Spreading the word on Pacific actions for sustainable ocean fisheries management
Author: Ronald Toito'ona
Ronald is a subeditor for the Solomon Star newspaper in the Solomon Islands, a small island and Melanesian state in the Pacific. Ronald joined the Solomon Star in 2015, after three years of undergraduate studies at the University of South Pacific (USP) doing a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and politics.
HONIARA, 28 May 2020 – AMIDST the ongoing challenge of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing worldwide, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) has called for collective action to tackle the human elements of IUU fishing, including: safeguarding observer safety and livelihoods, ensuring safe and decent labour conditions for crew, and unveiling the persons of interest behind IUU fishing.
FFA Director-General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen made the call when speaking online to the recent Chatham House International Forum on IUU fishing.
The forum was hosted online in London from 18-22 May 2020 and was attended by global policymakers, researchers, industry representatives and civil society groups from across the world.
The keynote speech concentrated on the
human elements of IUU fishing, with a focus on observers, crew and persons of interest.
According to Dr
Tupou-Roosen, FFA is increasingly recognising the need to focus on people, not
just technology, in its efforts to combat IUU fishing.
In terms of monitoring fishing activities, the
FFA observers are the Agency’s frontline workers on fishing vessels, she said.
of observers cannot be overstated as these are our eyes and ears at sea
who collect critical data for science and compliance, such as monitoring
catches and ensuring fishermen are following the rules.”
“This is a vital
role in protecting our oceans and preserving fish stocks,” she said.
added that this can be a dangerous and lonely role as they can face hostilities
from those that they are monitoring, sometimes leading to accidents or loss of
She stated that
the safety of FFA observers is a key priority for the agency.
have been taken by FFA members including establishing conditions of fishing access
to include minimum safety standards for observers and the FFA push at the
Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission for the adoption of an
observer safety measure.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic, the immediate impact has been on our observers. For their health and safety during this global pandemic, FFA Members have had to temporarily suspend the use of observers to monitor activities on vessels as well as transhipment of fish between vessels,” Dr Tupou-Roosen stated.
She also highlighted that while these temporary measures are in place, the agency still has an integrated suite of tools in its monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) framework, including vessel logsheets, a vessel monitoring system and transhipment reports to collect much-needed data.
“The current situation also provides an impetus to prioritise work on tools such as electronic monitoring and electronic reporting. These technologies will support the observer’s role.
“However, the repatriation of FFA observers due to the coronavirus risk has severely impacted their livelihoods.”
Therefore, the FFA will explore ways in which the role of observers can be broadened to ensure they are not heavily dependent on fishing trips for income, and that their valuable data analysis skills can be applied readily on land.
Similarly for crew, Dr Tupou-Roosen said there is much work to be done
to improve their working conditions on vessels. There has been a lot of
coverage highlighting this form of modern-day slavery and she underlined the
collective responsibility to address this.
drove the adoption of the Resolution on Labour Standards for Crew on Fishing
Vessels at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission in 2018. Notably,
this is the first regional fisheries management organisation to make a stand
Last June, FFA members adopted a landmark decision for minimum
conditions of access to their waters relating to crew employment such as:
ensuring there is a written contract for the crew member, humane
treatment of crew, decent and fair remuneration, proper medical care and
sufficient rest periods.
Dr Tupou-Roosen stated that the work does not
has been much talk globally about improving observer and crew safety in the
fishing industry, but I suggest that we can all do better in walking that talk
and prioritising steps to ensure their safety and wellbeing,” she said.
When introducing her address, the DG said the approach to combatting IUU
fishing has to-date been heavily focused on vessels compliance history.
But as the DG noted “It is people who commit fisheries offences, not
vessels. Vessels are just one platform for IUU activities. This is why it is
very important to identify the persons of interest.
“persons of interest profiling,
including information about the history and performance of persons, would be
extremely valuable as a tool for proactive decision-making, and increasing the
information for decision makers,” she stated.
A key task in this project is to go behind the corporate veil to reveal
beneficial owners, to ensure that key persons involved in a vessel’s IUU
activity are held accountable,” the DG said.
the end of the week-long program, the DG made the call to cooperate to address
the human elements of the IUU fishing.
“I conclude with a call to
action for all of us to build on this opportunity presented by Chatham House to
work together on addressing these human elements,” she said.
“I have every confidence that we in the
Pacific can persevere and be successful with these key elements at a regional
level.” The FFA DG referred to the Pacific model of cooperation which provides
an example of what can be achieved.
However, this is not work that
we can do alone,” Dr Tupou-Roosen added.
“We all recognise that IUU
fishing is a global challenge.
“The ‘people factor’ inherent in our industry must be addressed in a more concerted way. The potential benefits in cooperation are manifestly positive,” she concluded.
Click here to see the pre-recorded video of Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen’s address to the 12th International Forum on IUU Fishing, aired on Friday 22 May, 2020.
About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries
its 17-member countries to sustainably manage fishery resources that fall
within their 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). FFA provides expertise,
technical assistance and other support to its members who make decisions about
their tuna resources and participate in regional decision making on tuna
HONIARA – Although tuna has helped grow the Solomon Islands economy by bringing in jobs and government revenue, the country needs a fresh vision, according to homegrown fisheries law expert Transform Aqorau.
On World Tuna Day, Dr Aqorau said that Solomon Islands needed to reset its focus with fresh ideas so it could meet the growing challenges the tuna industry faced in the region.
He posed the question: what kind of vision does Solomon Islands want for its tuna fisheries by 2060?
Dr Aqorau, who is the CEO of iTuna Intel and a past chair of the Parties to Nauru Agreement, has a rich knowledge of the tuna industry – and of emerging challenges.
These included climate change, weak fisheries policies, a lack of technological advancement, and the need for more fisheries research.
According to Dr Aqorau, Solomon Islands could see a bigger and better tuna fishery if it addressed these challenges.
Beyond COVID-19 and through climate change
Overshadowing this year’s celebration of World Tuna Day were two natural phenomena that are causing a lot of global uncertainty: COVID-19 and climate change. Dr Aqorau said they would both leave an imprint on Solomon Islands fisheries resources and on food security.
They were forcing governments, businesses, individuals and communities to rethink how to manage fisheries and try to ensure that trade was uninterrupted, at a time where there were restrictions on the supply chain.
“So far, the SEAPODYM (Spatial Ecosystem and Population Dynamics Model) that has been developed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community is telling us that the population density of skipjack tuna, the primary source of Solomon Islands canned tuna product, is likely to shift to the eastern Pacific,” Dr Aqorau said.
It was therefore appropriate for Solomon Islanders to ask how they could respond to these challenges in a concerted and systematic manner.
“We know that a second cannery is going to be built in Bina, in Malaita Province. Its feasibility and viability are going to depend on its capacity to secure a steady supply of tuna to maintain a consistent throughput for the cannery,” Dr Aqorau said.
“Therefore, it is only appropriate to be asking questions about how we are going to guarantee that we can secure enough tuna resources to ensure the sustainability of Solomon Islands tuna industry.”
It was important to take a long-term view of the policies and the harvest strategies that were needed to ensure that the tuna stocks remained healthy and robust, and continued to support local communities.
“These are important considerations not just for Solomon Islands but for a number of Pacific Island countries as well.”
Reforming policies the way forward
Dr Aqorau said it was “obvious” that Solomon Islands needed to review its fisheries policy and reshape its fisheries management regime so that it could accommodate these emerging challenges. To do this, it was necessary to understand how well the current systems were performing.
