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Transforming Marshall Islands into Pacific hub for tuna containerisation

Investing in cold storage and tuna loading is crucial, FISH4ACP studies show

16 November 2023, Majuro – Two studies by the global fish value chain development initiative FISH4ACP show that investing in cold storage and tuna loading can transform the Marshall Islands into a hub for tuna containerisation, boosting economic growth and employment, while keeping the environmental impact in check. 

“Tuna accounts for nearly all fisheries production and exports from the Marshall Islands – now it’s time to bring more value of tuna fishing onshore,” said Glen Joseph, Director of the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA) at a meeting of key tuna industry stakeholders where the studies were presented. “It is possible to transform the Marshallese tuna sector and increase the economic and social benefits for our people.”

In recent years, the capital of the Marshall Islands, Majuro, has become one of the world’s leading transshipment ports for tuna. In 2022, 191 000 tonnes of skip jack tuna passed through this port. Yet only 5 000 tonnes, or about 3 per cent, were landed locally for exports in containers. 

Two new studies show the potential of converting the Marshall Islands into a Pacific hub for tuna containerization, provided that significant investments are made in cold storage and tuna loading.

The studies are among the first steps of an ambitious strategy to upgrade the Marshallese tuna value chain over the next ten years. It aims to expand local containerization to 30 per cent of tuna catches, estimating that this would generate USD 33 million of direct value added and create over 1 000 jobs. More use of renewable energy would keep the ecological footprint of this expansion under control.

One study, exploring the technical feasibility, environmental impact and economic role of a cold storage facility on the Marshall Islands, concludes that a facility with storage capacity of 3000 tonnes could be profitable, while putting the initial investment needed at USD 30 million and yearly operating cost at USD 2.5 million. 

The other study assessed the technical and financial feasibility of using tuna loading machines to load fish from fishing vessels into containers. It proposes to invest in one star loader, using blended capital to raise the required USD 600 000, partly financed by FISH4ACP and partly by the private sector. 

The upgrading strategy is spearheaded by FISH4ACP, an initiative of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) implemented by FAO with funding from the European Union (EU) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). 

Representatives of the tuna sector, government officials, financial partners and affiliated organizations, who rallied behind this strategy, have come together in the multi-stakeholder platform MI-FISH to provide oversight during its implementation. 

The MI-FISH meeting today discussed the status of discussions facilitated by FISH4ACP with potential public and private sector investors in the transformation of the Marshallese tuna sector. At the same time, it looked at the implementation of activities, including a communication strategy aimed at making tuna more attractive as a place to work and the outcomes of an assessment of the workplace, which analyzed gender and cultural issues, as well as safety.