MICRONESIA'S FISH TAKE TO FLYING NEW AIRLINE CARRIES CATCH TO GUAM

MICRONESIA'S FISH TAKE TO FLYING NEW AIRLINE CARRIES CATCH TO GUAM

Fish caught in the waters surrounding Micronesia now have a new way of getting to Japan - by air.

A new air cargo operation under the wing of Micronesia's National Fisheries Corp. carries fresh tuna and other fish from four towns in the South Pacific island nation to Guam. Other carriers such as Japan Airlines then transport the fish to Japan, the primary market."This is a big step for Micronesia in developing its fishing industry and improving its economy. The new airline provides Micronesia with much better access to Japan's huge market for fresh fish," said Don Beck, an aviation consultant who helped set up the operation, informally known as Fish Air.

Using a Boeing 727-200 freighter with a huge blue tuna fish painted on its tail, Fish Air began flying July 31. While it's been operating just a couple times a week so far, Mr. Beck said he hopes it will soon have enough volume to fly daily round trips. The freighter has capacity of 35,000 pounds.

The operation caters to the Japanese craving for sashimi, a dish consisting of thin slices of fresh raw fish served with soy sauce.

Marine resources and tourism offer Micronesia's best prospects for economic growth, said Mr. Beck, a former president of Air Micronesia, now known as Continental Micronesia Airlines.

"Part of the opportunity for economic development is to have fishing boats come into ports to have them buy fuel and supplies. If you come in to fuel up and buy supplies, obviously you want to dump your fish," said Mr. Beck, a consultant with Roberts, Roach & Associates Inc., a Hayward, Calif., firm that won a contract from the tiny island nation to develop the air cargo network.

While Micronesia put in shoreside facilities over the past two to three years, until now it lacked the airlift to get the fish to market, Mr. Beck explained in a telephone interview. The boats, mainly from Japan, would either deliver their catch to Guam or back to the mother country.

The plane, leased by the fisheries corporation from a Japanese company, operates on an as-needed basis from Ponape, Kosrae, Truk and Yap, Mr. Beck said.

Fish Air has a contract with Continental Micronesia to carry some freight

from Guam back to Micronesia. This is primarily palletized freight that cannot fit in the bellies of Continental Micronesia's passenger planes.

The Federated States of Micronesia, consisting of 607 islands in the western Pacific, has a population of 120,000. It became an independent nation in September 1991.