“This could involve applying the fisheries governance diagnostic tools developed by MRAG Americas to test the performance of Solomon Islands fisheries management systems, and project the harvest strategy that will be required to support Solomon Islands tuna industry,” Dr Aqorau said.
The diagnostic test could look at the intersection between three factors to measure the current performance of the overall fisheries management systems. The first was whether there was a robust fisheries management policy in place. The second was whether the country had the capacity to implement that policy. The third looked at what measures and tools were in place to advance the policies.
Dr Aqorau said there was “no doubt” that internet technology and advances in communication would significantly change the way business was conducted. With the right strategies, Solomon Islands could become the innovation hub for tuna development in the region.
“This will require having a long-term vision to support such a development. But more broadly, it will require the promulgation of necessary regulatory frameworks, systems, and policies so that private–public partnerships in innovative research and development can be promoted,” Dr Aqorau said.
“We should envision a fishery where innovation hubs are located within the same areas as the processing plants at Noro and Bina, providing tax-free areas for start-up technology and companies researching ways in which fisheries products can be value-added.”
Private–public sector partnerships could also provide ancillary services such as machining, welding, and net making.
The iTuna Intel boss suggested that Solomon Islands could also position itself to be the centre for innovative fisheries research.
This could be achieved by working with key partners such as the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Solomon Islands National University (SINU), and World Fish and other international ocean research institutions.
“Solomon Islands has to be envisioning how it will be able to provide employment and enough throughput in 2060 in view of the anticipated shifts in the productivity of its EEZ, which is already subject to seasonal variations,” he said.
“There is scope to investigate the development of more diverse range of fish products such as fish sausage, fish balls, and tuna shavings for soup. These are, perhaps, necessary as we look for ways in which food security can be ensured for Solomon Islands’ growing population.
“It will also be necessary to look at how the markets will be reached, and to ask the question as to what kind of products will be exported and how can these be marketed using some of the emerging technology platforms,” Dr Aqorau said.
To achieve this vision for Solomon Islands in 2060, the country also needed to review the skills that existed and which ones would be needed in 40 years’ time. It needed to embrace state-of-the-art technology and work closely with other Pacific Island countries to ensure the sustainability of regional tuna resources.
This story is adapted from the message on a more sustainable life in Solomon Islands given by Dr Transform Aqorau on World Tuna Day 2020.
In the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO), the SIDS collect millions of dollars in revenue from the tuna fisheries they manage. The revenue is vital for income, employment and food for Pacific Islanders.
This was the focus of the discussions on World Tuna Day.
The first World Tuna Day was held in 2017 following a vote in the United Nations. The aim of the day is to draw the attention of consumers, governments, industry and civil society to the pressures placed on tuna as a vital source of food and livelihoods. As pressure increases, the need for collective global action to sustain viable numbers of tuna also increases.
In everyone’s interest to sustain tuna numbers
Fiji’s permanent representative to the UN, Dr Satyendra Prasad, took part in the dialogue on behalf of the Pacific SIDS. He spoke on the significance of tuna to the Pacific states and the need to be serious in its sustainability.
“Tuna is a significant source of food and an economic driver for SIDS, with approximately 7 million tonnes of tuna landed yearly. The SIDS region alone provides just less than 40% of the global tuna catch,” Dr Prasad said.
He added that the Pacific states were reminding the world that “it is in the interests of both the small states of the Pacific and of the world that this resource be managed sustainably”.
Dr Prasad reminded the UN audience that the intention of World Tuna Day 2020 was to focus global attention to the considerable pressures that tuna stocks around the world face from illegal fishing and overfishing, from harmful subsidies to fisheries, and from the effects of climate change.
“Accelerating international action in achieving the SDG14 – Life Below Water should be part of the UN’s response. This should also become a core part of the COVID-19 recovery efforts – the recovery must be a sustainable blue recovery as well,” he said.
An opportunity to explore incentives to improve economies
Dr Transform Aqorau, who is a past CEO of the Parties to Nauru Agreement and one of the Pacific’s leading tuna experts, took part in the dialogue from Honiara. He told the global audience that the Pacific Island states needed to think hard about how to keep the tuna industry sustainable. He said that, as well as challenges, COVID-19 presented opportunities to rethink the management of the tuna industry in the Pacific.
“The Pacific tuna industry will suffer as quarantine requirements, suspension of flights, and disruptions to the supply chain will affect the supply of tuna to regional and global markets,” Dr Aqorau said.
“This will have adverse impact on jobs in the Pacific and on foreign exchange earnings from the industry.”
However, the Pacific could use the opportunity to rebuild a more equitable Pacific tuna industry.
“Pacific governments should explore incentive structures that encourage increased processing within the region,” he said.
“They should also invest in expanding equity in tuna processing enterprises that rely on the Pacific’s tuna but which are based outside the Pacific region.”
WCPFC celebrates the people who have kept tuna numbers sustainable
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPDC) contributed a statement to the dialogue. The organisation’s role in ensuring the long-term conservation and sustainable use of the tuna has attracted the greatest scrutiny of its work.
The commission said in its statement that “intense scrutiny” occurred because Pacific communities and economies depended so heavily on tuna.
“From a conservation lens, it is gratifying for the WCPFC to celebrate World Tuna Day in the comfort of the knowledge that the four key commercial tuna stocks of the WCPO – namely bigeye, yellowfin, skipjack and south Pacific albacore – are all assessed to be managed and maintained above the agreed sustainable levels,” the WCPFC said.
“This is an achievement that is unmatched by any other regional ocean.”
WCPFC attributed it to the dedication, sacrifice and cooperation of members, cooperating non-members, participating territories and other stakeholders of the organisation.
What do we want for tuna fisheries in 2060?
Dr Aqorau said the serious backdrop to this year’s World Tuna Day celebration was caused by two phenomena that had resulted in a lot of global uncertainty: COVID-19 and climate change.
They were forcing governments, businesses, individuals and communities to rethink how to manage their fisheries and ensure uninterrupted trade at a time where there were restrictions on the supply chain.
“Therefore, it might be well to ask ourselves on this occasion, what kind of vision we want for our tuna fisheries by 2060,” Dr Aqorau said.
“We in Solomon Islands are forced to respond to the impact of COVID-19 on fish trade as well as the projected impacts of climate change.
“So far, the SEAPODYM models that have been developed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community are telling us that the population density of skipjack tuna, which is the primary source of Solomon Islands canned tuna product, is likely to shift to the eastern Pacific,” Dr Aqorau said.
He said that the combined consequences of the effects of COVID-19 and climate change meant it was appropriate to ask how the country was going to guarantee that it could secure enough tuna to ensure the sustainability of its tuna industry.
“It is important to take a long-term view of the resources and the harvest strategies that will be needed to ensure that the tuna stocks remain healthy and robust, [so they do] enough to support the economy, ensure sufficient food security for Solomon Islands’ growing population, and also support throughput for Solomon Islands processing plants,” Dr Aqorau said.
“These are important considerations not just for Solomon Islands but for a number of Pacific Island countries as well.” said Dr Aqorau.
He said it was “obvious” that Solomon Islands needed to review its fisheries policies and reshape its management regimes so that it was able to accommodate these emerging challenges.
In order to plan for the future, it was necessary to understand how well the current fisheries management systems were performing, Dr Aqorau added.
