RMI Company Hopes To Jumpstart Local Commercial Fishing

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MITFC would use fish aggregation devices around Majuro

By Giff Johnson

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, August 9, 2013) – A recently launched fishing company in the Marshall Islands is starting small, but thinking big.

That is how the Marshall Islands Trial Fishing Co., or MITFC, is moving forward with an effort to jumpstart a domestic commercial fishing operation. For many years, people in Marshall Islands have talked about commercial fishing, and even on occasion, tried and failed.

The MITFC, headed by a former government director of fisheries, Danny Wase, has a plan never before attempted.

Majuro Atoll, like Kwajalein, is subject to a 50-mile zone banning commercial fishing by foreign vessels. MITFC has applied to the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority, or MIMRA, for approval to allow a pilot domestic commercial fishing operation outside of Majuro Atoll’s five-mile jurisdiction and within the 50-mile exclusion zone.

According to Wase, he and board member Patrick Chen, the president of Bank of Marshall Islands, put the proposal to the MIMRA board earlier this week and the response was positive. "We’re waiting for approval in black and white," Wase said after talking with the MIMRA board.

Assuming MIMRA gives the thumbs up, MITFC’s plan is to bring in 10-12 fish aggregation devices, or FADs, with an expert to deploy them.

The plan is to anchor them in place in various locations around Majuro. They will be equipped with sonar and satellite connections so data on fish and position can be monitored both by MIMRA and MITFC.

"We can do this for about $100,000," said Wase, who is selling stock at $10 per share in the new company.

"Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia are successfully operating small domestic purse seiners using FADs in their waters," Wase said. "Why can’t we?"

He said placement of FADs will also benefit sports fishermen and local fishermen in Majuro and Arno atolls.

"We know that (foreign fishing) boats fish in the southern and northern Marshalls," Wase said. But the waters of the central Marshalls remain somewhat of a mystery as to fish stocks, which is the primary purpose of placing anchored FADs around Majuro. "Drift FADs take tuna with them," Wase said. "Anchored FADs collect them." From the time of FAD placement, he expects it to take about six months to collect commercial levels of tuna.

MITFC doesn’t have any fishing boats. Instead, if the FAD investment proves there is substantial tuna volume, Wase and Chen see various initial options, including chartering domestic vessels from neighboring countries such as the Federated States of Micronesia or chartering one of the domestic flagged purse seiners to initiate fishing locally on a commercial level. The $20 million price tag for a new purse seiner makes purchase of a new vessel a challenge, and both Wase and Chen see less expensive options as they try to get a domestic industry going.

"MIMRA will benefit from licensing local vessels, and local fishermen benefit from having more FADs nearby," said Wase of the spinoff from the venture.

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