Boats, payments in limbo

THE U.S. government officially announced in mid-January that it is pulling out of the U.S. Pacific islands fisheries treaty, a move that starts a 12-month clock ticking to terminate the nearly 30-year-old agreement that has given 40 American tuna boats unfettered access to the region’s lucrative fishing zones. This follows the U.S. industry default on January 1 on its quarterly payment of US$17 million that left the entire fleet without licenses to fish for the first time since the late 1980s.

The Forum Fisheries Agency has called a meeting in Nadi the first week of February to address the U.S. treaty withdrawal and its financial impact on the 17 island FFA members. A State Department official said the U.S. remains open to discussing restructuring of the treaty, which could prevent its demise. But the real problem to maintaining the treaty may simply be that it is not a ‘simple’ negotiation between two sides.

Within each side are two or more competing interests: On the island team, there is the ‘Big Eight’ plus Tokelau, where most of the tuna is caught and where most of the U.S. fishing revenue goes, and there are the less important islands in terms of fishing that benefit from the over US$600,000 annual payment the treaty has provided annually to each of the 17 FFA members regardless of where tuna is caught.

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