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By Jojo Dass

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (November 24, 1998 - Marianas Variety)---The commonwealth is awaiting the federal government's approval of a fisheries master plan that will allow it to open its sea boundaries to international fishing companies and develop a long-term alternative revenue source.

"As evident in the completion of the submitted master plan, the government is pursuing something out of the normal means (of revenue generation like) tourism and garment (manufacturing)," said acting Department of Lands and Natural Resources (DLNR) Secretary Richard Seman, in an interview.

Seman said the marine conservation plan (MCP) is part of the CNMI government's efforts to upgrade the fisheries sector, which include a 57-page bill regulating commercial fishing activities in its waters and a fiscal year 1999 plan for research and the construction of several fishing facilities using some $1.8 million in federal funding.

The (MCP) has already been accepted by the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Council and is now with the U.S. Department of Commerce for review, according to Seman.

"Once approved," he said, "it basically opens the door for the CNMI to enter into some sort of agreement with fishing companies."

The CNMI, along with the American Samoa and Guam, are, by virtue of most recent amendments to the U.S. government's Magnuson Fisheries Act, required to formulate an MCP before they can be allowed to enter into specific Pacific Insular Area Fishing Agreements (PIAFA).

The MCP identified areas where funds to be generated from fishing agreements will be spent, such as the development of marine resources.

The Act is a fisheries management law that the federal government has put together. It was amended in Oct. 1996 to allow foreign fishing in insular areas in a way that will benefit local governments.

Meantime, Seman explained that House Bill 11-182, which was introduced by Rep. Heinz Hofschneider (R-Prec.3, Saipan), is a result of joint efforts by the DLNR and CNMI commerce department to come up with commercial fishing regulations.

He explained that most rules and regulations that CNMI has "are primarily subsistence-based."

"The act is really created to absorb the anticipated commercial growth in our fisheries, bigger boat, bigger operation, bigger landing," said Seman.

Upcoming projects for FY 1999 include studies about bottom line fishing, the construction of a new Fish and Wildlife building in Lower Base, a Rota marina, at least three Saipan boat ramps and 10 devices meant to attract surface water fish species.

For additional reports from the Marianas Variety, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Marianas Variety.

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