Kiribati deal shocks fishing world
A tiny South Pacific nation has shocked the fishing world by revealing without warning that it has forced most of the American tuna fleet out of its vast waters and is letting Chinese and Taiwanese boats take over.
The move is a major threat to the viability of New Zealand tuna fishing operations as the Americans will be forced into already crowded alternative fishing grounds.
The move by Kiribati, population 102,000, has shattered South Pacific regional fishing consensus and according to several industry and political sources, has created considerable concern.
Earlier this week governments of the 17 members of the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency, which included New Zealand and Kiribati, and the United States had settled a tuna deal in Pacific waters for 2015.
The United States has agreed to pay US$90 million (NZ$115 million) for the right next year for US flagged purse seine vessels to fish 8300 days in the region.
Both the US and the agency touted the deal as historic and a record price, but made no mention that they had been effectively driven out of the largest Pacific fishing ground.
Kiribati attended the negotiations and dropped a bombshell saying they were only offering 300 days to the deal. That would amount to only 7.5 days for each American boat. Kiribati was expected to over several thousand days.
Selling the right to fish by the day – usually around US$7500 a day - is now the common practice in the Pacific.
Without telling the rest of the Pacific, Kiribati sold most of their available days in secret to China and Taiwan.
Kiribati has not disclosed how many days they have sold to Asian boats or for what price.
Its left New Zealand industry and officials shocked and wondering at the future of the skipjack tuna fishery in the South Pacific.
“With this China is now taking over the South Pacific and there will be no sustainability,” one industry leader said.
“This will rip the guts out of the American tuna fleet.”
Most of the 40 American boats were operating in Kiribati’s 3.5 million square kilometre exclusive economic zone (slightly small than New Zealand’s).
Up to 500 foreign boats, including major New Zealand fishing companies, operate in Kiribati’s EEZ.
Most of them, including New Zealand boats, are presumably now excluded as it is regarded as uneconomic to operate for such short available days.
The Kiribati has also broken regional consensus among Pacific nations who try to form a united front in negotiating with the various deep water fishing nations.
Of the major tuna species in the Pacific, skipjack is currently regarded as sustainable and healthy.