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Subsidized Chinese Albacore Longliners Driving Pacific Industry To Bankruptcy Pacific Islands Nations, June 19, 13

Chinese government subsidies to its fishing fleet are driving Pacific Island tuna boats out of business.
The Pacific Island Tuna Industry Association says the situation in the albacore tuna fishery needs urgent attention as the growing number of Chinese vessels is putting increasing pressure on locals. Albacore is an important fishery for Pacific nations south of the equator, as well as for Australia and New Zealand.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Charles Hufflet, Chairman of the Pacific Tuna Industry Association

Hufflet: We are talking about long-line fishery which has grown exponentially over the last five and six years. The exact number of vessels is uncertain but certainly sitting off New Zealand at the moment there’s probably about 200 Chinese and Taiwanese long-lines currently fishing.

Garett: Some of the latest figures suggest that across the Pacific there are over 13-hundred Chinese boats. Just what sort of subsidies are they getting?
Well they get subsidies during building, they get soft loans during building, they get tax incentives, but the critical subsidy is the daily operating subsidy they get. If fuel costs more than 700 US dollars a ton, the Chinese government will pay the difference, present rate is 12-hundred, they get about 500 US dollars a ton fuel subsidy. And that is a daily operating subsidy, which is affecting the domestic fleet most of all.
That sounds like an enormous amount of subsidies, what impact is it having on the Pacific Albacore tuna industry?
Well effectively a vessel under subsidy of that type needs to catch only half the quantity of fish which an unsubsidized island state flag vessel would need to catch. And so with competing on the same markets, the same price and as the catches have dropped with the number of vessels, the subsidized vessels can continue to fish and the unsubsidized island state ones have to stop.
So is the whole future of the Pacific industry at risk here?
If the current subsidies continue, yes.
What action would you like to see from Pacific Island governments?
Well the Pacific Island governments themselves are partly responsible by issuing an almost uncontrolled number of licenses. We’ve seen island states just grant more licenses which provide the home for subsidized vessels. And they need to control the number of licenses they are issuing. There are too many boats for too little fish.
Indeed and some Pacific countries issue more licenses than others. How can that issue be tackled?
It needs to be tackled collectively at FFA and for them to sit down and all agree on what is a sensible limit. We’re now catching about 100-thousand tons of southern Albacore. In 2000 we’re catching 33-thousand tons. The actual catch rate has come down 42 percent. If the fishing vessels themselves are not surviving economically, there is no long term fishery.
This is not just an issue of business is it because the Secretariat of the Pacific community says the catch per effort will shrink by 20 percent in the next few years if this continues. Just how serious would that be?
Well I think you’ve got a state now where the domestic fleet is not viable, the prices have come down and recently we have seen in Fiji anchored in the harbor even subsidized vessels not fishing. So if subsidized vessels can’t fish, then certainly the island state nation vessels will stop fairly soon.
How quickly does the Forum Fisheries Agency, the FFA need to get on to this?
Well in our view it should have got onto it in 2008. So it’s marking time backwards at the moment.
Is this something that the region’s leaders should talk about at their annual summit in the Marshall Islands in September?
Yes, it is a critical situation that should be talked about before September, it should be talked at the FFA forum in July.