After American companies refused to honor an agreement reached with Pacific Island nations, the US announced yesterday that it will withdraw from a treaty that's covered tuna fishing rights in much of the South Pacific for almost 30. Seventeen countries depend on the promised payments for this year's budget while American Samoa could lose its biggest industry....we have more from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.
Last August, the American Tuna Boat association and a regional group of Pacific nations agreed on a one year extension of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty. The US companies would pay $68-million dollars for about 6,000 fishing days, while the US government would kick in $21-million in foreign aid. By the time the first payment was due on December 31st, the price of skipjack tuna had dropped about 25% and the US companies said they couldn't afford to pay. The Island countries rejected a plea to buy back 2,000 fishing days “a deal's a deal,” they said...and 37 US tuna boats either tied up at the dock in American Samoa or went fishing elsewhere. Two canneries and port services for the fishing boats are the lifeblood of American Samoa's economy.
Yesterday, the State Department filed official notice of withdrawal, effective one year from today. For smaller Pacific Island states, the prospects are sobering. Tokelau for example, gets almost half its budget from fishing fees and allocated three quarters of its fishing days to the US fleet. These countries plan a meeting early next month to discuss resale of their fishing days, but may be unable to recoup anything like the fees they expected from the US. And it may get worse...California Congressman Duncan Hunter plans to introduce legislation on Friday, to cut off the $21-million dollars in US government aid.