The US Tuna Treaty has survived after 18 negotiation meetings over the last seven years, with the latest one just concluded in Auckland, New Zealand.
The multilateral Treaty is important for American Samoa because it allows US puirse seiners that supply our two canneries to fish in the exclusive economic zones of island countries that are close by.
Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale and the governor’s advisor on fisheries, Vaamua Henry Sesepasara, were part of the US delegation to the Auckland negotiations.
FFA Director-General James Movick said after the latest talks there’s a sense of achievement and relief that regional cooperation has delivered a deal many doubted could be achieved, .
The process was mired by setbacks over the last 12 months leading to a major breakdown early this year over the United States non-payment for the 2016 deal.
This took both parties to a very public impasse where the Pacific’s refusal to issue licenses was met with a formal notice of Withdrawal from the Treaty, by the US Government.
Despite solving that impasse, allowing vessels to resume fishing, the strained relationships between the Pacific and US continued, with a real chance the treaty would not survive past December 2016.
Agreement was reached from both sides, the US and Pacific island Parties, at 3am Saturday, NZ time.
The head of FFA says, “The Pacific should be incredibly pleased with the outcome of the session, which builds on earlier achievements. We have struck a six year deal that should provide for a secure yet flexible future for the US industry, stability in the delivery of US economic assistance and excellent financial returns to the Pacific islands.”
At this stage, the agreement remains “in principle”.
The US will need to rescind its earlier withdrawal, a decision that can only be made at the highest political levels. The Pacific still needs the endorsement of the Fisheries Ministers when they meet in Vanuatu in early July.
Nevertheless, the negotiation delegations have both indicated their strong support for the outcomes.
FFA Deputy Director-General Wez Norris noted the deal provides a “very valuable ‘first right of refusal’ to the US fleet for a significant number of fishing days. The US fleet also has a new flexibility to compete in the market place with other vessel owners.”
The overall package, he says, could be worth as much as $70 m for 2017 “if the fleet takes up all its available opportunities.”
While that figure may seem lower than previous one-year deals that have been struck (which were worth up to US90m), it is for a far lower number of fishing days, and the rate of return to the Pacific for each fishing day has never been higher.
Norris says, “By the end of the deal the Treaty will be providing returns of over $14,000 per fishing day in addition to the economic assistance that each country receives. At the start of the negotiation, that amount was somewhere in the vicinity of $2,000 per day.”