Viola Ulukai, Pacific Media@WCPFC13
Tonga will get a boost in aid associated with the longstanding US Pacific Tuna treaty after it joined other Pacific Forum nations in signing a 6-year extension to financial arrangements for the Treaty.
The signing ceremony, which took place in Nadi on Saturday, brought an end to a rift between the Pacific and Washington which had resulted in Washington issuing a formal notice of withdrawal from the treaty.
Minister of Fisheries Hon Semisi Fakahau told Radio Tonga News the amendments to the treaty will result in increase of about 36% of Tonga’s aid share. According to Hon Fakahau, the previous agreement gave Tonga more than 6-hundred thousand US dollars a year but with the new agreement that will rise to 1-million and 10-thousand US dollars.
The Minister said the United States and the Pacific Islands Countries had to review the Treaty several times to accommodate both parties need due to rapid developments in Fisheries Industry, increasing in the number of fishing activities and also the United States wants to increase its number of catches in the region.
As part of the agreement, the United States is also willing to send its fishing boats to conduct surveys on Albacore in Tonga’s water, not only because Tonga wants to know more about this specific species in its water but Albacore is what the United States really want from the Pacific. He said US is paying an amount of money to Tonga for conducting the survey in its water.
At the moment no US boats fish in Tonga’s exclusive economic zone.
There are options in the agreement if the United States wants to increase the number of boats fishing in the Pacific and for this to take place without any tremendous increase in its fees.
The Minister said the Treaty allows the US fishing boats to fish in any of the 17 member countries of FFA, so if tuna migration patterns change due to Climate Change it will not be a problem for US fishing boats.
Hon. Fakahau stressed that the government and the Ministry of Fisheries will split Tonga’s 1-million US dollar share. He says the Ministry will use its portion for its development activities. It involves a plan to return Tu’imatamoana Wharf to the Ministry and a huge amount of funding is needed to help boosting Fisheries development activities in Tonga.
When speaking at the ceremony, the Minister said he was directly involved in the negotiations and it was not as easy as the Director General of FFA told the gathering.
Hon Fakahau thanked everyone who took part in making it as a success and reminded them that what they are doing helps the Pacific stay together and reinforces its strength and regional co-operation. He represented the FFA member countries in thanking Ambassador Judith Cefkin and the government of the United States.
Hon Fakahau said the signing ceremony demonstrates that the United States is taking the lead in the development of fisheries in the Pacific and it’s important for the Pacific because the fisheries resources are what they share among themselves. He says the leadership of the United States has indicated to the Pacific that they can stay together and always work together with the US government in the future and its effect will be a sign of peace in the Pacific.
The Minister reiterated that there is enough Tuna in Tonga’s water but the only problem is that there are not many fishing boats to take Tonga’s share before other fishing vessels fish them when migrating to other waters.
There was a trial exercise held recently by the Ministry in which every fishing boats must off-load 5 tons of Tuna from each trip to the local market. The purpose is for the public to have easy access to fish with low price. According to the Minister, it has been a popular move made by the Ministry. There are 7 fishing boats now with 4 owned by locals and there is a need to increase that number to about 15 or 20 not only to fish the livestock in Tonga’s water on economic purpose but for the public’s consumption in-terms of healthy food.
Tonga is a part of the Tokelau Arrangement, the new Pacific grouping based around albacore. There is a plan in the arrangement to improve management and to increase the fee being imposed on Albacore fishing fleets. New Zealand and Australia are helping in its process.