San Diego-based South Pacific Tuna Corporation announced earlier this month it would be selling more than half of its 14 U.S. fishing vessels to foreign operators. According to a press release, the sale will bring the company’s fleet down to six by the end of 2019 and reduce production by 70,000 tons of tuna.

“Our fleet reduction is due in part to the U.S. government’s continued lack of support and the lack of interest in ratifying the 1988 South Pacific Tuna Treaty, renegotiated in 2016,” said Douglas Hines, executive director of South Pacific Tuna Corp., via a statement. “Despite our efforts to work with the Trump Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has not reciprocated and continues its overly aggressive compliance and enforcement actions.”

According to the press release, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration compliance authorities have made it difficult for the U.S. to compete with fleets from China, Korea and Taiwan. With the withdrawal of the U.S. fleet from the Western Pacific, the presence of the United States will continue to decline. Meanwhile, China, Korea and Russia will most likely take more ownership of the region.

“In the global priorities of the U.S. government, the Western Pacific has become an afterthought,” said Hines. “But as President Ronald Reagan recognized in 1988, the South Pacific Tuna Treaty is a critical step in ensuring American vessels and commerce continue to lead in the region and the world. The reduction of the U.S. fleet will be a devastating blow for the international policy community as well as the Western Pacific sustainable fishery ecosystem.”

As a result of the sale, 12 United States captains and their respective crews will be relieved of duty, as per the release. Concurrently, the company’s San Diego-based office and management team will be reduced, as well. The sale also “reduces the volume of sustainable FAD-free, MSC certified fish for the global tuna market, including fish supplied under the Pacifical program.”

According to the release, South Pacific Tuna Corp. current customers won’t be affected as it plans to continue supplying them with sustainably harvested tuna with its current operation.

Earlier this year, Hines told SeafoodSource.com that while the industry has always been a difficult one, it is only recently that it has become almost impossible to make ends meet.

“I’ve fought for years to improve the fishery,” he said. “I pushed for (Marine Stewardship Council) certification, Fair Trade certification, ensuring there were fair labor practices on board our boats. But other distant-water flags don’t have those like concerns or oversight, and the U.S. government agencies don’t have like concern to work with its fleets. I realized a long time ago that I was fighting an uphill battle. But only recently did I acknowledge that I wasn’t going to win.”

South Pacific Tuna Corp. was founded in 2007 and supplies tuna to many recognizable seafood brands, including Bumble Bee Foods, Chicken of the Sea and StarKist.

Travel & Hospitality reporter Mariel Concepcion can be reached at mconcepcion@sdbj.com or 858-634-4625.