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Foreign vessel to home port at Nukualofa

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Oct. 17, 2011) – In an effort to revive its dying fishing industry Tonga has opened up its tuna fishing to licensed foreign fishing vessels, the Tongan Ministry of Fisheries has confirmed.

A fishing vessel from Taiwan is expected to arrive in Tonga this month to operate from a local base, after paying a license fee of US$20,000.

Tevita 'Ahoafi of the Licensing Unit at the Ministry of Fisheries confirmed to Matangi Tonga Online today that there remained only two active fish export licensed companies in Tonga, namely Cool Fresh (formerly 'Alatini Fisheries); and Oripec Fishing Ltd., operated by a Tongan Pupunga Mahe, from Australia.

He said the Ministry of Fisheries in August opened up tuna fishing to foreign fishing nations by charging a license fee of US$20,000 for foreign vessels to fish, based in Tonga.

He said that up to 2010, there were three other licensed fish exporters that included South Pacific Resources run by a Korean, Hina Food operated by Siale Sikimeti and a company run by David Edwards. However to date, their licenses had expired. The 'Alatini Fisheries was understood to have restructured its fishing company and renamed it "Cool Fresh" under 'Alo Fe'iloakitau. 'Alatini was selling off their fishing vessels and would only buy fish from local fishermen for export. Meanwhile, Oripec has one fishing vessel.

He said the fishing industry was in decline due to many factors, including that some of the older companies find it hard to fish with old equipment and had no capital to renew their resources.

[PIR editor's note: Government officials are hoping at least one local fishing business will renew interest in tuna fishing in Tonga, which was a lucrative trade up until five to six years ago, when costs began to outweigh returns.]

In 2004, Tonga placed a moratorium on foreign fishing vessels, and as a result, no tuna-fishing licenses were issued to foreign fishing vessels.

In 2006 the Foreign Investment Regulations came into force and required that commercial fishing comprising of tuna fishing, aquaculture, and bottom fishing in waters deeper than 500 meters and other water fishing not less than 100 meters shall be conducted subject to their resource management plan administered by the Fisheries Ministry.

All foreign vessels must be registered in the [Pacific Islands] Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) register before licensing by a FFA member state.

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