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New US Tuna Treaty Into Effect This Weekend Pacific Islands Nations, June 3, 13

The United States is now paying more for the tuna it takes from the Pacific Ocean.

After a strong stand by Papua New Guinea the US agreement with the Parties to the Nauru Agreement is being re-negotiated but those talks have not wound up as yet.

An 18-month interim arrangement went into effect over the weekend to allow the US purse seiner fleet to keep fishing while the talks continue.

Editor of the Marshall Islands Journal, Giff Johnson says the US is still getting its tuna very cheaply.

Presenter:Geraldine Coutts
Speaker:Giff Johnson, editor, Marshall Islands Journal

Johnson: Well, the deal with the interim arrangement is that negotiators couldn’t get the treaty financial agreement sorted out before the treaty financial, the current agreement expires in a couple of weeks, so they agreed to an 18 months interim period which is essentially the same as the longer term financial agreement which will see the US pay 63 million dollars per year to access fishing ports - fleets in the Pacific for about 8,000 days within the, what is known as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement fishing area, the eight countries in the central and western pacific that have waters where most of the skipjack tuna is caught. So that kicks in the year from now through the end of 2014.
Coutts: And the negotiations with the US have been protracted because they were unhappy as I understand it to pay more than they had been paying, so is this why it has taken so long to reach an agreement?
One of the reasons, yes, and it’s kind of interesting to look back on the negotiations with the US because essentially every time it modestly raised the amount it was offering, it would say “well, that’s the limit, we can’t go higher” and they started out at the existing level which was 21 million a year and ultimately tripled it to 63 million and so it gives you an indication of how under paid, or what a great deal the US fishing fleet has been getting the last 10 years as the fishing industry has expanded and, you know, the money that they’re making is phenomenal and they can pay this tripping and probably would have paid more, except that what really prodded it was when Papua New Guinea (PNG) threatened to pull out of the treaty and PNG is one of the lynch pins of the treaty and that definitely caught the US government’s attention and helped to prompt the increase as well as the agreement on some other issues.
So then they perhaps should be paying even more than the 63 million?
Well what’s interesting about the treaty is that, see, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) are now controlling the purse seine industry in the Central and Western Pacific and beginning next January they will bump the fishing day price from 5,000 dollars a day to 6,000 dollars and this will actually make it more lucrative for the PNA countries to sell to countries other than the United States because, if you work out the per-day price of 8,000 days under 63 million with the various divisions the way the agreement works where some of the money goes to islands where there’s no fish, just a way of being inclusive for all the Pacific Islands that are involved in the treaty, that the US will actually be paying significantly less than what’s the going rate and this is one of the challenges that fisheries people in the PNA countries are talking about is they have to come up with the 8,000 days within the overall fishing day limit. And, from their point of view, they’d rather sell fishing day per higher price to Japan or Korea, but obviously the treaty will be there and they’ll have to come up with 8,000 days for the US.
And, Giff, a fleet of three Taiwan navy vessels arriving this morning for two-day visit in Majuro, what’s that for?
This has become pretty much an annual event. The Taiwan navy does an exercise each year where they sail a fleet of several vessels, touch down at various Pacific Islands partners and head all the way over to Central America. So, for Marshall Islands it’s mostly, you know, it’s a public relations call and it gives a nice little shot in the arm to the local economy where 850 or so sailors get off the boat for a couple of days and generally spend a lot of money in local restaurants, handicraft shops and so on.
So, initiative being shown there and President Tommy Remengesau of Palau, a two day visit to Majuro like last week to promote joint marine conservation efforts with Palau.
The Palauans have really… the conservation area the Palauans are definitely leaders in this part of the Pacific and among the things they are doing –it’s kind of a two pronged thing- one is at the local village coastal fisheries level, where they’ve been very active on the protected areas, that is places where they ban fishing so that local fish stocks can regenerate for the villagers who subsist in these areas; and the second area is President Remengesau is now moving forward with his plan to actually ban commercial fishing in Palau’s exclusive economic zone as a conservation measure. The Palauans have ability to do this largely because they don’t depend as heavily on fisheries and they have a very significant tourism industry among others and they see conservation as the key to their economic development.
Mr. Remengesau says that given the money that can be earned on tuna, he says and feels that they’re not getting as much as they should.
Well, I think that the point is that they don’t get a lot because they’re on the periphery of the major fishing grounds and what Palau has done fairly well by the last several years, under the PNA arrangement, is that they sell their fishing days to other countries. And the fishing doesn’t actually go on in Palau very much, so it’s like Papua New Guinea or the Solomon Islands or other PNA members will buy Palau’s fishing days and use them to sell in the more lucrative fishing zones and what President Remengesau says is “well, that’s our contribution to conservation because we can still make some money but the fishing isn’t actually going on in our area”.