Covid drives Marshall Islands fisheries revenue down

7:59 am on 29 August 2020

There are fears that a drop in fisheries revenue in the Marshall Islands could be more than the $US4 million initially forecast.

Tuna transshipment in Majuro, shown in this file photo, is down 60 percent in 2020

Tuna transshipment in Majuro, shown in this file photo, is down 60 percent in 2020 Photo: RNZ Pacific / Giff Johnson

Earlier this year the projection was made of the loss in revenue because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the movement of fishing vessels.

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

Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA) Director, Glen Joseph, pointed out the challenge that was being posed.

"As of the end of July, we still had 700 fishing days left to sell," he said.

Those 700 days translate to $US7 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 $US1.1 million. In 2018, it was over $US30 million, with a similar revenue figure last year.

VDS revenue had been a major contributor to the Marshall Islands national budget annually, with MIMRA injecting $US29.1 million for the FY2020 budget, and for the upcoming fiscal year that begins 1 October, $US26 million.

Despite challenges this year, Joseph was 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 percent 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 $US500,000 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.