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Call For China To Reflag Its Albacore Fleet

The Pacific tuna industry has called on regional governments to push for more investment from China and not just settle for license fees.

It’s called on Pacific governments to work more co-operatively with China to make sure investment and skills come onshore.

In the past six years, hundreds of new Chinese vessels have moved to the southern albacore tuna fishery and China’s big subsidies to its tuna fleet are driving local tuna boat operators out of business.

The chairman of the Pacific Island Tuna Industry Association, Charles Hufflet, told Pacific Beat that instead of just seeking access to the fisheries through licenses, China should invest in both infrastructures onshore and fishing boats.

“This should be encouraged - they have the vessels and the skills to impart,” he said.

When Chinese boats fish in the exclusive economic zones of the Pacific island countries, they need to be licensed and putting stronger conditions on those licenses could help the Pacific tuna industry.

Mr. Hufflet says if vessels were reflagged to Pacific island states, then they would be required to employ local crews and get involved in the onshore structures.

He says that as the current licenses only last for a year, a new program could be started as early as January next year.

Mr. Hufflet says many benefits would flow to Pacific nations, depending on the existing infrastructure and current shipping services, and the first benefit would be crewing.

“By reflagging, they are required to have some local crews or to train local crews, to establish a history of fishing and fishing crews,” he said.

“So that is something which can be done without actually adding to the infrastructure cost, but then shore facilities such as simple processing, handling facilities, container terminals and so on.”

Mr. Hufflet says Pacific Island governments need to take this stronger action to get Chinese boats and other foreign fishing fleets, to invest onshore.

“We consider at the moment that the island states are looking short-term as far as licenses are concerned, they are not considering the long term situation,” he said.

“They need to have a program of local development and should be looking to the future, rather than the immediate gain of simple license fees.”

Mr. Hufflet says the Forum Fisheries Agency is capable of giving guidance over the problem of powerful, distant nations focusing on the country that offers the easiest licenses.

“You have the example of the PNA (Parties to the Nauru Agreement) arrangements for purse seining,” he said.

“There are adequate meetings between island nations, you have the Pacific Islands Forum, you have a whole range of meeting venues where island states can have a common policy.

“(At this year’s Pacific Islands Forum meeting), we would like to see an acknowledgement of the development potential by Pacific islanders in fishing rather than short-term license access.

“Capacity should be reduced at the same time. In the southern albacore fishery, if you took out half the vessels, the catch would remain the same but the fleets themselves would become economic.

“So we would have to look at the whole economics of vessel operation because the islands, being unsubsidized, they are not able to compete with subsidized fleets.

“One of the problems and one of the reasons why the Chinese vessels would not want to reflag is because by reflagging they lose the subsidies which they now receive.”

Mr. Hufflet says island nations need to limit the number of licenses they offer to foreign boats.