Samoa fish exporter to close for a month

Samoa’s main fish exporting company Apia Export Fish Packers Ltd at Savalalo will be closing down its doors for a month.

Managing Director John Luff confirmed the closure yesterday. Mr Luff did not give a reason for the closure or when exactly it will happen. But he hinted it was a result of something brewing outside Samoa waters. It is “totally outside our control and someone needs to do something about it”.

Last year in September Mr Luff wrote a letter to the editor of Samoa Observer raising concerns that “secret talks” with China that could possibly threaten the future of the country’s fishing industry.

Mr Luff was busy with a staff member’s family funeral and unable to give further comments about that. Richard Lodge has been in Samoa for 18 years. He first came in as Captain of one of the local fishing vessels. He has since moved on to captain the Tokelani. Yesterday Mr. Lodge was working on the maintenance of his boat.

“It’s a slow year for us – nearly all the boats are working on their maintenance for next season that is usually around Easter.”

January and February are usually the slow months in the fishing business he claims. But he is amazed that when he first arrived in Samoa he laughed at how small the alia’s are and how far they travelled.

“Yet they are still working better than the bigger boats.” Mr Lodge spoke about the expensive costs behind operating vessels especially at a time when there isn’t enough fish out there. But “the alias are still going out there and staying out nights”.

He said that bigger boats in American Samoa were facing the same situation as the bigger fishing vessels in Samoa.

“Sometimes the fish come out a little bit too early or too late.”

A local business woman in the fishing industry that didn’t want to be named confirmed she had heard that Apia Packers was closing down. She owns a fleet of small fishing vessels (alias). But she claims that those running these smaller fishing vessels were lucky compared to the bigger fishing vessels.

“The long line has been very bad and we are lucky that there’s a skipjack and bottom fish that brings in some money to keep us going.”

She said this was good for them small fishing vessel operators. However, she felt some concern for the business people running the big vessels especially since they often use this fishing technique to catch fish for commercial purposes.

She also hinted that there was a huge problem in the fish stock available to these bigger fishing boats since there is bigger competition from outside fishing vessels such as those that belong to the Chinese.

Recent news from New Zealand has pointed to other countries as well being responsible for large scale fishing just outside exclusive economic waters. Last year, Mr Luff expressed astonishment at what he claimed were negotiations between local Samoa officials and Chinese fishing interests.

“Although there are scant details available to us at this time it was confirmed in phone conversations that there was indeed some initial progress toward allowing foreign licence vessels, in this case Chinese, to operate within Samoa’s territorial waters.”

Those claims were denied then by government - and denied again last week when similar claims were made by fishing industry sources. Across the South Pacific China already operates 1,300 fishing vessels. All of these vessels belong to one company according to the letter last year by Mr Luff, the state owned Chinese National Fisheries Corporation.

China plans to add another 300 vessels by next year Mr Luff quoted from news reports. He posed five questions to authorities regarding the alleged talks.

Including a challenge to allowing China to use heavily subsidised long line vessels within the country’s EEZ, the Exclusive Economic Zone. China “heavily” supports its foreign fishing fleet, with the Pew Environment Group identifying $4.1billion in subsidies.

According to Mr Luff only Japan spends more, at $4.6 billion. He said that local companies could not compete with that kind of subsidy.

“Why Samoa, with the smallest economic zone (E.E.Z.) in the Pacific would wish to embrace the country or countries with the largest distant water fishing fleets in the world, with obvious expansion objectives, is very difficult to understand.”

He said the only logical conclusion – there is perhaps a trade proposed in some alternative area that has little to do with the long-term viability of Samoa’s extremely valuable fish stocks. “If this is the case, then I believe any such trade off, regardless of perceived short-term gains to Samoa, would be very ill conceived.”

Allowing foreign fishing vessels to catch stocks in Samoa’s EEZ would mean this country contributing to the destruction of regional fisheries. “The South West Pacific Tuna stocks are considered to be one of the last remaining healthy fisheries on the planet yet we are witnessing a rape that the region has never before encountered.”

Mr. Luff said it would be a shame if Samoa abandons its previously strong stance on preserving the country’s fish stocks.


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