“We need to take a futuristic look at Solomon Islands fisheries that will embrace the use state-of-the-art technology, and a whole different range of arrangements working closely with other Pacific Island countries to ensure the sustainability of our tuna resources.
“We can start working on constructing a fresh vision for our tuna for 2060.”
HONIARA – Despite the threat of COVID-19 to global tuna production, production chains in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean have continued to operate efficiently. Credit is due to the measures the industry has taken to keep up normal tuna production.
As the world continues to focus on the deadly coronavirus, fishers and others in the fishing industry are working around the clock to continue providing healthy and safe wild food like tuna to the global market.
A spokesperson for the Fong Chun Formosa (CFC) fisheries company in Taiwan, Ray Clarke, said COVID-19 had brought positives to the tuna industry in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). The industry had at this stage remained relatively stable, organised and efficient.
The WCPO tuna industry, and its associated supply chain, had so far proven to be relatively robust, and without sacrificing important sustainability and social transparency requirements, he said.
However, Sancho Kim, the Operation and Sales Manager at the Korea-based Silla fishing company, said that travel restrictions and the forced closure of most PNA ports had had an impact on tuna fishing in the region.
“I fully understand those measures are to ensure their safety and life. However, as fishermen, due to those measures, we are having many difficulties with transhipment, crew issues, supplying provisions, et cetera,” Mr Kim said.
The CEO of Silla, Tuna Lee, said that canned tuna was one of the best emergency foods to have because tuna was wild-caught, healthy food and also kept for a long time when canned.
“I think not only fishermen, but also all stakeholders such as canneries, brand owners, can sellers, PNA, FFA, and RFMOs should do their best to supply healthy and safe food to all peoples continuously,” said Mr Lee.
All eyes on canned tuna
“People started to put their eyes on canned tuna products, as it has longer validity to keep and consume, as well as being rich in nutrition at a comparatively cheaper price than other food categories,” Mr Lee said.
“Taste will last for a while for canned tuna, and it will help to promote tuna consumption overall on a long-term basisfor Silla.”
The CEO of the Frabelle fishing corporation in the Philippines, Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jnr, said demand for retail packs of canned tuna would increase, but demand for catering packs would drop.
“One positive thing is that our industry will continue despite COVID-19, as people have to eat and canned tuna is one of the healthiest foods for people that is shelf-steady. It can be kept for many years, unlike other foods in other industries that are forced to shut down at this time,” Mr Laurel said.
Thai Union’s General Manager, Narin Niruttinanon, said there had been a marginal increase in global demand for canned tuna.
“All the increase has been in retail or supermarkets, while food-service and restaurant orders have largely been delayed or cancelled,” Mr Niruttinanon said.
“The experience from the previous disasters would suggest that people largely bought canned food to give themselves a sense of security. How quickly they actually consume those cans is an entirely different question.
“Although COVID-19 may continue for months to come, as long as the global logistics systems are still functioning quite normally – and this is surely a top priority of all governments – I still cannot imagine a serious food shortage that will force people to only eat food from emergency stock.
“On the other hand, once the world comes out of this COVID-19 episode, I am concerned about a serious drop in demand for canned tuna in retail and supermarkets. But, hopefully, the food-service and restaurant markets may come back to add some cushioning for the industry,” Mr Niruttinanon said.
Mr Niruttinanon said the company had implemented health assessment and hygiene practices for its 40,000 Thai workers to maintain operations as close to normal as possible. It has also donated product worth 1 million Thai baht to Bangkok communities that had been affected by COVID-19.
Ray Clarke of the FCF fisheries company in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, said they had seen considerably increased demand for their canned tuna products as consumers stocked up to sit through periods of social distancing.
“The demand for canned tuna is especially strong at the moment. Fresh-fish operations were initially hurt considerably, and we have had to take actions to ensure the health and safety of all of our crew, officers, employees and staff,” Mr Clarke said.
Fishing companies monitor the situation closely
He said FCF was closely monitoring the situation – a challenge, as monitoring involved several countries.
“For instance, here in Kaohsiung, things have been relatively safe, thanks to early action by the government of Taiwan, which took actions including requiring masks in public, and initiating COVID-19 testing. So here we seem to have controlled, to the degree possible, the spread of the virus.
“We are closely monitoring the health and safety of our vessels, captains and crew, as well as the health and safety of processing-facility workers, especially in places like Wewak, Papua New Guinea. We are making sure that all of the captains and crew either stay on the COVID-19-free vessels – at their concurrence – or we ensure they return to their home countries in a manner that reduces any exposure to the virus,” Mr Clarke said.
“We are working with our customers to ensure all their needs and concerns are addressed. At this point, other than in a few minor instances, I believe we have been successful in this regard.”
Mr Clarke said he had come to appreciate much more any face-to-face interactions he has had with people since the outbreak of COVID-19.
“Chiefly, the outbreak has emphasised the importance of interpersonal interaction. Although video conferences, telephone calls and emails provide useful communication platforms, it remains important to interact safely with colleagues, staff and customers.
“I have come to value those human-to-human interactions even more.”
Local management means operations kept at near-normal
At Noro in Solomon Islands, operations at the SolTuna cannery are normal, despite the scaling down of workers. Even though it is partly owned by the United States-based Trimarine, most managers are locals, unlike the management of some other tuna companies in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.
The cannery is supplied solely by the National Fisheries Development purse-seine fleet; and in the absence of the expatriate workers, the operations at the cannery are normal.
Joe Hamby, a board member of SolTuna Fishing Company, said they had learnt a lot from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Because SolTuna’s management and staff are almost all Solomon Islanders, we can continue to operate during periods when expatriates have had to evacuate back to their home countries,” Mr Hamby said. “By contrast, despite COVID-19, SolTuna has continued to safely produce badly needed food for both the domestic and export markets.”
HONIARA – In an effort to step up monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) efforts to improve the management of its tuna fisheries, Solomon Islands will soon be the first state in the region to introduce a digital catch documentation and traceability scheme for the Noro port.
Following a workshop held in March in Munda, Western Province, plans are in place to have Noro port, which will be known as an e-port, conduct a pilot of the scheme.
The port of Noro is the only one in the region with all three types of fleets: purse seine, pole-and-line, and longline. It exports regionally and internationally, shipping whole fish, loins, canned fish, and sashimi-grade tuna.
The workshop involved representatives from the Ministry of Fisheries, customs, health, ICT services, the Forum Fisheries Agency, Soltuna Fishing Company, and National Fisheries Development (NFD).
Noro project will have “regional ramifications”
Local fisheries expert, the founding director of Pacific Catalyst, and the CEO of iTuna Intel, Dr Transform Aqorau, was instrumental in the establishment of the new scheme, which is currently in its infant stage.
“The project will have regional ramifications, as there have been a lot of discussions of a regional catch and traceability system,” Dr Aqorau said.
“The Noro e-port will be able to test the integration of electronic tools available into a pilot in a port-based context, as the starting point for a catch documentation scheme. The Noro e-port will see the digital integration of all port monitoring, compliance and surveillance related activities.
“The data to be integrated will include the requirements of the WCPFC port state measures, unloading data, factory weigh-in, and processed volumes leaving Noro. The system will mass balance inputs and outputs, and will use tablet-based apps,” said Dr Aqorau.
He said markets require transparency along the value chain, not simply assurances about the legality of the catch.
“Soltuna already has a world-class traceability scheme. Industry is leading the way. This is a partnership between the government and industry,” he added.
