THE highly migratory nature of tuna and the inability of local small fishing vessels to track tuna species are among reasons Government tables a controversial Fishery Management Amended Bill in Parliament.
To date, only five local fishing fleets are operating long line tuna fishing in Tonga.
The Bill aims to allow Tongans to charter foreign fishing vessels and to be licensed as a locally based vessel in Tonga.
Under this Bill, Government has proposed that only 15 vessels will be allowed to operate long line fishing with six only assigned to foreign chartered vessels.
The Minister of Agriculture and Fishery Hon. Semisi Fakahau told Parliament there are now fewer long line fishing vessels available to fish in Tonga’s waters.
In 2001 & 2002, 27 fishing boats operated the long line fishing in the country. However the number has declined over the years.
Hon. Fakahau attributed this to the changes in the weather patterns which eventually led the tuna species to migrate to our neighboring Pacific islands.
He said in the past local fishing vessels available were unable to track down the tuna resources’ migrating route and cannot fish in the open and high seas as well. As a result, those fishing fleets ended up decaying at sea and was recently dumped in the deep sea.
Hence, Hon. Fakahau maintains it’s significant for local commercial companies to charter foreign fishing vessels to continue the tuna industry.
His comments came when Vava’u number 2 Noble Representative Lord Tu’ilakepa last week called on Parliament to allow locals only when considering the options in chartering vessels.
“Local fishers can loan up to TOP$300,000.00 from the Tonga Development Bank fishery loan package to purchase a fishing vessel for the long line fishing,” explained Lord Tu’ilakepa.
Both the Noble and People’s Representatives are concerned that the economic benefit should be limited only to the locals and not foreign commercial companies.
Ha’apai 12 & 13 constituency MPs and Vava’u 16 constituency MP emphasized that some commercial trade opportunities like retail outlets are being offered to our Chinese nationals. While the Bill is put on hold for further discussion in Parliament, these MPs maintained our local fishermen should be a priority for Government.
In response Hon. Fakahau said local fishers can loan money from the TDB fishery scheme, but that kind of vessel can only cater for the inshore fishing only. According to Fakahau for long line fishing, such vessels needed are worth millions and it targets highly migratory tuna.
“Those tuna like species can be fished only from outside Tonga’s 200 Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or the international waters,” explained Hon. Fakahau.
He told Parliament, one of MAF’s priorities is to have Tonga’s share of these species and to help with the local consumption.
Hon. Fakahau says Tongans are heavily relying on imported meat products for local consumption. Therefore, he suggested that the availability of chartered foreign fishing vessel to fish in our waters, more plentiful fish will be provided to cater for our local consumption.
“With more fish available, the price will drop and cheaper for our people and most importantly healthy food for our people,” explained the Hon. Minister.