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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (November 14, 1997 - Marshall Islands Journal)--- Japanese fishing vessels are returning to fish in the Marshall Islands in large numbers, following talks in Japan last month that resolved concerns the Japanese fishing industry had about fishing here.

The Marshalls fisheries chief is predicting that 1998 will likely see the highest ever revenues from the resurgence of the Japanese fishing fleet.

The number of Japanese vessels licensed to fish in the Marshall Islands had dropped to fewer than 30 boats in the past year, according to Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority director Danny Wase. But in the first week after the Japan meetings last month, more than 30 Japanese vessels applied for new licenses to fish, Wase said.

"It's definitely happening," he said. "I'm very pleased."

The Marshalls Energy Company has worked out a contract for fueling the fishing boats, Wase said, adding that Majuro stores will also benefit substantially from the large number of boats that will be refueling here in the coming year.

Wase said that in the past, few Japanese purse seiners have fished in these waters. Instead, the fleet has been comprised mostly of long liners and pole and line vessels, which are the largest part of the Japanese total fleet.

Part of the reason for Wase's optimism about a big increase in boats this year is that most of the first 30 vessels apply for licenses in the past few weeks were purse seiners, meaning that MIMRA is anticipating another surge as the large fleet of long liners and pole and line vessels start coming in for licenses.

During the 1990s, the Marshalls has earned an average of just $1.2 million annually in revenue from Japanese ships, that pay five percent of the landed value of their catch to the Marshalls. With the expected dramatic increase in vessels this year, Wase expects the revenue earned to easily surpass the $1.2 million mark and likely top the $1.75 million high for the 1990s set in 1994.

The talks in Japan resolved a number of the Japanese concerns, including the fishing industry's fear that the Marshalls Sea Patrol was targeting Japanese vessels for arrest, Wase said. This concern developed after a Japanese vessel was boarded by the patrol boat "Lomor" in January of this year allegedly for illegal fishing.

The RMI delegation, headed by R&D Minister Jiba Kabua, assured the Japanese that this wasn't the case and explained that better coordination between MIMRA and Sea Patrol would avoid misunderstandings about licensing, he said.

The delegation answered the concerns of the Japanese and led to the Japanese promising to return in greater numbers to fish in this area, Wase said. Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that Marshalls fisheries officials and their Japanese counterparts had not met for about two years to discuss and iron out problems in fishing relations.

"These annual discussions are very important," Wase said. "There is a great need to meet each year."

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail: Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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