basis for future negotiations with the US to salvage the treaty.

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