AS the dust clears from the August negotiating session between American and Pacific island fisheries representatives, two things are clear: The islands gained a solid financial deal including important conservation measures for 2016 and, in the absence of an unlikely major shift in Pacific negotiating strategy, next year will be the last for the nearly 30-year fishing treaty that has been a primary vehicle for United States government diplomacy in the region.
Since the access and financial terms of the fishing treaty lapsed in June 2013, the U.S. and the Pacific Islands have been on a series of one-year or 18-month interim arrangements to maintain the treaty, which gives U.S.-flagged vessels access to the region while they have attempted to reach agreement on a longer-term extension of the treaty. That now looks next to impossible, a development that is good or bad depending on which side of the table you sit.
The talks in Brisbane in early August started with the U.S. side saying it was distressed that Pacific island negotiators were increasingly discounting “the significant contribution that the U.S. government has historically made to the overall treaty package” and were discounting the value of the treaty itself.
It ended with the U.S. saying it would agree to a one-year extension in 2016 on terms favourable to the islands to secure access for its fleet, but would pull out of the treaty the following year. In the meantime, Parties to the Nauru Agreement CEO Dr. Transform Aqorau hailed the one-year transitional arrangement for U.S. vessels for 2016 as a “positive development reflecting the value of rights-based fisheries management” for the Pacific islands. The contradictory U.S. and PNA viewpoints underline the rift between the Americans’ attempt to maintain a treaty crafted 30 years ago in the face of PNA’s newly dominant role in managing the skipjack tuna fishery.
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