FOLLOWING confirmation that the government has reduced tuna fishing licences for 2014/2015, Fiji's tuna boat owners have welcomed the move but fear it may be a case of too little, too late for those now facing financial crises.
Solander Pacific Limited general manager Radhika Kumar said the move was part of a government package to assist the industry during "a period of very poor fishing and competition from foreign subsidised fleets".
"The original intention was to reduce licences to 50 but a compromise position was taken to ease the financial burden on owners who would be forced to sell off existing vessels," Mrs Kumar said in a statement at the weekend.
"These moves and the speedy response of the government are welcomed by the FTBOA (Fiji Tuna Boat Owners Association) although too little too late to assist those in an immediate state of financial crisis."
She explained that the government package included a number of measures which would remove impediments to domestic fleets, but that there was no direct financial assistance offered in the package.
Jiten Mohan, general manager of Hangton Pacific Limited, said while the package was created to cushion the impact of the industry collapse, it could not solve the problem.
"These are operational tools, and very much welcome, it's introduced at no additional cost or loss to any party," he said.
"The reduction of licences from 70 to 60 will have no impact but is more or less a show of consciousness on Fiji's part that we care about conservation, hoping the global fishing community takes notice of efforts of PICs (Pacific Island countries)."
In an Information Ministry statement last week, Fisheries Minister Lieutenant Colonel Inia Seruiratu said the Offshore Fisheries Management (Amendment) Decree 2014 would increase penalties for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
"The high deterrent penalties are to protect our fisheries waters, safeguarding us from being a target for IUU fishing and allowing Fiji to be an exemplary custodian of its fisheries," he said.
After announcing a cutback in his Fiji Fish workforce, Fiji Tuna Boat Owners Association (FTBOA) president Graham Southwick said the challenge now is how to "deal with the real and most damaging aspect of the problem — the gross overfishing by foreign, highly subsidised vessels which are plaguing the region".
* For every tuna fisherman, eight other people are employed on the side in repair and maintenance, fuel suppliers, dockyards and airlines.
* Fiji has reduced the number of fishing licences in Fiji waters from 70 to 60.
* China, at WCPFC10 in 2013, said it aimed to cap its fleet in the region at 400 vessels.
* That is an estimate of 150 highly efficient and heavily subsidised vessels .
* Subsidised vessels are built "under substantial subsidy", financed at 1 per cent, are often state-owned, receive cash subsidies of $350,000 per year, per boat, and have their freight subsidised when shipping back to China.
* The vessels enjoy duty-free access to China, while Fiji companies need to pay a 23 per cent import duty.
Source: Fisheries/ Stakeholders