Fiji's tuna industry collapsing - report

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 14:28 21/01/2014

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Fiji's tuna fishing industry has collapsed, with Chinese overfishing blamed, industry sources say.

Fiji-based companies, including New Zealand's Solander Ltd and Fiji Fish Marketing Group, provide much of the fresh albacore and yellow fin sold in New Zealand.

Both have closed down their local fishing operations and a third is about to.

About 8000 people will lose their jobs or livelihood in an industry worth F$300 million (NZ$192m) a year to the country.

Fishing website Undercurrent News said the collapse had been confirmed by Fiji Fish Marketing chief executive Grahame Southwick.

"In a nutshell, Fiji domestic boats have been catching less that 50 per cent of their break even for the last four-five years," Southwick, who also heads the Fiji Tuna Boat Owners Association, told Undercurrent.

"The catch rate in the Fiji zone has dropped from 200 albacore a day five-six years ago, steadily declined to 80, 50 and today averages 15-20 a day per boat."

Only five of the 35 boats owned by association members were still fishing.

Southwick said the situation was because of the "hundreds of state-subsidised foreign vessels which have surrounded Fiji".

The collapse comes after warnings last year over the way China has sent sophisticated and highly subsidised fishing boats to the South Pacific in a bid to kill off domestic fleets and seize control of the longline tuna fishery.

Figures from the Forum Fisheries Agency obtained by Fairfax Media showed that last year there had been a 125 per cent jump in the size of China's South Pacific tuna fleet, with many of them just built.

The agency said there were 241 China-flagged vessels approved to fish, well ahead of Taiwan with 221.

Each Chinese boat received US$300,000 to $400,000 a year from the state, irrespective of whether they fished.

New boats were built virtually for free, and Chinese boats received an additional subsidy if they sent their catch to China for processing.

The agency said at the time that the Chinese were increasing catch levels and forcing down the allowable catch rates of other nations.

"Without governmental intervention in this issue and broad and active affirmative support of [Pacific Island] governments, the prospect for the survival of domestic non-Chinese-flagged vessels in the [western and central Pacific] would be extremely challenging," a forum briefing paper warned.

Southwick told Undercurrent that the Fiji industry could not compete with heavily subsidised Chinese vessels.

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The Chinese boats enjoy duty-free access to China, while Fijian companies need to pay a 23 per cent import duty.

"They are not subject to the stringent surveys and manning regulations of Fiji domestic vessels, nor to the taxes and levies and foreign exchange regulations imposed on Fiji vessels," Southwick said.

The Fiji Sun said about 75 per cent of the Fiji fleet has ceased operations, with many of the vessels tied up for more than a year, and the companies suffering "massive losses over the last four to five years".

Solander Fiji's general manager, Rhadika Kumar, said there was a "bigger tuna collapse" about to hit across the Pacific region.

There were 20 tuna boats for sale in American Samoa.

"The failure to control activity outside of Fiji is the main cause for the present decline in catches," Kumar said.

"There are too many boats catching too little fish. Even now, more subsidised foreign vessels are appearing in the Pacific."

- Fairfax Media

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