Tuna transshipment in Marshall Islands picks up, but still low

11:01 am on 15 November 2020

Tuna transshipment activity in the Marshall Islands picked up in October, but remains low compared to the past six years that saw Majuro become the world's busiest port for such transshipment.

Tuna transshipment picked up in Majuro last month, but is still far off its average of the past five years

Tuna transshipment picked up in Majuro last month, but is still far off its average of the past five years Photo: RNZ Pacific / Giff Johnson

Covid-19 quarantine requirements have reduced the number of purse seine fishing vessels coming into the Marshall Islands to transship their catches by 60 percent in 2020 compared to the past several years.

In 2019, Majuro averaged 37 transshipments a month. The 21 transshipments in October bumped the total for the year to 146, giving Majuro a monthly total of only 14.6 transshipments for the first 10 months of the year.

Majuro's streak of five consecutive years with at least 400 tuna transshipments annually will end this year, and no one in fisheries is predicting a return to normalcy in the immediate future.

Majuro fisheries department authorities said that some purse seiners had chosen to transship in other Pacific ports where requirements are easier to meet than the Covid-prevention protocols in place for the Marshall Islands.

The Marshall Islands is part of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), which manages purse seine fishing in the exclusive economic zones of the nine islands that implement its "vessel day scheme." This requires tuna be transshipped in-port, not on the high seas.

This has turned into big business for Majuro, with spinoff purchasing by the hundreds of tuna boats and carrier vessels that has benefited local retailers, restaurants, bars, hotels and fuel sales.

The purse seiners transship their tuna onto carrier vessels that load up the catch from multiple fishing boats before heading to off-shore canneries.

Some of the tuna is also off-loaded dockside for the Pan Pacific Foods fish processing plant in Majuro, as well as into freezer containers for later shipment on container ships.

A total of 21 purse seiners transshipped their tuna during October, the second highest monthly total for 2020 behind only January, when 22 were recorded.

Four of the 21 transshipments in October involved a combination of transshipment from purse seiners to carrier vessels in the lagoon, and unloadings of fish at dockside, according to the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority that supervises such activity.