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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (April 16, 1999 - Marshall Islands Journal)---The Marshall Islands announced in a special report that revenues from foreign fishing vessels are expected to nearly triple this year as a result of expanding ties with the Asian fishing industry.

During the 1990s, this north Pacific island group earned about $3 million annually from foreign fishing companies -- a combination of licensing fees and spin-off revenues to local business that supply the vessels. But "it is likely that for this financial year the contribution from fisheries will approach $8 million," said a special report issued Friday by the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA).

The MIMRA report shows that:

The revamped, business-oriented fisheries department has slashed fees and removed bureaucratic red tape, making the Marshalls an attractive port of call for fishing vessels that previously gave Majuro a wide berth.

For the first time, South Korean purse seiners are buying licenses and transshipping tuna, while the Japanese purse seiner fleet has returned after a three year hiatus caused by Japanese dissatisfaction with local policies, according to MIMRA officials.

Five South Korean fishing companies signed agreements to fish here late last year, allowing them also to use the Marshalls for port calls and transshipment. MIMRA said that this agreement provided $840,000 in license fees and another $500,000 spending in the domestic economy for services needed by the Korean vessels.

During 1998, visits to Majuro by Japanese vessels tripled, "largely due to the more conducive commercial environment reflected in lower fuel prices and swifter vessel turnarounds," MIMRA reported. The return of the Japanese purse seine fleet brought an estimated $770,000 in license fees to the government.

The late 1998 signing of a pact with Taiwan allows up to 43 purse seiners to fish in these waters, earning the Marshalls $600,000 directly from licenses and a similar amount from services, the fisheries report said.

But, said the MIMRA report, the establishment of diplomatic ties with Taiwan late last year has added an entirely new dimension to agreements with Taiwan fishing companies. "There is now increasing interest for Taiwanese investors to establish activities in the Marshall Islands that service the needs of the fishing industry," MIMRA said. "MIMRA has been approached on the possibility of establishing a net repair facility, participation in the management of the dry dock, storage services for salt and other needs."

License fees aside, local shipping agents, retail stores, hotels, restaurants and other businesses are seeing increased revenues from servicing the fishing fleet.

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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