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Pacific Island governments have a responsibility to control tuna fishing in their waters, and should be giving preference to local fishing fleets instead of granting more licences to foreign fishing vessels.
Parties to Nauru Agreement (PNA) Commercial Manager Maurice Brownjohn made the comments when asked about the current status of local fishing fleets in the South Pacific states.
Brownjohn said government tuna fishing policies should benefit domestic not the subsidised foreign fleets.
“The biggest hurdle is this misconception that just one more licence issued is more revenue, when in reality one less licence issued means better catch rates, better catches and economics and higher market prices and a better prospect to survive in the domestic industry,” he said.
Brownjohn said overfishing was naturally going to affect the supply and demand equation and this had driven all tuna prices down compared to the record prices as recent as last year.
“In recent years, even when the purse seine benchmark was US$5000 a day, some fleets paid US$8000 per vessel day, especially once days got scarce in a fishing zone.
“This year with prices down, some fleets paid well above the US$6000 bench mark even though due to excessive days available last year and a high supply of catch in the market globally, prices have crashed in the last six months to almost half.
“With expenses remaining largely constant, the collapse in recent record price is a collapse in super profits, yet the foreign vessels still fish profitably and can still afford to pay more especially when days become scarce,” he said.
Brownjohn said fisheries officials were not businessmen and they had a tendency to listen more to the lobby of foreign fishing interests who were keen on getting access at a cheaper rate.
“They undermine the domestic interests.”
Brownjohn said a good idea would be to extract a fair rent from foreign fleets to the advantage of domestic fleets, or ideally use the fleets to harvest your fish, not let them do as they like.
He said the region should give more preference to licencing genuine domestic ventures that actually create jobs and employ locals, which create other spinoffs for the local economy.
Brownjohn said the actual fish catch had risen slightly in recent years but the catch per effort has fallen because there were too many boats hunting for the same fish. And this applies to both the purse seining fishery which targets skipjack and longline fishing which targets albacore.
“These stocks are not overfished, although localised seasonal depletion is likely with albacore, but overall, the stock needs some governance now before it is too late,” he said.
“This is largely in the hands of the island governments and region themselves.
“The additional factors are the United States market for canned tuna including the premium albacore has been declining in recent years, and not just the South Pacific fleets targeting albacore, but Indian ocean and Atlantic albacore fleets are also supplying albacore into this region for processing for the same end markets.
He said thus oversupply influenced a fall in prices, thus compounding the economic problems of our domestic industry.
Brownjohn said his conclusion in the debate with over capacity and subsidised foreign effort was that foreign fleets could move on to other grounds, even other oceans, domestic economies and their fleets had few options.
“Compounding the issue of growing albacore catch has been the impact of falling catch rates for sashimi long liners traditionally targeting large sashimi grade yellow fin and bigeye, the weak Japanese market, high fuel and freight costs.
“So this has driven both domestic and foreign fleets to shift their focus to albacore where although they are of lesser relative value, catch rates are relatively higher.
“It is also frozen at sea and not landed fresh and freight by sea or processed locally making it a cheaper and an economically viable option.”
Brownjohn said Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association ( PITIA) and individual domestic industries could be more vocal for the region’s industry promoting domestic benefits to the region’s governments.
“The problem is really in the hands of our governments, he told ISLANDS BUSINESS.
“If they continue to issue more and more foreign licences, and don’t manage the foreign access or foreign direct investment companies using “domestic licences” they may enjoy the extra licence revenue, but lose out on the other benefits.
“This includes a vibrant genuine domestic sector, local jobs, salaries, taxes, foreign exchange earnings and by-catch for local consumption.”
Meanwhile, a number of PITIA members have had to stop operating their vessels as they cannot match the foreign fuel subsidised fleets they compete with.
“Licences with little or no obligation to the resource owners are not smart fisheries management,” PITIA stated.
“PITIA appreciates the need for an influx of income to national budgets, however, the sustainability of our resources and a continued ability to earn from our ocean needs to remain an overarching goal in today’s economic endeavours.
PITIA member and Fiji Fish chief executive Graham Southwick said the subsidised Chinese fleets had crippled the domestic fishing fleet in Fiji and this has forced his company and other companies like Solander to close operations and lay off staff.
A number of these fishing vessels are tied up in Suva bay.
SOURCE: ISLANDS BUSINESS/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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