Pilot project will test integration of electronic tools
The pilot project will be used to test the integration of current electronic tools into port activities, as the starting point for an electronic catch documentation scheme (CDS) that should provide a substantial benefit to the region.
“The recent development of a regional blockchain-based traceability tool that could provide assurances, beyond the regulatory scope from harvest to export, offers a unique opportunity to be integrated in the development, and hence “extend” the range of the assurances provided all the way to the final consumer,” Dr Aqorau said.
Edward Honiwala, the Director of Fisheries for the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, said the scheme was part of the Solomon Islands Government’s effort to improve compliance.
“The linkage of information and data from the fishing vessels to the market is vitally important for the government. The complete information is important for the government, through the Ministry of Fisheries, to make decisions,” Mr Honiwala said.
He said that tuna was a product in high demand globally, and the local tuna industry had to work in the international arena with both marketing and trade. There were many challenges to face, especially in compliance and monitoring. That made improvements in Solomon Islands’ MCS important.
“This e-port project will be part of our MCS tools. We have a growing tuna industry in Solomon Islands; we have Noro, the tuna hub of Solomon Islands. The Bina Harbour project is also coming up, which the government named as its priority project. With those developments in the tuna sector … we must prepare as well,” he said.
Dr Aqorau said the next step was to scope and develop the project. There was still a long way to go, including identifying a developer, but the excitement of the stakeholders and their sense of ownership of the project were encouraging.
He hoped the e-port project would put Solomon Islands at the cutting edge of digitally integrated CDS.
“This will truly put us at the forefront of port state management and enforcement that integrates blockchain technology and other innovative apps, making us a leading tuna innovator,” Dr Aqorau said.
HONIARA, 17 April 2020 – Solomon Islands is facing an economic crisis: with the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic, the prognosis for the near to medium term is not looking good, says iTuna Intel CEO and founding director of Pacific Catalyst, Dr Transform Aqorau.
“The only revenue going to be coming into the Treasury is through the sale of fishing vessel days (VDS) to foreign fishing vessels and a little from existing logging operations. The latter are at levels that are much lower than 2019 but the forecast is not really bright,” Dr Aqorau said.
“With regards to tuna revenues, we have to keep our fingers crossed that this natural phenomenon, which has seen tuna concentrated in our waters as a result of the shift of the warm pool, will remain in Solomon Islands over the next few years.”
In normal years, the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, of which Solomon Islands is a part, generates about $25 billion in revenue from tuna a year.
Tuna is the second largest revenue earner for Solomon Islands, behind the depleting logging industry. The tuna industry’s contribution to the Solomon Islands Government revenue on average is $260 million, of which 90% comes from fishing licences, the Central Bank of Solomon Islands (CBSI) has reported.
Dr Aqorau is a Solomon Islands fisheries law expert, and a former boss of the Parties to Nauru Agreement (PNA). He said that Italy and China, which were the two biggest importers of Solomon Islands tuna, had to date been the countries worst affected by the coronavirus.
“This will no doubt have a percolating effect on our major exports and, ultimately, revenue,” he said.
“No economy can survive without new money coming in, whether it is the form of donor aid or revenues from exports, as this will eventually impact on its ability to pay for import.”
CBSI reports on Covid-19 threats to local economy
The CBSI reported in March that the coronavirus would likely have a negative impact on the Solomon Islands economy. The spread of the pandemic and the considerable disruption it would cause would be exacerbated by the increasingly intertwined trade and investment relationships between China and its neighbours in the Asia–Pacific region.
The report stated that “being a small, open economy, the Solomon Islands will likely be adversely affected through the trade channel and thereafter the economy, and even fiscal operations”.
The report said: “The downward movement in the global economy, as well ensuing public health measures and business closures, could see a significant decline in real GDP of between minus 3% to minus 5% in 2020. The current information at hand indicates that the economy is moving into a recession starting in the second quarter of 2020.”
The impact of COVID-19 was expected to affect almost all sectors of the Solomon Islands economy. Supply chains had been affected, with travel limits and disruptions to business activity.
Trimarine’s Soltuna scales down operation
More workers from the fisheries sector are being laid off as the pandemic’s grip on the Solomon Islands economy tightens. Soltuna, which employs over 1,000 workers, is one company that is scaling down.
Speaking in Parliament last Tuesday during a motion to extend the state of public emergency to four months, Minister for Finance and Treasury Harry Kuma said fisheries exports to Italy in particular had indicated a declining trend from the end of the first quarter of 2020 .
He added that prices were likely to fall by 5%.
“This will severely affect the operation of Soltuna and the employment of mainly women and girls in the Noro Cannery,” the minister stated.
On a similar note, Trimarine’s spokesperson, Joe Hamby, specified that Soltuna production depended firstly on the supply of tuna from its sibling company, National Fisheries Developments (NFD).
“As you can imagine, fishing is directly impacted by the weather. Cyclone Harold has severely interrupted NFD’s fishing operations. Soltuna cannot operate without a steady supply of good quality tuna from NFD,” Mr Hamby said.
He went on to say that Trimarine had learned a lot from the COVID-19 pandemic. This was because Soltuna’s management and staff were almost all Solomon Islanders, and Soltuna could continue to operate during periods when expatriates had to evacuate back to their home countries.
For example, only one of the six tuna processing plants in Papua New Guinea was operating at the moment. The others had closed because they don’t have enough local management and technical expertise. Expatriates with those skills had gone home, Mr Hamby added.
“By contrast, despite COVID-19, Soltuna has continued to safely produce badly needed food for both the domestic and export markets.”
Dr Aqorau had projected that demand for canned tuna products would increase, including in China, where demand for fresh fish was declining as a result of the pandemic.
“It will be an evolution in China, but the tuna industry will be in for some very exciting times in the future,” Dr Aqorau said.
Transhipment problems threaten the global tuna supply chain
Frabelle Fishing Company in the Philippines is another company that is affected by COVID-19, as most ports in the Pacific are closed to transhipment.
The company’s CEO, Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jnr, said Solomon Islands was a major resource for tuna in the Western Pacific, as well as a major transhipment point. He said any restriction imposed by the government on fishing and fish transfers would surely affect the flow of goods to the markets.
“If we are operating unhampered, we are actually not losing so much, but if we go into port and we are made to wait for 14 days’ quarantine, we will be losing about US$10,000 per day in our operations cost while at port, plus the island nations will lose 12 of those 14 days in terms of vessel fishing days that fishermen are supposed to pay PNA,” he said.
“So, for every port call with quarantine, each boat loses about US$120,000, and the island nations will also lose about US$130,000 per day per vessel at port under quarantine.
“These are rough figures, but realistic,” Mr Laurel said.
He added that if Frabelle was not allowed to tranship in other ports, the company would have to run to ports that would allow them under certain conditions. But this would entail burning more fuel and losing more fishing days for both the fisherman and the island nations.
Inability to replace crew
Marko Kamber, of Caroline Fisheries Corporation, has also stated that another major issue that island-based operators faced was the inability to replace crew because of the travel bans in place.
“Also many island ports do not allow disembarkation of crews to fly home,” he said.
Korea-based company Silla is also facing hiccups with their operations, with difficulties due to restrictions imposed by island countries despite a 100% fleet operation, says Operation & Sales Manager Sancho Kim.
Mr Kim said their operation was affected by the 14-day quarantine rule and some countries were closing their ports, both air and sea, to block COVID-19 transmission.
“It is obvious any one of those measures are affecting our operation negatively, causing delays in finding available ports to call for transhipment and maintenance operation,” Mr Kim said.
