News / Asia

    Tuna Treaty in Tatters as Falling Prices Squeeze Boat Owners

    FILE - A big eye tuna, caught in the South Pacific, is shown in a fish processing facility at Pier 45 on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California.
    FILE - A big eye tuna, caught in the South Pacific, is shown in a fish processing facility at Pier 45 on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California.

    A decades-old tuna treaty between the United States and Pacific Island nations is in tatters after the American fleet backed out of a commitment to the number of days it wants to pay to fish.

    “The U.S. tuna fishing industry now is unable to afford the fishing access envisioned in the Statement of Intent for 2016,” said Ory Abramowicz, a spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. “We recognize the difficulty posed to Pacific Island governments by the severe financial constraints faced by the U.S. fleet.”

    The non-payment of the fishing fees has wrecked 2017 national budget projections for such small nations as the Solomon Islands and the Marshall Islands, where the income is a critical component of their economies.

    “It’s an inconvenience certainly but it has the potential to become a real crisis,” said James Movick, director general of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) which is the treaty’s administrator. “Right now there would have to be some degree of apprehension and concern in the minds of many of the governments.”

    “From a very practical and very economic point of view we just can't collect the money because boats are actually going bankrupt and boats are disappearing,” said Brian Hallman, the executive director of the American Tunaboat Association (ATA).

    Falling prices squeeze boat owners

    The boat owners are willing to pay the island states $46 million for annual fishing rights, plus $21 million of U.S. government foreign assistance this year – of the agreed $89 million package under the South Pacific Tuna Treaty for 5,765 days of fishing.

    The Americans want to cut 2,000 days off that for their 37 purse seiner vessels after prices nosedived below $1,000 a ton for skipjack tuna amid record-sized catches.

    The ATA boats fish for tropical species (mostly skipjack but also some bigeye and yellowfin) composing a significant chunk of the annual $15 billion global canned tuna industry.

    None of the parties explicitly say the tuna treaty, which entered into force in 1988, is doomed, rather that significant modifications are unavoidable.

    The “treaty cannot survive in its present form. We all agree on that – the U.S. side, as well as the Pacific island side,” the FFA’s Movick told VOA.

    Abramowicz, at the State Department concurs, acknowledging to VOA that “the current treaty arrangements are not viable or sustainable in the long-run, and that we all need to consider a new framework for fishing access and environmental cooperation.”

    “The treaty actually has not collapsed,” says Transform Aqorau, chief executive officer of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), the eight nations controlling the world's largest tuna purse seine fishery. The treaty “continues in perpetuity until the United States or either one of three countries in the Pacific islands – Kiribati, Papua New Guinea or the Federated States of Micronesia – withdraws.”

    International competition for tuna

    The Americans boat owners received a shot to the bow in 2014 when Kiribati, with a population of only 100,000 but controlling the most desirable tuna fishing waters, broke with the collective and began banning boats except from China and Taiwan.

    With the American tuna fleet now consigned to port the island nations are compelled to sell their fishing days to other countries.

    “There's a competition for [fishing] days that's going on. The U.S. is not the only player in this fishery,” Aqorau, in the Marshall Islands, told VOA.

    But at this late stage the FFA might not be able to sell those days to others at a rate anywhere close to what the Americans had pledged to pay.

    “Other fleets we are in competition with, such as the Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese, I'm sure, will be happy to pick up the fishing days,” Hallman told VOA. “Traditionally there's not been enough fishing days for all these boats and there are too many boats.”

    The American Tunaboat Association, formed in 1917, has seen its membership diversify in recent years.

    The San Diego-based families, the industry’s mainstay for generations, are more reluctant to pay for additional fishing days compared to the owners of state-of-the-art boats backed by deep pocketed Taiwanese investors.

    Environmental and economic concerns

    Some countries, such as New Zealand, advocate transitioning from the vessel day scheme (VDS) – which has pushed up access fees charged by the islands – to a catch-based quota. But that is not something the island nations desire.

    “A collapse of the treaty may be a good thing in the long term, but Pacific Island countries have gone to great lengths to accommodate the treaty within the VDS in the current negotiations. While they have acted in good faith, the U.S. seems not to be doing so,” said Sandra Tarte, an associate professor who is a specialist in marine resources management at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji.

    FFA director general Movick said as long as this remains unresolved it is “reducing the level of confidence” in the American fleet, as well as the U.S. government backing up the vessel owners.

    Environmentalists also want to see the treaty modified to better protect species such as sharks and juvenile bigeye – inadvertently scooped up in the purse seines (large walls of nets intended to catch entire schools of fish).

    “If the U.S. is going to be tapping into U.S. tax dollars to subsidize these U.S.-flagged tuna vessels then we'd really like to see stronger leadership on conservation issues,” said John Hocevar, oceans campaign director for Greenpeace USA.

    Having American boats fishing in the Pacific waters is preferable to those of other countries because, according to Hocevar, “the U.S. government does do a better job of enforcing violations and holding its flagged vessels accountable.”

    The U.S. State Department says it is continuing to communicate with the island governments hoping to “facilitate a resolution to the financial challenges created by access arrangements and changing economic conditions.”

    Correction: An earlier version of this story had incorrect figures for what boat owners were willing to pay island states. VOA regrets the error.


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

    You May Like

    Brexit Vote Triggers Increase in Racist Attacks

    Britain's decision to leave European Union seen by some as 'permission' to unleash anti-immigrant resentment

    Russian Military Tests Readiness With Snap Inspections

    Some observers see surprise drill as tit-for-tat response to NATO’s recent multinational military exercises in Baltic region

    AIIB Takes Big Strides Amid Fears About China's Dominance

    Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank says it is independent, but concerns persist; China holds 20.6 percent of bank's shares, others have less than 7.5 percent each

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmarki
    X
    John Owens
    June 26, 2016 2:04 PM
    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora