US fishing deal collapses

A fisherman aboard the US flagged Raffaello prepares fish for transshipment in Majuro lagoon in this 2010 file photo. All US fishing boats have been ordered to halt fishing as of January 1, 2016. Photo: Giff Johnson.
A fisherman aboard the US flagged Raffaello prepares fish for transshipment in Majuro lagoon in this 2010 file photo. All US fishing boats have been ordered to halt fishing as of January 1, 2016. Photo: Giff Johnson.

GIFF JOHNSON

The fishing treaty between the United States and the Pacific islands has collapsed. For the first time in nearly 30 years, the American tuna fleet will not be authorized to fish in the western Pacific starting New Year’s day, this Friday.

The US government last week told the nearly 40 American purse seiners to halt fishing operations. The Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) is not issuing licenses for the US fleet that have been routinely issued annually for the past 27 years according to the terms of a treaty with the US government.

Several of the fishing companies in the US purse seine fleet say they cannot or will not meet the payment due to the Forum Fisheries Agency this week. The US government has asked the FFA to “take back” 2,000 of the more than 5,000 days the US government and industry agreed to buy in August for 2016.

No payment by the US of its $17 million first quarter fishing fee will have a significant impact on all 17 FFA members, and particularly the eight Parties to the Nauru Agreement, including RMI, which receive the majority of the fishing day fees from the US fleet.

The FFA with the backing of PNA in early December told US officials it would not break the agreement reached last August and take back days already committed to the US fleet. “A deal is a deal,” said MIMRA Director Glen Joseph. “We said (in August) that the US doesn’t need so many fishing days, but they wanted more.” He said the FFA’s position is the agreement stands as is.

Can PNA members make up the loss of several million dollars of anticipated US revenue that they have already budgeted and planned for? asked Joseph. “I don’t know,” he said. “It’s not fair to be asked to make up this shortfall (when the agreement was already in place).”

One US fishing firm said it is willing to pay the share due for its boats to keep fishing. But the FFA nations are not agreeing to a piecemeal approach to allow some US boats to fish.

A key factor in the mix is the collapse of world market skipjack tuna prices, which are currently below $1,000 per ton, in part due to over-supply. Two years ago, the price of skipjack peaked at $2,300 a ton.

There were 34 purse seiners in Port Majuro Wednesday — eight of which were US fleet — and eight transshipment carriers in the lagoon.

Read more about this in the January 1, 2016 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.

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