Honiara port in Solomon Islands is one of the main ports for tuna purse seiners’ transhipments. Solomon Islands’ exclusive economic zone has been a good fishing ground for tuna purse seiners this year, so far, leading vessels to call more frequently to Honiara for transhipment.
“It surely helped to improve the local economy to bring more economic activities into Honiara and also increase government revenue. However, Solomon Islands is also implementing a 14 days quarantine policy, which is forcing vessels to turn around to find other ports available to call.”
HONIARA, 27 March 2020 – WITH the increasing threats of climate change on local fishing grounds of coastal communities around Malaita Province in Solomon Islands, communities are seeing the importance of the fish-aggregating devices (FADs) in providing them with alternative fishing grounds.
In Solomon Islands, small-scale commercial fisheries are dotted around the provinces, and focus on providing mainly sea resources such as sea shells, beche-de-mer, and shark fins for export.
These commodities are an important source of cash for local Solomon Islanders. However, in recent years, coastal communities in the Solomon Islands have seen drastic changes that have affected their daily fishing activities.
These changes gave birth to the local marine management area (LMMA) initiative, through which coastal communities around Malaita understood the importance of protecting their reefs from overfishing and other harvesting activities.
Malaita provincial government and WorldFish
Since 2018, eight communities in Malaita Province have utilised FADs to make their fishing easier. They are Suava Bay, Onepusu and Mandalua in North Malaita; Gwanatafu in West Fataleka; Fote, and Bio in West Kwara’ae; Ta’arutona in West Are’are; and Ambitona in East Kwaio.
The Malaita Provincial Fisheries office and WorldFish Auki have teamed up for the great partnership, which resulted in eight FADs being deployed in the seas near these communities in March 2018.
The FADs were deployed by a team consisting of people from WorldFish and Malaita Provincial Fisheries. The eight communities are believed to have put into practice LMMAs, to restrict use of reefs close to their villages from being fished or gleaned.
The aim of deploying the FADs to these communities is to provide the communities with an alternative fishing area to prevent the villagers from engaging in fishing activities in the LMMA. More communities in Malaita are now adapting the concept of LMMA to protect their marine resources from over-harvesting and the fear of marine resource extinction.
Today, due to the value of marine resources like fish and seashells in Solomon Islands domestic markets, people put more pressure on the reefs than ever in human history. Harvesting of marine resources for daily food and income over the years has so affected many reefs in Malaita that they have lost much of their rich marine life.
Some communities have begun to realise that relying heavily on the reefs needs to be stopped to allow reefs to revive, and their marine richness to return and continue to provide the current generation and future generations with food and income.
However, the challenge that materialises for adopting an LMMA is that it prevents communities that depend on reefs from looking elsewhere for fish and seashells to satisfy daily needs. This is becoming irritation, especially to those who depend on harvesting marine resources.
According to Martin Jasper from the Malaita Provincial Fisheries office in Auki, the FADs are actually meant to relieve fishing pressure from the reefs, especially when the reefs are put under an LMMA to regain their rich marine life.
“This is the second phase of the project implemented under the Coral Triangle Initiative and funded by Asian Development Bank,” Mr Jasper said.
“WorldFish in collaboration with the Malaita Provincial Fisheries deployed FADs to the eight selected communities that applied for the FADs.
“More than 50 communities applied, and only eight were accepted due to limited funds available,” he added.
Mr Jasper explains that before the distribution and installation of the FADs, an awareness tour and constructions of FADs and anchors was conducted in March 2018.
“This tour was for definite deployment of FADs and community-based resource management awareness that linked with FADs activities,” he said.
Following the deployment of the FADs, communities in North Malaita have told the Auki Provincial Fisheries office that they are benefiting from the FADs as the equipment made fishing easier for them, which means they do not have to fish in the LMMA.
In the meantime, Mr Jasper is calling on the eight communities to take care of the FADs so that they will continue to attract more fish to make fishing easier.
Not only that, he also extended the call to sea users, fishers, and the travelling public to respect the FADs because they are deployed purposely to provide alternative fishing ground for the communities to relieve pressure on their reefs.
Mr Jasper said there are few
recorded incidents of FAD vandalism, where people cut the anchor and ropes
attached to the FADs for no good reason.
“FADs have played a major role in communities practicing LMMA because without FADs people will not respect the LMMA and will continue to harvest marine resources in the management areas,” he said.
community’s FAD engagement
Learning from the success of the eight communities, the Lilisiana community in the Langalanga division of Malaita decided to follow suit. Like other coastal communities, the people of Lilisiana derived much of their protein from fish while selling surplus supply at Auki, Malaita’s provincial capital, to meet other household needs and wants.
However, their heavy reliance on the resource depleted the supply of fish in the nearby reefs. This situation forced the fishers of Lilisiana to paddle further out to sea to fish.
The fishers blamed that the change in weather conditions, saying they had muddled up the regular migratory fish pattern. The presence of seasonal fish species such as yellowfin tuna, rainbow fish and even kingfish appear to be unpredictable to most, even to the elites in the trade.
As a result, fishing becomes harder and fishers often return home with very small catche that are sometimes enough for family consumption only. Whenever a fishing trip is unsuccessful, it badly affects family income.
In 2017, the fishermen of Lilisiana formed a group called the Auki Bay Fishermen Association (ABFA). ABFA was established to create an avenue for fishers of Lilisiana to support their families through the provision of food and income.
The group created a FAD in January 2019 and had it deployed at sea.
The FADs assist local fishers to gain access to tuna stocks, and minimise their travel costs (boat fuel and time). FADs also improve safety at sea by reducing the need to fish far away, and encouraging fishers to fish at least some of the time in a “known” place.
ABFA is the first fishing association in Malaita Province to create a FAD at the village level without assistance from the Ministry of Fisheries.
ABFA chairman Joe Talanimoli told Malaita Star Magazine during the official launching of the FAD in January this year that making a FAD at the village wasn’t easy.
“To make a FAD at the village level without funding support is not an easy task because everything costs money,” Talanimoli said.
However, through collaborative and collective efforts from more than 100 ABFA members, they managed to complete the FAD which cost them over $8,000 within two weeks.
“Most of the materials required and used for the FAD were sourced from villagers at affordable cost,” the chairman added.
Now that the FAD was finally deployed at sea, ABFA members could now look forward to improving their catches to support their families, he said with a smile.
Following the launch, ABFA appointed a body that is responsible for maintaining the FAD.
Since the introduction of the initiative two years ago, the communities had benefited greatly from the FAD initiative. Auki market, as well as Honiara Central market, are the usual destinations of FAD catches.
However, to ensure that everyone gets maximum benefits from the initiative, all fishers and community members were told to look after the equipment so that it would continue to support them meet their family needs and wants. The communities were also cautioned about penalties under the Fisheries Act if someone was found tampering with or vandalising the equipment.
HONIARA, 27 March 2020 – Solomon Islands may soon have its second tuna cannery as initial work on the Bina Harbour project takes off.
The harbour project is a government priority for 2020.
The cannery is due to start operating in 2023. It is understood that the proposed facility would process 26,950 metric tons of fish a year. The project will be complemented by a large commercial wharf suited for international exportation, and a significant fuel depot to support the fishing fleet that will provide fish for the cannery.
The project has faced several challenges from different sectors over the past years during the early planning phase. Now, a cross-sectoral approach with a strong notion of “working together” with all relevant stakeholders is being undertaken.
