INCREASING NUMBERS OF "JUMBO" BOATS THREATEN TUNA RESOURCES

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PAPEETE, French Polynesia (Tahitipresse, June 17) - A new jumbo class of fishing boat used by mainly Taiwanese operators is threatening the long-term future of the world's richest tuna stocks in the Pacific Ocean, experts say.

The stakes are high -- around two million tonnes of Pacific tuna worth up to two billion US dollars are caught every year.

Most fish are caught by purse seiner vessels which round up of schools of tuna in a single net. The new "super" purse seiners work with sophisticated fish finding technology, larger nets and they can carry more fish.

Japan says the new boats can take up to 11,000 tonnes of tuna a year, twice the amount of the older boats. It says one Taiwanese super seiner can take 20,000 tonnes a year.

At a conference on the Indonesian island of Bali in April, Japan warned the new boats could ruin the sustainability of the Pacific's tuna resources, a claim dismissed by Taiwan as sour grapes over increased competition.

The United States also expressed concern about the number of super seiners under construction and along with South Korea called for a moratorium. Fiji called for a total ban on the vessels.

Michael Powles, chairman of the Bali meeting which was aimed at setting up a Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, said for many years it had been assumed Pacific tuna stocks were self-sustaining.

"But there are now those who say it has reached a really crucial point. There is a very real issue here .... It is such a critical resource," Powles told AFP.

John Hampton, manager of the Oceanic Fisheries Programme at the New Caledonia-based Pacific Community, was less pessimistic but warned that some species of tuna, notably yellowfin and bigeye, could not withstand increased fishing.

He told AFP that Pacific yellowfin was "likely to be close to full exploitation" while bigeye was "fully and possibly over-exploited".

"There is some concern regarding the possible impact of these new super-seiners on yellowfin and bigeye stocks," Hampton said.

Meetings ahead of the establishment of the fisheries commission have urged all nations fishing in the Pacific to show restraint.

The new commission formally comes into existence on Saturday, headquartered in the Federated States of Micronesia. Set up under a United Nations convention, it will link distant fishing nations such as China, Japan and South Korea with Pacific island fishing nations.

The Pacific nations have delegated the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) to control tuna and other fish access. The agency imposed a 205-tuna boat ceiling and, in the face of worries over the bigger boats, limited the number of days boats are allowed in Pacific waters.

Currently a total of 34 operate under Taiwanese flags while another 28, owned by Taiwanese companies, fly the Marshall Islands and Vanuatu flags of convenience.

At the Bali conference Japan said the bulk of the Taiwanese vessels were super seiners and it alleged that Taiwan was building more vessels. It named seven Taiwanese companies and alleged they were intentionally circumventing licensing control and were fishing excessively.

"In short, it is surprisingly evident that the Taiwanese fishing industry increased its purse seiner fishing capacity dramatically," Japan's delegation said.

But Wu Hsin-chang, chief of the Pacific fishery section at Taiwan's Fisheries Agency, denied Taiwanese boats were threatening stocks and said Japan was upset by the fierce competition of the industry.

"We object to any attempt to oppress Taiwan's fishing development under the pretence of conserving fishing resources," he told AFP in Taipei.

But Wu said Taiwan would comply with any new regulations restricting fishing in the Pacific.

"What we ask for is a fair and transparent mechanism which gives us a clear idea of what is allowed and what isn't," he said.

He also said Taiwan had no jurisdiction over "flag of convenience" boats and countries which licensed them had to supervise them.

"The responsibility doesn't fall on Taiwan just because they are operated by Taiwanese investors," Wu said.

June 18, 2004

Tahitipresse: www.tahitipresse.pf

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