Tonga looks to tuna industry to boost economy

The Tonga government has plans to make tuna income the largest contributor from the fisheries sector to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Chief Executive Officer of Tonga’s Fisheries Department Dr Tu’ikolongahau Halafihi told Pacific journalists in Manila that is their target.

“We can see that things are increasing but there is still a lot more work to be done.

“There are incentives that we have put in place to help our people who are interested to get into the industry.

“At the same time we also have incentives to help foreign vessels who operate under our Tongan flags.”

Dr Halafihi said Tonga, like the other small island states, will continue to contribute to the WCPFC (which sets fishing rules) and FFA to help grow its tuna industry.

“We are here working with the FFA and the WCPFC to see how best we can manage our tuna resources and also look at ways that can be conserved so that we are able to secure tuna stocks in our waters in years to come,” he said.

“Tonga believes that the conservation and better management of our tuna resources will ensure that we do not run out of tuna stocks in future.

“We support the move to regulate high seas fishing and also the continuing push to ensure that we have observers working on fishing vessels.

 “At the same time Tonga will continue to back decisions that will ensure we have our resources protected.”

He revealed that Tonga does not have any issue with the presence of illegal unregistered vessels in her waters.

“This is not an issue to us but we must see that the region is able to protect itself from such practices,” he added.

Sharing his ministry’s efforts to help reduce Non Communicable Diseases in Tonga and supplement food security measures, Dr Halafihi said the current pilot project where 5 tonnes of tuna supplies from each of the six foreign vessels operating out of Nuku’alofa are being sold for cheaper prices on the local market has been successful so far.

“This is something we are working on with the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders back home as we try and reduce NCDs by offering cheaper pricing for tuna on the local market,” he said.

“It has proven successful and our people are happy with the arrangement so far.”

The arrangement, he revealed, does not see any financial returns for government because the income generated goes back to the fishing companies or vessels.

“We are doing it for the people but the financial returns go back to the fishing companies,” he said.

Dr Halafihi said the Tonga delegation will work through the current meeting with an open mind, hoping that decisions made would be beneficial for the region as a whole.....