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‘Make it – 100 billion licences!’

Monday 16 February 2015 | Published in Regional


APIA – Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi is “disputing the accuracy” of a news item published in the Samoa Observer last week saying that if his government could sell “one billion fishing licences to foreign fishing companies, it would” – explaining that he had been “misquoted.”

In a subsequent interview with the Savali newspaper he said: “I was misquoted. I said 100 billion licences, not one billion. That’s much too small!”

Tuilaepa says the more licences issued to foreign companies the better, saying it’s not important how many licences are issued because the fish don’t belong to Samoa, and are migrating species.

Tuilaepa’s sarcastic refutation of the Samoa Observer front page story was made in an interview with the government’s Savali Newspaper in the Samoan language.

This the interview’s English translation:

Savali News: Sir, you are quoted by the Observer as saying that a billion fishing licences issued by our Fisheries Authorities would be quite nice for Samoa.

“I was misquoted. I said 100 billion licences, not one billion! That’s much too small.

“And because the issue was raised in a very sinister, albeit amusing, manner – the only suitable response was a parable-style answer.

“Presently there are only 6000 fishing vessels registered with the Tuna Commission, so to meet that impossible target may take 10,000 years!

“But when that time comes, the government of the day will be able to berth the vessels end to end and Samoans can stroll barefoot from Apia to South Auckland.”

Savali News: You said that you were speaking in parable. Can you explain?

“Well, it was quite clear to anyone capable of logical thought and reasonable comprehension, that what was important was the revenue source for government.

“There are processes in place that must be met before a licence can be activated. For small economies with narrow revenue bases, government leaders must always remain vigilant to use every opportunity available to them to raise revenue for development.”

Savali News: The worry is there may not be any more fish for our local fishermen. Right?

“Wrong. There are two important issues to understand. First, our fishing zone is too insignificant. Samoa is squeezed in from the north, south, west and east by eight countries – namely USA for American Samoa, Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, Fiji, Tokelau, Kiribati, Wallis and Futuna.

“The Cook Islands for instance has close to two million square kilometres of ocean, Kiribati has approximately four million square kilometres – and Samoa? Only 120,000 square kilometres of fishing zone.

“And 20 miles to our east is our maritime border with the US on behalf of American Samoa.

“Second, tuna is a highly migratory species. Today it is in Tonga, tomorrow Samoa and the day after that, Tokelau. Proof of that is well-known to all of us from the villages who fish in the high-seas every day.

“If a boat pursues a flock of birds following the tuna, it can take two to four hours for a slow alia to catch up, or sometimes you don’t catch up at all. What does that mean?

“Well, like time and tide waiting for no man, the tuna doesn’t wait for our fishermen! So if we don’t catch them in our waters, others will harvest them outside our zone.

“Our small and slow alia can only make it out to 12 miles before being forced back to refuel. Only Luff’s nine big fishing vessels can fish beyond the 12 miles (John Luff, managing director of Apia Export Fish Packers) – so his distress is based on a self-serving, monopolistic attitude typical of a businessman who doesn’t want competition.

“The government doesn’t then earn extra licence fees. He’s had his golden ticket and he’s been in his comfort zone for too long. Only dog-eat-dog competition brings out the best in an entrepreneur.”

Savali News: So if we have a small fishing zone, and tuna is highly migratory, why then should any vessel want a licence in Samoa? Wouldn’t it go bankrupt?

“Exactly! You now understand the issue better than Mr Luff. Tuna is plentiful in the Western Pacific. So numerous fishing vessels are registered in those countries like Philippines with 807 vessels, Japan 1207 vessels, Vanuatu 125 and Tuvalu six.

“So if by some chance 20-30 foreign vessels ever come to Samoa, we should throw a party and praise the Lord! If those vessels bump in to each other out there in our small fishing zone, and have competitions over who has the smallest catch, and eventually go bankrupt – well, that’s not our business.”

Savali News: So what are the other reasons that might attract some vessels to get a licence.

“There are two project proposals to set up operations in Samoa– one Chinese, and Bumblebee from California. If these two operators go ahead, fishing vessels must be licenced to supply fish.

“It is ridiculous to permit these labour-intensive investments for Samoa and we do not allow licences for their vessels to fish and supply the factories with the needed inputs. And a lot of these vessels catch fish in many distant zones to ensure sufficient supply. I have spoken, at length, in many of my interviews about these job creation investments and yet we still see so much rubbish in print.”

Savali News: So you believe our fishermen have nothing to worry about?

“My advice to our fishermen is go out and catch the tuna as they run through our waters. It is a highly-migratory species so if you miss out today, go again tomorrow because if you are not there, they will not wait for you.”