Pacific Island countries and the United States have reached a $90 million tuna deal, which is believed to be the world's most lucrative fishing access agreement. The deal was secured in the final minutes of a three-day negotiating session in Hawaii.
Interestingly, in August, the U.S. State Department proposed more than $20 million in its fiscal year 2015 budget for the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, also known as the Multilateral Treaty on Fisheries, which in July during the New Zealand negotiations finished in a ‘no deal’ leaving the United States tuna fleet without fishing access to the Pacific Ocean in 2015
But obviously, tuna is worth more and the money came out at the end
Under the agreement, the 17 member countries of the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries will receive $US90 million from the US government and its tuna industry in return for 8,300 fishing days in 2015.
"We have been renegotiating this treaty since 2009, when its total value was in the order of $21 million," said James Movick, director general of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). "During that time, the Pacific Island parties were able to secure an increase to $42 million in 2011, and then again to $63 million in 2012."
As tuna stocks in the rest of the world dwindle, the Pacific has become the global epicentre for the industry. More than 60 % of the world's tuna is caught in the Pacific by vessels from powerful distant water fishing nations such as China, Japan, Taiwan South Korea, Spain and more from North and South America. For many Pacific Island nations, tuna licence fees are a budget mainstay.
The region's negotiating success down to collective bargaining and to the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS), introduced by the eight Pacific nations that are parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA). The VDS sets a region-wide quota for fishing days and a minimum price per day. It aims to reduce the number of days on offer and ratchet up the price. Since it began in 2005, it has been successful in improving economic returns for Pacific Island nations but not in halting the decline in fish stocks.
Scientists say stocks of Bigeye tuna are now down to 16%of their original numbers and are calling for tougher conservation measures. Pacific countries are due to meet with the distant water fishing nations in December to agree on a long-awaited new conservation measure.
In the past 12 months, Japan has indicated a new willingness to support stronger conservation action but other nations remain unconvinced.
The new deal with the US sends a strong signal to the other distant water fishing nations the seriousness with which the Pacific countries take both conservation and the economic maximisation of their tuna resource.
Despite its success this may be the last such deal with the US. "In my view we will have to seriously reconsider the structure of the US treaty," Mr Movick said. All Pacific Island members of the Forum Fisheries Agency, including those with no tuna, benefit from the current arrangements with the US. That does not sit well with some of the tuna-rich nations, which have to forgo income to help their neighbours.
Talks to decide on allocating revenue from the US deal are difficult and time-consuming. "These internal negotiations among ourselves place a lot of stress on the regional co-operative mechanisms and relationships and I don't think that is necessary or beneficial, so I am asking the [Pacific fisheries] ministers to consider recommending to [Pacific] leaders that a different approach be taken.
"I recognise the treaty has been an important diplomatic tool between the Pacific Island governments and the United States, so [a new kind of arrangement] has political dimension which also has to be addressed."