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Tuna access in doubt after talks fail to seal fisheries deal

Fishing for 40 United States-flagged purse seiners is in jeopardy for 2015 after negotiations between the US and Pacific nations last month failed to seal an access treaty. Although agreement was reached two years ago on the US access fee, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) in April raised the fishing day fee by 33 per cent, and island nations put their demand on the table at the Auckland talks for significantly elevated payments from the U.S. With just four months until an interim treaty arrangement expires in December, it appears unlikely that negotiators can finalise a deal in time.

Will an interim deal be struck to keep American purse seiners fishing come January? PNA has said unequivocally it will not provide days to the U.S. industry unless it meets the new minimum fishing day fee of US$8,000. In the 1980s, American purse seiners fished the region without regard for rules established by fledgling small islands nations. US vessels were frequently arrested for fishing illegally and were viewed by many island fisheries departments as latter-day pirates.

It sparked enough diplomatic fallout that the State Department engaged its industry in negotiating a treaty with the 17 Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) nations that stabilised relations by guaranteeing a joint U.S. government-industry annual payment to the islands and gave U.S.-flagged boats access to the region. For over 20 years, the treaty was a model for the region. But as PNA nations began exerting their authority five years ago, existing treaty terms negotiated years before meant US vessels were out of step with fees paid and rules followed by other fleets. Several years of difficult negotiations produced US agreement in 2012 to triple its annual payment to the region, from US$21 million to US$63 million.

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