Back in history: The fishing base

Women prepare fi sh for canning at the Levuka PAFCO cannery. About 350 women were employed in the industry. Picture: FILE

About 59 years ago, a Japanese government minister for Agriculture came to Fiji looking for a suitable fishing base.

His choice was Levuka on Ovalau because of the abundance of fresh water which was vital for freezing works.

That’s how the Pacific Fishing Company (PAFCO) was established there.

It was registered in 1963 as a private fishing company licensed to fish in Fiji waters and quickly became a well-known fishing company in Fiji and in the Pacific.

At the start, there were three major shareholding companies from Japan – C. Itoh, Nichryo and Banno companies.

Both Nichryo and Banno companies withdrew later, leaving C. Itoh company a 71 per cent interest in PAFCO operations, according to a report in The Fiji Times on June 13, 1984.

A Crown lease was obtained for a piece of land next to Burns Philp on which was built a $800,000 fish freezing complex.

A fleet of eight ships started off the fishing operations, which later grew to 25 in 1965.

There was no cannery at the time and the 3000 tonnes of raw fish caught annually were shipped directly to Japan and the United States. In 1967, pilot plans to start a cannery were held after a request by the government.

As many as 20 locals were employed to catch, clean, boil and can skipjack, yellowfin tuna and king fish at Levuka under a Japanese supervisor.

In 1976, the fish cannery was opened and an agreement was signed with the Fiji Government, an extension of the 10 year agreement first signed in 1964.

Since then there had been three extensions to the canning factory in Levuka and the number of local people employed there on a full-time basis has risen to 400.

The turnover in 1978 was $15,172, in 1979 $13,364, in 1980 $17,903, in 1981 $21,705, and in 1982 $14,705.

A PAFCO spokesperson said the turnover last year was $17 million, and the expected turnover that year was estimated at $20 million.

He said the annual turnover depended heavily on market demands, the availability of fish and the market prices.

Countries supplying fish for PAFCO were Taiwan, Korea, Fiji, New Zealand, Tonga, Tuvalu, Australia, New Zealand and Japan and the major markets for PAFCO’s canned fish were the United Kingdom and Canada.

Less than one per cent of the product was sold for local consumption, while some were exported to Australia and New Zealand.

All waste products from the cannery were exported to Japan and processed for pet food. In the past two years, PAFCO suffered losses because of a slump in market prices and poor catches.

A PAFCO spokesperson said it was hard to recover from economic losses such as those suffered in the previous two years. He said it was hoped the next season that would begin in September that year would be good.

There were preliminary talks held in Suva about the renewal of the agreement with the Fiji Government and PAFCO.

The final agreement would be signed later in that year and it’s believed that both parties are interested in continuing the operations despite losses over the past two years.

The shareholders then in PAFCO were C. Itoh company, holding $639,478, the Fiji Government with $225,000 and others, $35,522.

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