Fiji offshore fishing industry in dire stretch

With an estimated contribution of over FJ$200 million annually to the economy, the country’s offshore fishing industry is in dire need for government’s urgent assistance to remain afloat. Picture: FILE

With an estimated contribution of over FJ$200 million annually to the economy, the country’s offshore fishing industry is in dire need for government’s urgent assistance to remain afloat.

The Fiji National Longline Fishing Fleet is the oldest and where all vessels are based here in Suva where they land their catches.

At the same time international and regional fisheries intergovernmental agencies (UN FAO, SPC, FFA, WCPFC, etc.) look to the industry and others in the region to provide its financial, economic and scientific information and data sets in order to develop regional socio-economic reports, scientific studies, trials of fishing gears, and vessel activity monitoring gadgets that the industry in the past were willing to test or accept noting their importance to the global management of commercial tuna species.

With the Fiji government to announce its 2020-2021 budget on July 17th, the Fiji Fishing Industry Association (FFIA) is optimistic its submission to the Ministry of Economy through the Ministry of Fisheries (MoF) will be favourably considered.

FFIA has been in regular discussions with its line ministry (MoF) on the impacts of COVID-19 on the industry and its impact on fishing operations. In this regard, areas have been identified that badly need Government’s intervention to ensure the sector remain afloat.

The association’s biggest ask to Government is for the release of the Tuna Stabilisation Fund (TSF) that was approved by government in 2014 that could be used to assist the industry financially during hard times and times of uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic is one of those times.

The TSF was set up in 2014 for the sole purpose of funding assistance to fishing companies that are locally owned.

In 2017, around seven local fishing companies benefitted from the TSF when they received assistance to the sum of FJ$3.2m. The Ministries of Economy and Fisheries and sets the criteria for local fishing companies to benefit from the TSF.

Reality on the ground 

Currently, the majority of wholly fresh fish vessels have ceased operations as a result of COVID-19. This includes 24 wholly fresh fish vessels being grounded, forcing fish processing factories like Sealand Fish Limited, and Fiji Fish Marketing Group Limited to cease their fresh fish processing productions. 

The impact of Covid-19 has affected Fiji’s fresh and chilled exports due to travel restrictions that are still in place as well as the increased freight charges imposed by Fiji Airways.  Only a few boats have gone out fishing since the lockdown to test the market. To date at least 710 workers have been sent home on leave without pay. 

The industry needs a multi-faceted array of assistance, from concessions to license fee reductions, and modernising aged fleets that will greatly cut unnecessary repair and maintenance costs.

Assistance for the latter will be sourced externally from international funding facilities. Most importantly the FFIA looks to the TSF to assist in providing some stability to the domestic industry from the on-going impacts of subsidies from distant water fishing nations (DWFNs), and the unexpected global and crippling issues in COVID-19. 

FFIA is looking to government through its line ministry to take up its budgetary request to the Ministry of Economy to help provide some relief to the industry with a knock on effect of supporting the well-being of individuals and families.

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