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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (RNZI, July 14) – Fiji Minister of Fisheries Konisi Yabaki is disputing allegations by activist group Greenpeace International that illegal foreign fishing vessels are visiting Suva harbor.

Greenpeace campaigner Pio Manoa says these vessels are disregarding regional registry compliance and taking advantage of Fiji’s ports to get their catches into foreign markets.

But Yabaki says they’re not illegal because only vessels that are fishing in the country’s exclusive economic zone have to be licensed and carry monitoring equipment.

He says other flagged vessels, which aren’t on the regional registry, can fish on the high seas, and they are indeed checked when they come into harbor.

"If they come and unload with us, we will have to go and check the fish stock - so, we actually physically count the fish and get a measure but it is coming in as a cargo and that’s where the customs people take over," he said.

Yabaki admits that it is difficult to know whether the captains of the boats are telling the truth about where they’ve been fishing.

He says it’s up to customs to deal with the issue and there’s no plans for a ministerial meeting to coordinate efforts over the problem.

The Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior claims there are many illegal foreign fishing vessels visiting Suva harbors.

Radio Fiji reports that this is disclosed in a dossier of such vessels fishing in Fiji and the rest of the Pacific.

Manoa took Fiji journalists on a tour of Suva harbor and showed them three vessels which are not registered with the Forum Fisheries Agency which implements the mandatory vessel monitoring scheme. The vessels had flags from Cambodia and Equatorial Guinea , countries whose products are banned in Europe because they are notorious for non-compliance.

Greenpeace has called on Fiji authorities to investigate these pirate vessels.

Greenpeace says many of these vessels keep changing their names and call signs, which Fiji Fish managing director Graham Southwick says is common industry knowledge.

It estimates that Pacific island countries lose between $135 million to $700million dollars (US$77 million to US$402 million) a year to illegal fishing, a sum more than they earn in access and license fees.

The fisheries minister, Konisi Yabaki, says it is up to border control agencies like customs and the navy to monitor these vessels.

July 15, 2004

Radio New Zealand International:

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