FISH and fishing is an important part of Fiji's economy. In 2010, the Fiji Bureau of Statistics figures estimated fish exports to be over $200million, making it the largest.
The tuna industry dominates the sector in terms of output and export. A recent Forum Fisheries Agency and Secretariat of the Pacific community report had highlighted a number of findings, in particular the licensing of vessels, which would assist Fiji manage its fishery.
This means Fiji has to reduce its licensed fishing vessels by 16. FREDERICA ELBOURNE takes an inside look of the licensing issue in the industry.
AFTER 15 years of roller coaster licence numbers, boom and bust, the verdict is out as an independent audit by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the Forum Fisheries Agency conclude that the Fiji Zone should only licence approximately 50 tuna vessels to achieve maximum economic benefit from its fishery.
For the same number of years of bemoaning a system that, for some, failed to adhere or acknowledge the principle of, if at the least sustainability, the Fiji Tuna Boat Owners Association now stands tall knowing its pleas and recommendations to the powers that be were somewhat right after all.
This as the FFA and SPC reaffirmed calls the association said it had made for as many years about certain measures and methods carried out by industry players.
What becomes of the recognition, the facts, the recommendations and the appropriate line of action is another story as the jury is out for a timeline of at least a month awaiting findings of the Forum Fisheries Agency where a staff member of the Fisheries Department is attached in what may represent a collective pursuit of measures and answers that would benefit the industry's ecological, sustainable, social and economical interests.
According to Fiji Tuna Boat Owners Association member Grahame Southwick, the FFA and SPC independent audit report recommended that Fiji limit the number of boats within the Fiji Zone to between 48 and 51 to retain the maximum benefit from the fishery, which Fiji allows up to 70 licenses.
Mr Southwick said the independent findings of the two agencies stated that if they were asked to set the figure at maximum economic benefit for the fleet alone, it would be 45.
Mr Southwick's comments followed earlier reports over the consultation between stakeholders of the fisheries industry, which included Fiji Tuna Boat Operators Association, the Fiji Offshore Fisheries Association and the Fisheries Department.
At the consultation in recent weeks, representatives were addressed by officials from the FFA and the SPC about their findings in a bioeconomic analysis of the Fiji Longline Fishery report.
Mr Southwick said the paper confirmed that the most damaging aspects affecting the Fiji fishery was by far, the excessive licences issued for the Fiji Zone, followed to a lesser extent by excessive effort in the region west of Fiji generally and climatic conditions to some extent.
He said the conclusion of the consultation among stakeholders included the fact that Fiji was fortunate that the aspect that could assist the situation in Fiji the most, which was excessive vessels in Fiji Zone, was controllable by Fiji, Mr Southwick said.
The meeting recommended that the maximum number of vessels permitted to fish in the Fiji Zone be limited to 50.
"For technical and legal reasons FTBOA has recommended that this be made effective as of the December 31, 2012 when all licences expired, and that only 50 licences would be renewed for 2013," he said.