MAJURO — In the wake of the Marshall Islands government dropping its 14-day quarantine period for fishing boats to enter Majuro lagoon, tuna transshipment activity leaped during May, doubling the totals of the previous four months.
Transshipment data from the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority or MIMRA shows there were 24 transshipments in May, which included 22 involving transfer of tuna from purse seiners to carrier vessel and two “unloadings” into freezer containers at the main commercial dock.
The May total is the highest in one month since December 2019, when Majuro saw 33 transshipments. The 24 is higher than the monthly totals for all of 2020, indicating the slump the Majuro has been in as a result of Covid-19.
From 2014 to 2019, Majuro developed into the world’s busiest tuna transshipment port, averaging well over 400 transshipments per year and 315,000 tons of tuna moving through its port to off-shore canneries. But the arrival of Covid-19 and the border closure in the Marshall Islands from March 2020 caused the collapse of transshipment operations, as purse seine vessels and the carrier ships that collect the tuna moved to ports with fewer entry restrictions.
“The increase is mostly due to the 14-day isolation requirement amendment for last month’s travel advisory,” said MIMRA’s Chief Fisheries Officer Beau Bigler. He added that “a small uptick in purse seiner (fishing) activities at the southern border inside our exclusive economic zone early-to-mid-May could have also played a role” in the increased transshipment level.
Last year saw a 60 percent decline in transshipment activity here because of Covid port entry controls imposed as part of keeping the country Covid-free. The policy helped to keep Covid out of Marshall Islands, but the transshipment business collapsed, dropping to only 180 in 2020 compared to over 400 per year the previous five years.
Transshipment was off to an even worse start the first four months of this year, with an average of only 11 per month, January through April. This has had multiple negative economic impacts on the fuel sales and local businesses that have developed around servicing the fishing industry in Majuro.
The 24 transshipments in May isn’t a trend yet, but it is a welcome sign for an industry that has largely been in the doldrums for the past 14 months.