COVID-19 forces offshore fishing industry sub-sector to cease fresh fish exports

Due to the severe impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, most fresh fish production by wholly fresh vessels has ceased for Fiji’s offshore fisheries sector. Picture: FILE

Due to the severe impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, most fresh fish production by wholly fresh vessels has ceased for Fiji’s offshore fisheries sector.

According to the Fiji Fishing Industry Association (FFIA), the restricted outward flights, the associated increase in air freight costs, and the low global market demand are the main driving factors for the halt in fresh fish operations for the industry.

“The number of fresh vessels directly affected by COVID-19 due to restricted outward flights and low demand and price remains at 24 vessels. However, three vessels from two companies have collectively conducted a handful of voyages to test the export market but with a near threefold increase in airfreight costs, it’s not economical,” stated FFIA.

Fresh and chilled fish are the major income earners for the offshore fisheries industry. This is an industry that contributes around FJ$200m annually to Fiji’s economy.

Previously, it is understood that air freight charges for fresh and chilled fish were around FJ$3 per kilogram (kg). With the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it now costs local fishing companies around FJ$8 per kg to export fresh and chilled tuna.

“We can confirm air freight is between double and triple pre-COVID-19 and as discussed the matter is part of our discussion with our line Ministry (Ministry of Fisheries) for both air freight and sea freight,” FFIA revealed.

The dilemma in the fresh and chilled sector of the industry has even led to Sealand Fish Limited and Fiji Fish Marketing Group Limited to close their fresh fish processing productions.

“With a few vessels now testing the markets, the processing factories in turn have seen some ad hoc resumption to their operations to cater for the vessels’ arrival and to be aligned to the departure of the flights to their markets however this is simply not economical and represents a fraction of their normal operation,” added FFIA.

What needs to be done? 

FFIA has been in continuous discussions with the Ministry of Fisheries (MoF) on the impacts of COVID-19 on the industry to keep them abreast with the reality on the ground and have identified areas that badly need government’s intervention to ensure the sector remain afloat.

“Through such discussions with the MoF, the Association has narrowed down the areas that are to be included in the Ministry’s Budget Submission for 2020-2021. This includes a multi-faceted array of assistance, from concessions to fee reductions and most importantly to assist the industry through funds that have been set aside for the stabilisation of the domestic industry from the on-going impacts of subsidies from distant water fishing nations (DWFNs). So we are working with government on this,” added FFIA. 

Wholly fresh fish vessels is one of three different types of longline fishing vessels that operate in Fiji and targets fresh fish for export,  staying out at sea for 10-20 days and using ice or brine to preserve their catch. These are exported by air freight to Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the United States (Los Angeles and Honolulu) and any other potential markets. Fishing crew is mainly made up of locals while the officers are both locals and foreigners.

 

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