Tonga Foreign Fishing License Fees ‘A Teardrop In The Ocean’

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Local fishing industry functionally ‘dead’ in Tonga

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Jan. 8, 2013) – The decision by the Tongan government to sell 12 Tuna Fishing Licenses at about $13,000 per license has been justified by fisheries officials "as better to get something out of fisheries, than nothing at all."

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries started actively selling annual tuna fishing licenses to foreign fishing boats after it discovered that its fishing industry has died.

The latest deal has been well publicized after the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Hon. Sangster Saulala signed a MOU with 12 foreign fishing boats, allowing them to fish in Tonga's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for a year, for a fee of about $154,000. These fishing boats agents in Tonga are Mosese Fakatou and Charles Chen.

The move according to Semisi Fakahau, a Fishery Consultant would mean that during 2013 there will be a total of 24 tuna fishing boats fishing in Tonga's 660,305 square kilometers EEZ. Twenty two of these boats are foreign fishing boats and only two locals.

Most of these foreign fishing boats will ship their catches straight overseas, and will not need any supporting services from any local sources, because the local infrastructure do not have the capacity to meet their demands. Therefore depriving government and Tonga, some argued, millions of pa'anga.

Those who are against the move by government to issue 'cheap' tuna fishing licenses to foreign fishing boats argue that the license fees that government is getting are 'a tear drop in the ocean.'

Viliami Mo'ale, a fishery official said that in 2004 Tonga had more than 33 tuna fishing boats, 13 of them were locals and the rest were foreign owned.

He said that since 2004 there was a move to reserve fishing rights only to local fishing companies. The conservation of the fish stock was highlighted as a matter of priority, and to protect the livelihood of local fishing companies was a matter of prime concern.

While this was going on, the USA has also struck a regional Tuna Fishing agreement with the 14 Pacific Forum Islands countries, allowing the USA’s purse seine fishing fleet into their EEZ.

Semisi Fakahau pointed out that fishing for tuna became a very competitive industry that the Tongan Fisheries Division and the industry could not cope with, and that was why the industry has been declared dead. Some of the fishing boats have been tied up, and they could not be used for anything.

"To rebuild the industry we have to start from zero," Semisi believes that for a start, "Fishery should be a ministry in itself, and not one of the divisions of the Ministry of Agriculture, because there is an enormous amount of work to be done to rebuild the infrastructure, a fishery wharf and a fish market."

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