This week, the Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (DGCA) said it is committed to the successful implementation of the Bina Harbour project in Malaita Province.
A statement from the Prime Minister’s press secretariat said that this commitment was evident, as significant progress had been made so far.
Counting the positives, there was a successful reconciliation ceremony held in 2019, identification of the ideal site for a water source, identification of the landowners of the harbour access, a study on financing options, and the identification of a project office site.
“DCGA is serious in taking on board
the many challenges faced by past successive governments in moving this
national project forward,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Currently, consultations are being held between the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (OPMC), the World Bank Group, International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR), Malaita Provincial Government, and the resource owners.
While the MFMR remains the leader and focal point of the national project, consultations to progress the project now involve all sectors and parties directly and indirectly related to it.
The government believes the positive impacts this national project will have on the country is huge.
When operational, the tuna factory is expected to employ more than 1,000 employees.
“Ideally, we want our Pacific athletes attending the games in 2023 to eat fish products produced in Bina,” the statement said.
“Apart from employment, the positive trickle-down impacts of this factory are that many local businesses and local farmers in the country would benefit in supplying food produce and basic needs to the factory and its employees.”
Landowners, disputes and reconciliation
Bina Harbour in Malaita Province was earmarked by the national government in its priority projects to establish a fish-processing factory, but land issues have delayed progress on the project.
Former Minister for Fisheries &
Marine Resources (MFMR) John Maneniaru said land disputes over the proposed
site in Bina Harbour had been dealt with by the High Court.
The High Court ruling in 2017 has settled the land issue, clearing the way for the government to pursue the project.
During his term as the minister, Mr Maneniaru said the ministry took the lead in the work on the project and had identified two plots of land on the site that should cater for developing the infrastructure needed.
It was obvious that the ministry had tried everything to progress the project, one of which was finding the best ways to accommodate all land-owning groups as the number of tribes claiming ownership keeps changing. However, in 2017 a milestone was achieved with landowners, when plots of lands and their rightful owners were identified.
In May 2019, a reconciliation ceremony was organised between the national government, Ministry of Fisheries, Malaita Provincial Government, and the resource owners of Bina in West Kwaio.
The reconciliation took place in West Kwaio, where representatives from the four groups signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to allow Bina Harbour development to go ahead without any further disputes.
The Member of Parliament (MP) for West Kwaio, Mr Titus Fika, thanked the landowners for signing the MOU, and described the event as a welcoming sign for development in his constituency. He said the MOU would allow Bina Harbour development to go ahead, and any dispute claims would be solved outside and would not disturb the development.
“I want to thank the national government for taking a leading step by revisiting the Bina Harbour project,” Mr Fika said.
“I think the government has demonstrated willingness to continue to develop Bina Harbour.”
The West Kwaio MP admits that he
admires the way the current government is taking a leading role in ensuring the
Bina Harbour project rolls on.
While he called on his people of West
Kwaio to respect the MOU to allow development to continue, he also encourages
the government of the day to continue to push behind the project to see it
The development partners: Australia, New Zealand, USA
In November 2019, a hydrographic survey was conducted to determine the depth of the harbour.
The survey, which was conducted by the Australia navy, is a major step in the development of Bina Harbour project. The survey is vital to gauge the depth of the water so that action can be taken on other considerations needed, especially the size of ships and the depth of their hauls.
Through its navy, the Australian Government is helping to map the underwater topography to determine what needs to be done to satisfy international maritime harbour requirements.
The Solomon Islands Deputy Prime Minister Manasseh Maelanga said that the national government is doing everything it can to get the harbour project operational. He thanked the Australian Government for supporting the project and assured it that the DCGA government is committed to pushing the project forward.
The Deputy Prime Minister also took time to thank the people and the trustees of Bina land for their cooperation, and encouraged them to keep up the good work to see the project through.
MFMR’s Nesto Ghiro reiterated to the people of Bina and Malaita Province that the government is committed to the project.
Meanwhile, Malaita Province Premier Daniel Suidani said that his government was looking forward for the completion of the project, and he whole-heartedly thanked the Australia Government for stepping in and moving the project forward.
“This is welcoming news to my people of Malaita province, and I must thank the national government for its support towards the project and I urge the government to follow through on its promise and commitment to the people of Malaita,” the Hon. Suidani said.
“The province has been duly informed that the New Zealand Government has been helping out with the project alongside Australia. IFC and USA are also expressing their willingness to support the project. This is good news to the most populated province of Solomon Islands,” he said.
During a meeting with local journalists last September, the United States said it was also considering working in Bina Harbour with other donor partners under the USAID program.
When confirming her country’s assistance, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Ann Marie Yastishock unveiled some infrastructure development the US would step in to fund.
“We are looking at developing the Bina
Harbour area and also the possibilities of building the wharves in Bina
Harbour,” she said.
Ms Yastishock said that, under the program, USAID would be looking at possibilities to provide clean energy that ensured rural areas far from the energy grid would also have access to energy.
“Some other areas will be the constructions of schools and health centres, as well as some areas on clean water supplies,” she said.
Ms Yastishock said that these were types of “soft” infrastructure because they had to understand those things like maintenance issues and how to procure them online.
“The issue here is we are looking at
the governance type of issue,” she said.
IFC the main financier
Early this year, a team from the IFC, the private business arm of the World Bank, made a historic visit to Malaita, during which they met the premier and officials. The team which of six is putting together a project proposal to attract the investor best suited to the Bina Harbour project.
ICF, a triple-A rated organisation, has continued to play an important role in the project since signing an agreement with the Ministry of Fisheries last yearn.
It is also welcome news for Malaita that IFC will take steps to invest in the project itself. This move is cordially welcomed by the Premier and his provincial executive because of its potential to grow the provincial economy. IFC says it will ensure that the Bina tuna-processing plant is subject to the best global practices, and that the investor selected would be among the best in the world.
The aim is to meet international standard requirements, and that needs a lot of careful work on the part of IFC. The targeted market would be the European Union (EU). The province and IFC are well aware of the EU’s market, which includes requirements for high standards of production, processing and hygiene.
Premier Suidani said that the province was ready to assist in whatever way it could to make sure the project was up and running for the betterment of the people of Malaita and Solomon Islands.
The Malaita Provincial Government (MPG) noted that the World Bank-funded road-improvement project now set to roll from Gwaunaru’u to Bina would boost the Bina Harbour project via improvements in accessibility and movement of materials and people alike.
“With the involvement of IFC, MPG is very confident that the development of the Bina Harbour tuna-processing plant is in good hands,” Premier Suidani said.
“The spin-off from the project would surely bring development to Malaita Province.”
HONIARA, 27 February 2020 – Solomon Islands and Fiji are expected to benefit from the One Ocean Hub (OOH) research program that recently began work in the Pacific.
The two Melanesian nations are among the initial countries that have been identified as recipients of the worldwide program that focuses on equitable and inclusive governance of the oceans and ocean conservation.
The University of South Pacific (USP) is the Pacific partner for OOH. The project manager for the hub at USP is Mr Viliamu Powell.
He says the Pacific hub team is made up of the academics Professor Derrick Armstrong, Professor Jeremy Hills, Professor Matthew Allen, Associate Professor Ann Cheryl Armstrong, Associate Professor Gilianne Brodie, Dr Morgan Wairiu, and Associate Professor Pierre-Jean Bordahandy. These academics are known as co-investigators (CIs).
