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Covid drives Marshall Islands fisheries revenue down

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MAJURO — Fisheries revenue for the Marshall Islands was forecast earlier this year to dive by as much as $4 million in 2020 because Covid-19’s impact on the movement of fishing vessels in the region.

But the losses could be significantly higher for a sector that now underwrites over 10% of the national budget of the Marshall Islands. 

Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority or MIMRA Director Glen Joseph pointed out the challenge facing MIMRA Thursday.

 “As of the end of July, we still had 700 fishing days left to sell,” he said. Those 700 days translate to $7 million in revenue based on average selling prices over the past several years.

In most recent years, virtually all of MIMRA’s approximately 3,200 fishing days under the Parties to the Nauru Agreement’s Vessel Day Scheme would have been sold before July. But a range of issues, some related to Covid quarantine and border access issues as well as market prices and heavier fishing in high seas areas outside of PNA jurisdictions, have led to few fishing days being bought by industry this year.

MIMRA’s revenue through the PNA VDS for purse seiners has risen 30-fold since 2010, when it received only $1.1 million. In 2018, it was over $30 million, with a similar revenue figure last year.

Tuna transshipment in Majuro, shown in this file photo, is down 60% in 2020 due to Covid-19 ship quarantines and other restrictions on the fisheries industry. Photo by Giff Johnson.

VDS revenue has been a major contributor to the Marshall Islands national budget annually, with MIMRA injecting $29.1 million for the FY2020 budget, and for the upcoming fiscal year that begins October 1, $26 million.

Despite challenges this year, Joseph is remaining optimistic about chances of moving more of these fishing days as 2020 progresses. “This is the beauty of the PNA VDS,” he said. “It allows for trading, transferring and pooling fishing days. It’s very beneficial to the members.”

On top of the VDS revenue situation, both tuna transshipment and observer revenues will tank in 2020. Through July, Majuro transshipment activity is down over 60% from 2019, with an average of 14 transshipments per month since January. That compares to a monthly average of 37 for 2018 and 2019. In 2019, transshipment generated over $500,000 in fees.

Earlier this year, PNA halted the requirement of 100 percent observer coverage on purse seiners because of Covid travel bans in most PNA nations. In 2019, MIMRA collected over $750,000 in observer fees, but that figure this year is likely to be half or less than the 2019 level.

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