Majuro, Marshall Islands 12 June 2016: A new U.S. government fishing regulation that went into effect late last month violates a conservation measure for high seas fishing approved last year by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), said the Parties to the Nauru Agreement Chief Executive.
“This new U.S. fishing rule seeks to allow its purse seine fleet to evade the WCPFC measure,” said Dr. Transform Aqorau, PNA CEO.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service issued rule 2016-0038 providing the U.S. purse seine fleet with a limit of 1,828 days for the western Pacific high seas area. It went into effect on May 25.
WCPFC’s Conservation and Management Measure 2015-001, endorsed by member nations including the United States last December, sets fishing limits for each flag state’s fishing fleet. The United States purse seine fleet was limited to 1,270 fishing days on the high seas by CMM 2015-001.
The U.S. government is combining 558 fishing days from its exclusive economic zones in American Samoa and Guam with the WCPFC limit of 1,270 to increase to 1,828 the number of days American purse seiners can fish on the high seas. “By issuing this new rule, the United States is saying it can take the 1,270 day limit by the WCPFC and combine it with its American Samoa and Guam days to fish anywhere,” said Dr. Aqorau.
“This is a superpower abusing a measure agreed to in December 2015,” said Dr. Aqorau. “They are trying to find ways to evade limits set by the WCPFC, and to avoid application of the Vessel Day Scheme by fishing outside of Pacific island nations’ waters.”
The Vessel Day Scheme is the management mechanism through which PNA regulates and limits fishing by purse seiners in the exclusive economic zones of its eight member nations.
The U.S. announcement that it is increasing the high seas allotment of fishing days for its purse seine fleet comes as the U.S. government and its purse seine industry are struggling to negotiate an extension of a fishing treaty that has governed U.S.-flagged vessel access to the western Pacific since the late 1980s. But the U.S. announced earlier this year its plan to withdraw from the treaty in January 2017 and ongoing negotiations have failed to result in a new agreement. The next negotiating session is scheduled between the U.S. and 17 Pacific island nations in Auckland from June 20-24.
“We should be less accommodating of the U.S. fleet in these treaty negotiations because of their apparent intention to evade WCPFC conservation rules,” said Dr. Aqorau. “We would be better off without a treaty.”
Dr. Aqorau said it was unacceptable for the U.S. government — or any other flag state — to unilaterally increase its fishing day limit on the high seas above the limit established by the WCPFC.
In issuing this new rule in late May, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service said it had to “establish the applicable limits for 2016 before they are exceeded,” which could be as early as this month, based on U.S. fleet fishing activity.
“Any U.S. fishing above the limit of 1,270 days will be in contravention of the WCPFC’s 2015-001 Conservation and Management Measure,” said Dr. Aqorau.