Input from locals essential
“At this stage, the OOH team in the Pacific is in the work package zero (WP0) phase, which will be completed by April,” Mr Powell said.
“During the WP0, the team is working with stakeholders in Fiji and the Solomon Islands to identify key research challenges that affect vulnerable communities that depend on the ocean.
“It is important that these issues are drawn directly from the stakeholders and is not biased by preconceived notions of what constitutes a development issue.”
The USP CIs facilitated a three-day workshop in early February with stakeholders from Fiji and Solomon Islands. Participants came from government, universities, civil society organisations, and non-governmental organisations.
This forum built on a workshop held last December. That event provided insights into aspects of oceanic research that could be addressed through the OOH research. Of particular interest are gaps and intersections.
Mr Powell said the February workshop was used to refine discussions from the first workshop and, with stakeholders, to identify and develop research strategies that are appropriate for the Pacific.
“The major highlights came with the presentations from the different speakers, as they all provided valuable insight. Some of the key messages came from the principal of the Pacific Theological College, Reverend Professor Upolu Vaai, from fisheries law expert Dr Transform Aqorau, and Dr Cresantia Frances Koya-Vaka,” Mr Powell said.
“Reverend Professor Upolu reminded all the participants that it was important to think of research through a multi-dimensional lens, and how, in the Pacific, this was something that we already practise through our ways of communal living and our relationship with the land and sea.
“As for Dr Transform Aqorau, it was a pleasure to have such a highly respected academic and consultant contributing to the discussions to frame research questions in the Pacific.
“Dr Transform spoke of his experience in regional work through his time at the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), and his work within the civil service in the Solomon Islands.
“Through all of the work that researchers do it is most important to think of our Pacific people,” Mr Powell said.
“In her presentation, Dr Cresantia Frances Koya-Vaka reinforced the need to protect local people from exploitation. The rights and property of Pacific Islands’ indigenous peoples should always be considered when trying to conduct research in the Pacific.”
Chasing greater wellbeing and better livelihoods
Mr Powell said that, over the next four years, it was hoped the OOH USP team would provide tangible outputs that benefited specific communities in Fiji and Solomon Islands so they could improve their wellbeing and livelihoods.
“It is important that what is seen as beneficial is derived from the communities directly, so the research project will aim to address these areas. We hope that this initiative will be the beginning, and the results we obtain from the communities we work with can be replicated in other Pacific nations,” Mr Powell said.
Dr Transform Aqorau said that another purpose of the workshop was to talk about possible areas that could be supported in Fiji and Solomon Islands.
He was invited on the basis of his work in fisheries and, more recently, engagement in the local community around resource issues.
At the workshop, he shared his experience about governance and regime building for fisheries in the region.
“We had representatives from the Solomon Islands, Fiji, USP, PIDF, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Pacific Theological College, and from Kenya, France, and some civil society groups in Fiji,” Dr Transform said.
“This was actually the second framing workshop to identify what can be done, and so trying to narrow it down.”
He added that the benefits of the program to the Pacific Island countries was about working and carrying out research around areas to support local communities and increase their engagement to improve community well-being.
“Ultimately, the project will have to be embedded in both the government and [in the] local communities where the project will be situated,” Dr Transform said.
He said the project is unique in that it has three regional geographic focus areas: Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.
However, the challenge in the implementation of this kind of funding is to locate it in a local context while still meeting the higher-level need for trans-disciplinary results that donors want.
USP-based Dr Morgan Wairiu said that Solomon Islands and Fiji were already engaged in the development of the research plan and its implementation.
“These research tools or methodology can be used by communities and government to bring about sustainable development of ocean resources,” Dr Morgan said.
Findings will inform development
Meanwhile, Rosalie Masu, the Deputy Director of the Inshore Fisheries Division, who represented the Ministry of Fisheries & Marine Resources (MFMR) of Solomon Islands, said her country was very fortunate to be identified with Fiji to be part of the OOH initiative.
“The benefit of this research is that the findings will be used to inform development decisions for Solomon Islands,” Mrs Masu said.
“But the government must also be inclusive and part of the discussions in formulating the research designs.”
About the One Ocean Hub
The One Ocean Hub is an independent program for collaborative research for development.
Its vision is for ocean governance to become integrated worldwide to better protect the interconnected environments and lifeforms of the oceans, and so communities that rely on the ocean remain connected to it economically and culturally.
The project is funded until February 2024. It involves scholars from different fields of research at 22 universities and research centres in the United Kingdom (UK), South Africa, Ghana, Namibia, Kenya, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean. The hub is led and hosted by the University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow, UK. It is funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Global Challenges Research Fund.
OOH seeks to address specific challenges that vulnerable coastal communities face. The research is being conducted under five programs, and researchers intend to share knowledge between the regions to help vulnerable communities be involved equitably in decision-making about how the oceans’ resources are both used and protected.
HONIARA, 17 February 2020 – China says it is prepared to strengthen the tuna industry of Solomon Islands and help the tiny Pacific Island nation benefit more from its fisheries resources as it welcomes the Melanesian state as one of its new diplomatic allies.
For 36 years, the Republic of China (ROC, or Taiwan) benefited from the Solomon Islands tuna industry. Last September, the government of Solomon Islands cut the diplomatic relationship between the two countries (in what locals call “the switch”) to form a new allegiance with the People’s Republic of China.
Although the severing of formal relations with Taiwan was said to be unlikely to affect collaboration in the private sector, four months later there is no mention of dialogue between the two former allies.
This has provided an opportunity for the economic giant, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as it steps into a formal role.
China is one of the biggest players in the Pacific Islands tuna industry. Just like Taiwan, China is a member to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
However, China’s presence in the Solomon Islands tuna trade was previously unheard of, and only Taiwan was said to be benefiting greatly from the tuna stocks in the Solomon Sea.
Now that mainland China has established a formal relationship with Solomon Islands, there is no doubt that the new friendship will help boost the tuna industry for both countries.
The future: tuna trades between China and Solomons
During a trip by Solomon Islands journalists to Beijing last December, the PRC’s Ministry of Commerce said the Chinese Government was ready to assist Solomon Islands with its tuna trades.
“We (China) know that Solomon Islands has rich fisheries resources, and tuna is one of your major products and you are one of the major producers of tuna as the industry accounts for a huge part of your gross domestic product,” a ministry spokesperson said.
“At the moment, Chinese companies have already gathered some experiences in fisheries cooperation with South Pacific countries, so we support and encourage Chinese companies that are competent and interested to participate in the investment cooperation with Solomon Islands.
“Although our two countries are separated by a wide ocean with thousands of miles apart, we believe that as we work together, as we join hands, we can develop more cooperation opportunities and realise common development for China and Solomon Islands.”
China is Solomon Islands’ largest trading partner and also its largest export destination, she added.
“Among the 10 Pacific Island countries that have diplomatic relations with China, Solomon Islands is our second largest trading partner and second largest source of imports,” she said.
“In 2018, the two-way trade between our two countries amounted to US$750 million, which means Solomon Islands, relatively, enjoys a big surplus against China, and the surplus is enlarging in recent years.
“Now already some Chinese companies are cooperating with their counterparts in Solomon Islands, participating in projects such as infrastructure, fisheries, forestry, telecommunication, and also the mining industry,” the spokesperson said.
The PRC’s Ministry of Commerce also stressed that Chinese companies were also investing in the tuna industry of island states such as Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati, and Micronesia. Investment is in numerous aspects of the supply chain, and includes tuna breeding, offshore fishing, refrigerating, and processing and retailing.
