Fiji tuna industry 'beyond a crisis'
Fiji's fishing industry has gone well beyond a crisis and there's no turning back according to the head of a fishing company.
Fiji's tuna fishing industry has gone well beyond a crisis, according to the managing director of the Fiji Fish Marketing Group.
Graham Southwick says years of overfishing in the Southwest Pacific fishery means companies like his are having to lay off hundreds of staff and are losing millions of dollars every year.
He told Jamie Tahana that he has requested an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister, but in his view, the situation is so bad there can be no turning back.
GRAHAM SOUTHWICK: It was at a crisis level probably 10 years ago. This is the complete shutdown going on here now that we've been warning them of since, probably 1995 actually. It's essentially just gross overfishing by state-subsidised foreign vessels and catch-rate is so low now that not only the Fiji and Samoan domestic boats, but the subsidised vessels themselves are not able to continue. So, in essence, the albacore fishery has been fished down to unsustainable levels. You know, I've been in this business for 40 years and I can't see that there's going to be recovery within the next 10-15 years minimum.
JAMIE TAHANA: So there's basically no tuna left in Fiji waters?
GS: Well, in the southwest Pacific. Put it this way, we used to catch 200 fish a day some years back and it's down to 7 or 8 fish now and has been progressively heading that way for the last 10 years and the domestic companies here, ourselves and one large New Zealand company that's been here 20-odd years are losing millions every year trying to support the industry and trying to keep it going but we just got to a point where we said 'enough' and that was it.
JT: You've had to lay off employees recently because of this?
GS: We have and other companies have had to lay off as many and more. There are 130 boats tied up in Suva Harbour that are unlikely to go back fishing again and, from our point of view, we can't see any light at the end of the tunnel. They could start negotiations now to try and resolve this problem. Those negotiations would take a minimum of 10 or 15 years and then there'd be a recovery time required so in the next 10 years there's no possibility that this fishery could recover financially.
JT: And the fishing industry does contribute large amounts to the economies of these southwest Pacific Islands, that would have dire flow-on effects wouldn't it?
GS: There's a whole range of effects from this. Apart from the approximately 1000-1200 fishermen, engineers, crew, and processing people that are directly involved in the industry that are all being laid off. There are all the people who depend on the industry on the side of it. These are factory process workers, repair and maintenance people, the dock work people, the fuel suppliers, food suppliers, you know, it ranges right across the board. The fact is it's not the 120 or 200 or so that we're laying off, but it's the 4,000-5,000 that surround us making a living.
JT: So what needs to happen now?
GS: Well, there's really nothing that anybody can do. I mean a radio station suggested that I should have a meeting with the Prime Minister. Well we've been there and done that. A lot of the problem that's going on here is outside of the powers of the Pacific Islands because it's occurring on the high seas outside of Fiji waters and in neighbouring states of which we have no control. So we're saying that probably 70 percent of the problem is an external problem created by the overfishing of subsidised boats. There's reported to be 1800 boats out fishing west of us which are on our border cutting off all fish coming into Fiji and our estimate is there should be no more than 400. But there are more boats pouring in there every day so the thing that's causing the problem is not going away, it's getting worse by the day. There's not much we can do about that, or the prime minister or anybody else. But internally there have been problems here of mismanagement, over-issue of licences within the Fiji zone and other issues that have contributed locally to the problem.
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