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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (November 3, 1998 -AFP)---Fishing license revenue and spin-off income for businesses in the Marshall Islands is booming as the government lays out the welcome mat for the Asian tuna industry.

Revenue from fishing licenses will double this year while income from tuna caught within the Marshalls' 360 kilometer (200 mile) exclusive economic zone is soaring, thanks to El Niño weather conditions that, by changing ocean water temperatures, have pushed tuna schools to east of the Marshall Islands and Kiribati.

License revenue, which has hovered around the 1.5-million-dollar mark for years, is expected to easily top three million dollars this year, said fisheries advisor Simon Tiller.

Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA) director Danny Wase on Monday announced the signing of an agreement that will allow the licensing of up to 40 Taiwanese purse seine fishing vessels.

A similar deal, signed two months ago with South Korean purse seiners, has netted the Marshalls more than 500,000 dollars for fish caught in the area in addition to the license fees of 20,000 dollars paid for each individual ship, Wase said.

The new pact with Taiwanese fishermen continues MIMRA's effort to cement ties with the key Asian fishing nations and bolster Majuro as a fishing hub for the central Pacific.

"The Taiwanese have always been here but they've never bought licenses before," Wase said.

MIMRA has been able to show the Taiwanese that Majuro has become an attractive port at which to do business, said Wase, adding that arbitrary policies at other Pacific ports had forced tuna fleets to look elsewhere.

The Marshall Islands is also courting the attentions of Japanese and American fleets.

"The fleets are looking for a new home," said Tiller.

Wase added: "It's all happening because the government approved changes in our national fisheries policy (in late 1997). It's not even one year later and look what's happening."

MIMRA has lowered fees charged to visiting boats and cut bureaucratic red tape, while the Marshalls Energy Company has attracted the fishing fleets with good prices for fuel, Wase said.

The change in business environment has lured big transhipment fish carriers to Majuro's harbor to off-load tuna from the purse seiners for transport to canneries in Thailand and elsewhere.

Since last week, there have been up to four transhipment carriers parked in Majuro's lagoon, taking on fish from continually arriving seiners.

Though tuna fishing is normally concentrated further west, purse seiner fleets can use Majuro for transhipment and other services instead of going to ports in Guam or Papua New Guinea, Wase said.

"Increasing transhipment activity is a major factor in our agreements (with Taiwan and South Korea) because it brings crew changes, visits by crew families and use of other port services," Wase said.

This provides knock-on business to airlines, hotels, stores, restaurants and bars in addition to direct services for the ships.

Michael J Field Agence France-Presse Auckland, New Zealand TEL: (64 21) 688-438 FAX: (64 21) 694-035 E-Mail: WWW:

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