In 2018, the total online retail sales reached more than 9 trillion Chinese yuan renminbi (RMB), about US$1.3 trillion. The level of consumption in China is rising rapidly, which means Chinese consumers will have larger demand for high-quality products, China’s Ministry of Commerce said.
“This is a very big opportunity for other countries, including Solomon Islands, because you have many competitive products including seafoods, tuna and many other products that will have wider market access to China,” the spokesperson for the Ministry of Commerce said.
China also said it would like to expand cooperation with Solomon Islands to include infrastructure, investment, and agriculture so that more projects can be carried out to allow local Solomon Islanders to develop better ability to achieve independent and sustainable development.
According to the spokesperson, there is great complementary between the economies of Solomon Islands and China. The Chinese Government was also well aware that Solomon Islands is a country with rich natural resources, and an urgent need to develop its infrastructure and also many industries, and China was ready to assist.
“China has the relative strength in terms of the size of market, and also capital and technology,” the spokesperson said.
“Now that we have established diplomatic relations, we believe that our mutual understandings and also our exchanges in different areas will be deepened and our mechanisms will be improved so that the potential of economic and trade cooperation between the two countries will be further tightened.”
China has also shown interest in enlarging the two-way trade because Solomon Islands is now an important supplier of timber and aluminium ore to China. The Chinese Government is also encouraging its investors to explore the possibility of importing more seafood from Solomon Islands.
The past: Taiwan benefited more than Solomons from Solomons tuna
In the 36 years before the switch, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said, Taiwan had given Solomon Islands funds to the value of hundreds of millions of US dollars as constituency development funds. But during the same period the country had harvested billions of dollars’ worth of tuna from Solomon Island waters.
Mr Sogavare reflected that, in this regard, Solomon Islands was a net lender to Taiwan.
According to Mr Sogavare, Solomon Islands had permitted its marine resources, especially tuna, to be harvested by Taiwan, besides advocating to the United Nations (UN) for the country’s right to self-determination.
Taiwan was also one of the major markets of canned and processed tuna products for Solomon Islands, as Taiwanese fishing fleets were affiliated members of the Tuna Industry Association of Solomon Islands (TIASI).
At one stage, when Taiwan was issued a “yellow card” by the European Union (EU) in 2015 for not tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, Solomon Islands was instrumental in assisting it work toward fixing the problem. The ruling was lifted after 3 years and 9 months, in part because Solomon Islands Ministry of Fisheries & Marine Resources (MFMR) worked with Taiwan Fisheries inspector Mr Ian Lin to do inspections of and collect harvest data from Taiwanese vessels that fished in the Solomon Islands waters.
He pointed out that dealing with IUU fishing benefits the local economy, and also helps to ensure that from the fishing vessel to the table customers are getting fish the “green way”.
However, there is no doubt that Taiwanese fishing vessels have contributed a lot to the development of the fisheries sector by capturing more revenues for Solomon Islands.
In June 2019, roughly 55 Taiwanese fishing vessels had purchased licenses and were operating in Solomon Islands waters, according to the Embassy of ROC (Taiwan) in Honiara.
“These vessels come into Honiara and Noro every two months,” he said. This is only part of the picture, as other vessels also use these ports.
“Altogether, there are roughly 330 Taiwanese vessels visiting Solomon Islands every year for loading and unloading in our ports,” he said.
“During their visits they pay not only license fees, but also pay for housing, maintenance fees, livelihood supplies, recruiting local people for assistance, and so forth.
“Each visit probably brings more than SBD$20,000 revenue extra to Solomon Islands, and will benefit our economy and improve the employment rate in the country.”
The switch and Taiwan’s investment
Mr Sogavare said that despite the switch, his government would continue to support Taiwanese investments in the country.
“They are entitled to incentives and the protections guaranteed by our laws. We would encourage more Taiwanese investors to invest in the country, something they have not been actively doing over the 36 years of diplomatic relations,” Mr Sogavare said.
“Their investments have been by political governments and in political interests. The people of Taiwan are welcome to send cultural groups to Solomon Islands for cultural exchanges.
“These exchanges are not affected by the diplomatic switch,” Mr Sogavare once said.
Prime Minister Sogavare said the cost of doing business with China would become cheaper and more efficient.
“According to the recent Central Bank of Solomon Islands report, we have a total trade value of SBD$2 billion, which is by far our largest single trading partner, well above all other trading partners combined.
“Our trade with ROC (Taiwan) is only SBD$142 million, which is a minor fraction compared to China,” he said.
Is tiny Solomon Islands ready for giant China?
Now that China has shown its full interest in helping Solomon Islands bolster its tuna trade and economy, it is up to the Sogavare-led Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement to play its part.
In his statement after the switch to Beijing, Mr Sogavare said Solomon Islands is bound to reap huge benefits never seen before in the history of such a young nation.
However, Mr Sogavare had already been warned over his country’s engagement with China, well before the switch.
Deputy opposition leader Peter Kenilorea Junior has said that the country is not ready for a diplomatic relationship with China.
“The Solomons has many unresolved domestic issues related to land ownership and resource management,” Mr Kenilorea said.
He said the country’s weak laws and regulations leave it vulnerable to exploitation.
“We have already issues in terms of our lax immigration, lax labour laws, lax regulations, land issues, logging issues that have come in and caused a lot of hurt socially as well without much gain.
“And to repeat that again at a much larger scale is something that I just don’t feel we are prepared for.”
Mr Kenilorea told Australian media that the economic advantages of aligning with Beijing were clear, but he feared his country’s institutions were not ready to deal with a “powerful and dominant China”.
“I’m concerned about readiness in terms of our own governance, to really be on terms with China,” Mr Kenilorea said.
“We need to strengthen those governance systems … knowing full well our strategic location in the Pacific, and the strategic resources that we do have.”
During an interview with a top government official at the Office of the Prime Minister & Cabinet, he said, “We must prepare to deal with the Chinese demands and requests. The government must establish mechanisms with some form of regulations and legislative reforms to accommodate its new relationship with China.”
In her personal reflection following the Solomon Islands journalists’ trip to China, senior journalist Dorothy Wickham said she saw China as a country with money to burn and a point to prove.
During the trip, Ms Wickham said she was convinced that political leaders in Solomon Islands were not ready or able to deal effectively with China.
“Solomon Islands’ regulatory and accountability mechanisms are too weak,” Ms Wickham said.
“We have already shown some spirit with our attorney-general rejecting a hasty deal to lease the island of Tulagi, the capital of one of our provinces, to a Chinese company, but I fear how fragile and weak my country is against any large developed nation, let alone China.”
Ms Wickham added that Solomon Islands has always prided itself on setting its own course in international relations, recognising Taiwan for three decades, and in the 1980s, as a newly independent state, standing up to the Americans over an illegal fishing boat fiasco.
“In the end, it will be history that judges our leaders and whether the switch from Taiwan to China was the right move, and if they handle it in the country’s best interest.
“My hope is that in the meantime, the price extracted from our island nation is not too steep or too painful,” she said.
Meanwhile, it is common knowledge that the Chinese government consistently requires Chinese companies to abide by international laws and local laws during their cooperation with their local partners.
It will be interesting to observe what transpires from the new China–Solomon Islands bilateral ties in the three-year transition of 2020–2023. This is especially in terms of the tuna trade and how tuna talks between both countries will be sustainably managed.