Some Thoughts of Historical Patterns in the Development of Industrial Fishing in the Region

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The original development of industrial tuna fishing in the Pacific Islands has largely been tied to events affecting the tuna fleets of Japan and the United States. These include hardships facing those fleets, government sponsorship for those vessels to explore the Pacific Islands, as well as shortages of fish supply and restrictive management measures in their traditional fishing grounds.

Financial shocks to the Japanese and USA fleets resulted in considerable innovation that both enabled the survival of the fleets and affected their presence in the Pacific Islands area. This included the development of sashimi freezer longlining by the Japanese and the tuna purse seining by the Americans.

In both longlining and purse-seining, the other Asian players (Taiwan (Province of China), Republic of Korea, and most recently China) have become increasingly successful. This has not occurred through innovation but rather by coupling existing technology with low production costs and aggressive fishing practices.

One of the greatest lessons learned in the development of industrial fishing in the region concerns government-owned tuna fishing companies. It was an extremely expensive learning process, but now the general consensus in the region is that the government is very poor at running large and complex fishing operations. A report by the Forum Fisheries Agency (Gillett, 2003) concluded: "That era of government tuna enterprise failure is well documented, especially by the development agencies based outside of the region. The circumstance surrounding those failures is also vivid in the minds of those individuals who were active in fisheries development during that period. Learning from past difficulties, most of the fisheries officers encountered expressed the sentiment that the government should refrain from commercial involvement and focus on improving the policy environment."

Another important lesson is that, for tuna purse-seining, resource adjacency is not a guarantee of success. In previous decades many Pacific Island countries had the belief that by being close to the tuna fishing ground, they had an inherent advantage over other countries whose vessels were based at considerable distance from the fishing activity, or even outside the region. Many countries learned that this was not the case.

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