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Pacific News Minute: Nations Settle Tuna Dispute as American Boats Return to Sea / Flickr / Flickr

US flagged tuna boats are back on the water this week, after the State Department worked out a deal with Pacific Island Nations to cover the rest of this year.  Last December, the companies that operate the tuna boats reneged on an earlier agreement.  We have details from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.

37 American flagged purse seiners spent the first two months of the year tied up in ports across the Pacific.  Last August, their owners agreed on a one-year deal for access to the territorial waters of nine Pacific Island nations in the Central and Western Pacific.  When the first payment came due on December 31st - they balked. The price of Skipjack tuna had dropped by 30 percent since last summer and the companies demanded that the deal be cut by about a third.

In the end, that's just about what they got.  The new agreement cuts the number of fishing days from about six thousand to about four, with the payment reduced from $69-million to $45 million.

At first, the Pacific Island Nations refused to give in - a deals a deal, they said.  But the payments are crucial to the budgets of some of the poorest countries on earth. The tuna treaty is also linked to $21-million in US aid and when the fishing licenses were withdrawn, Congressman Duncan Hunter introduced a bill to cut off those funds.  James Movick, director of the General of the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency, told Radio New Zealand that the deal was made under some duress and while they would try to sell the extra fishing days to other countries, they do not expect to recoup their losses.

Worldwide, the tuna business brings in over $3-billion dollars a year. The Pacific Island Countries are the source for about sixty percent of that fish; they get back about 14% of the value. 

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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