July 12, 2010

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

Palikir, Pohnpei, FSM-On May 30, 2010, the FSM Congress passed resolution 16- 89, CD1 which urged the President of the FSM to restrict access to the Exclusive Economic Zone of the FSM, and to bid out fishing rights on an exclusive basis to one foreign country.

The "CD" designation of the resolution indicates that wording in the initially proposed resolution was changed before it was passed by Congress. The resolution, submitted by Pohnpei's Senator Dohsis Halbert, Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee initially suggested that the foreign country could possibly be the People's Republic China.

Many FSM citizens wondered why Halbert specifically suggested China as a possibility for exclusive fishing rights in the FSM. Halbert said that China gives the FSM several grants every year totaling millions of dollars but those grants are unpredictable. "We need to know what we can budget… This would be one way to do it," said Chairman Halbert.

Despite that reasoning, ultimately Congress changed the wording of Chairman Halbert's resolution and left out the words "possibly the People's Republic of China."

"We asked the U.S. for $100 million for sector grants," Halbert said. "They gave us less and told us to 'find the rest.' This is one way to 'find the rest.'"

The trust fund is not forming in the way that it was anticipated it might do. "The Compact Economic Objectives aren't working up to now," he said.

"I have roads to fi x and other things to take care of (in the FSM.) We have to 'find the rest.'"

He said that the proposed tax reform plan, including the Value Added Tax is another way the FSM could potentially, "find the rest."

Halbert said that he is proposing a bill in the September session of Congress that he hopes will pass because he thinks it would be another way to "find the rest." The bill, if it passes the muster of an assembled Congress would double license fees for companies wanting to fish in FSM waters. He thinks the bill would help NORMA, (National Oceanographic Resource Management Agency) the FSM entity that regulates fishing licenses in the FSM EEZ. NORMA could then rely on an FSM law to back their actions in doubling fishing fees. He said that NORMA has been hesitant to increase fees for fear of driving fishing companies away and losing fishing revenue which, according to Senator Halbert, last year amounted to $20 million.

"It's not enough," Halbert said. Doubling fishing fees is another way to "find the rest."

International tuna sales amount to well over $2 billion annually. Certainly not all of those tuna come from FSM waters, but the FSM EEZ is the second largest EEZ in the Pacific Ocean which has been described as the last great tuna fishery on the face of the earth.

Halbert is banking on a bidding war amongst countries for the opportunity to fish in FSM waters, a bidding war that could be much more lucrative for the FSM than it currently is. He said that was the idea behind the resolution.

FSM fisheries enforcement was also on his mind. He said that it would be much easier for Marine Surveillance officers to spot a ship illegally fishing FSM waters if only one country besides the FSM has the right to fish here.

It's the way things are handled in French Polynesia. Only local vessels are allowed to fish that EEZ which makes law enforcement much easier for the French Navy. Spot a ship with the wrong flag with nets or lines in the water, arrest them.

"WHEREAS, the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Federated States of Micronesia is a valuable resource and its exploitation can produce needed revenue…," the resolution he authored says. It's another way of "finding the rest."

The resolution requests that President Mori report his actions pursuant to the resolution on or before November 1, 2010.