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ARKIB : 01/11/2004

Deep-sea fishing operators told to end charter vessel practice

KUCHING Oct 31 - Deep-sea fishing licence holders in Sarawak will be required to buy or build their own vessels by 2006 instead of chartering them, which is currently done mostly from foreign countries.

The licensees are being told to progressively cut back on the number of charter vessels when they return their licences for renewal annually, the state Director of Sarawak Marine Fisheries Department Suhaili Lee told Bernama here.

There are about 140 foreign charter vessels, mostly Thai with a number from China and a few from the Philippines, almost all based in Tanjung Manis.

The policy started during the 1978-79 economic downturn when the government realised the nation's import food bill was high and decided that steps should be taken to increase local food production.

The resource-rich waters beyond the 30 nautical miles off Sarawak's 600-kilometre coast known as the Exclusive Economic Zone was open up to deep-sea fishing using licensing as a tool to manage the resources.

As the vessels were not readily available locally and expensive to build (about RM1 million each), the government allowed charter vessels.

"The concept is beautiful on paper. We land the catch on our shore. We make use of the fish. But in reality it is different in implementation. We are trying our best (to have the foreign charter vessels replaced). When they come for renewal, we ask what they have done so far and we receive the reports from them," he said.

In the course of processing renewal, the department would determine the number that would require building own vessels and the rest charter vessels.

Suhaili added that one condition in the review of licences/permits is that they must land all their catch on shore in Sarawak with at least 40 percent for domestic market.

He said the department was allowing deep-sea fishing licencees/operators to hire foreign workers because of problem of finding local workers.

"At the same time, we are trying to train Malaysians. We are giving them scholarships for training with a RM500 monthly allowance," he said.

On enforcement against foreign intrusion into Malaysian waters, Suhaili said the department was doing quite well where last year they seized 25 foreign vessels and this year up to October, 30 foreign vessels.

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