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Pacific countries offer new proposal to U.S. tuna boats

American Tunaboat Association (ATA) executive director Brian Hallman confirmed that the new proposal from Pacific Island countries reduces fishing days for the US fishing fleet, which last year faced low prices for tuna and other economic difficulties.


ATA represents the US purse seiner fleet under the South Pacific Tuna Treaty agreement between the federal government and the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), administrator of the nearly 30-year-old Treaty for 17 Pacific island countries.


FFA also issues fishing licenses to the US fleet under the Treaty but none have been issued since the start of 2016 after the US defaulted on its payment after the US fleet argued that it could not afford the provisions of the treaty agreed to last year.


More than a week ago, FFA announced that a proposal has been reached by Pacific countries following a three-day meeting in Fiji and has been forwarded to the US State Department. While the FFA decline to reveal details of the proposal, there have been several reports that a reduction of fishing days — as sought by the US fleet — is among the provisions in the proposal.


Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Hallman said he can’t say too much about FFA’s proposal, but he did confirm that the proposal is “still under review” by ATA members.


Hallman said that the US State Department has forwarded the FFA proposal to ATA and confirmed that the proposal “would reduce fishing days for the US fleet” in waters of the Pacific island countries under the Treaty.


Asked what he sees as the important provisions of the proposal to the US fleet, Hallman said, the “most important part of the proposal deals with the number of fishing days for 2016. There would be fewer days, and the US fleet asked for fewer days because we cannot use as many days as in past years, for a variety of reasons.”


While Hallman didn’t cite some of the reasons, he had previously told Samoa News that the US fleet is faced with low price of tuna in the market. Last week Wednesday, the Tuna Market Intelligence, an independent publication sponsored by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, reported that the Bangkok tuna market prices have risen as far as US$1,180 per metric tonnage compared to the publication’s report at the end of January this year that the price was at $US1,050.


Hallman told Samoa News last Friday that the ATA members will “very soon” make a decision on the FFA proposal. Asked when ATA will make the first payment towards the Treaty agreement, once ATA members endorses the proposal, Hallman said it would be made “as soon as the money could be collected.”


And if ATA gets an agreement from its members as well as the first payment on the proposal, Hallman believes that the fishing “licenses could be issued very quickly” by FFA.


Radio New Zealand International quotes FFA director general James Movick saying that it agreed to fewer fishing days under the Treaty and “we hope [it] will be sufficient to enable them [US] to proceed, given what they say is their economic situation.”