Republished from Franciso Blaha’s blog, 29 October 2016
by Francisco Blaha
Very little is known about the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI), even if they are at the crossroads of many of the developed world consequences… 4 colonial masters in less than 100 years (Spanish, Germans, Japanese and the US), then 2nd WW hotspot, followed by American imperialism, then nuclear tests and fallout, set up as tax heavens, FoCs (flag of convenience organizations), sea levels rising and climate change, airlines duopoly squeezing fortunes of them, just to name a few…
However, its location and magnificent protected lagoon make it a fantastic transshipment hub for the Pacific tuna trade.
Last year they had 704 transshipments involving nearly 450,000 tonnes of tuna, which at the tuna prices on the Bangkok market (that have started to weaken) to$1400/mt are worth 630 million USD, which is ridiculous when you consider that RMI annual budget is 90 millon (U.S. aid and reparations accounted for 60% of it).
So every day millions of dollars worth of tuna are transhipped in the Majuro lagoon, while most Majuro’s inhabitants live in tough conditions and the remoteness of the outer atolls makes mostly accessible only by boat, even if at any time they would be several helicopters on top of the purse seiners transhipping.
From the fisheries compliance perspective, their role is fundamental and is entrusted to the Oceanic Division of the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA). I have been their guest for this week.
The key issue is that for biggest part of the purseine tuna, this is the last stop before they leave the region forever, and by the nature of fishing, the verified weights (hence how much fish was actually caught) is only known at the dockside on the processing states, where the fish is weight in for payments and prior to processing. The rest is all estimates.
And as the processing nations for most of the WC Pacific Tuna (Thailand, Philippines and increasingly Ecuador) don’t communicate back the weights per vessels, the transshipment weight estimations are our best opportunity to know how much was caught.
Furthermore, fish does not become illegal at the factories, it is caught and unloaded illegally. And as all these movements occur here, RMI needs to be a responsible port state. Let me use my standard explanation: “A” steals a stereo from “B”, and then it goes to “C” house and sells it… “A” is a criminal and “C” is an accomplice, and “B” is the accuser. Pass this to the IUU fish world, “A” is responsibility from the Flag State, “B” is the Coastal State where the IUU fishing occurs and “C” is the Port State.
And while there is solid argument on question why a country with such a limited resources as RMI, is to take responsibility of controlling the operations of vessels from DWFN that ridiculously subsidize their industry and have an abysmal level of compliance (Taiwan – 400millon US/year, China around 2 billons, including 1 million fuel subsidies per Purse Seiner).Taiwan – 400millon US/year, China around 2 billons, including 1 million fuel subsidies per Purse Seiner).
Well… that is a big topic… one that deserves its own discussion (not today). The reality is that many of the PICs do take the responsibility as fish is one of the few sources of revenue they have, and then the pressure from civil society and the EU that will point fingers and shame them with labels of non-cooperating countries, or pirate ports or whatever.
And, since all vessels come and go from here, is a hub for the Fisheries Observers (in no many places in the world you will see guys with fisheries observer t-shirts in shops, walking the streets and so on). Hence the place is at the forefront of what we try to do regarding tuna fisheries in the Pacific. Not in vain, the PNA Office is based there.
Needleless to say MIMRA has only limited resources available, but very good people! Therefore in many ways RMI is a great place to test run the Unloading Authorization Code model, integrated into FIMS (wrote about this in the past), so I came here to scope the system design… and it has been great.
… Read the rest of the blog post here