Salt fish trade gains new popularity in Solomons as pandemic grip lingers

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With the recent rise in popularity of the ‘salt fish’ trade in the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara, fresh fish and tuna vendors in the city markets are struggling to please their customers and earn enough income.

This is just one of an increasing number of challenges Honiara-based fish vendors have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In recent years, it’s been observed that there is also a steady increase in fish prices, with small-scale fish markets storming the capital as competitors come from almost everywhere in the country. It is becoming more challenging for both fish sellers and consumers to find quality fish at a reasonable price.

One of the most popular and oldest fish markets in Honiara is the Vaivila Fishing Village Market in East Honiara. The other two fish markets are the Honiara Central Market and the White River Market in West Honiara.

Vaivila fish market is located along the coastline near the Vaivila fishing village, which was populated by people from the Lau and Langalanga regions of Malaita. 

Village chief Robert Satu says his family were among the first settlers at the village in the early 1950s. Most of the first settlers were employed to work in a hospital established nearby – on a location that now hosts the Woodford International School, opposite the fishing village market. 

Vaivila fishing village past and present 

Today, ‘Fisheries’, as it is known, is a huge village with a roadside market. Chief Satu is a longtime fisher and fish vendor at the market. He said that selling tuna from catches outside the Honiara seafront between the 1960s and 1980s was totally different from its state today, as far as the prices of fish or tuna is concerned.

“From the 1960s through to the 1980s, the price of a single tuna or heaps of fish at the fishing village market was as little as 5 cents up to $5.00. The coastal areas of Honiara from White River up Tenaru in Central Guadalcanal was rich with marine resources, especially fish,” Chief Satu said.

“During our fishing trips in the 1960s, it took us only one drop of the fishing net and you’ll get a canoe filled with fish for marketing or consumption. In those years, the tuna or fish stocks are high and my life as a fisherman is very easy. Compared to nowadays, there are very low fish stocks along the Honiara coastline, due to the increase of settlers as a result of the growth in the city’s population.”

Chief Satu blames overfishing plus environmental pressure such as the change in coastal environments and pollution as the main cause of damage to the fishing grounds outside Honiara. 

Chief of Solomon Islands village Vaivila, Robert Satu, is a longtime settler, fisher and fish vendor at the village. He stands at fish market with fish for sale in his hands. Photo: George Maelagi.
Vaivila chief Robert Satu is a longtime settler, fisher and fish vendor at the village. Photo: George Maelagi.

Another fish vendor at the Vaivila Fishing Village Market, Alick Kabolo, said, “For those of us that are residing along these shorelines, it is a major challenge for us because we have to go further out into the ocean to trawl. We never rely on others to bring fish for us to sell, but we ourselves go out to fish and come back to trade at the market to sustain our daily needs.

“Back then, when I completely sold my fish catches, it is the happiest day of my life because I know that my hard work pays off as a fisherman, unlike others that are relying on other fishermen to fish for them.”

Mr Kabolo said that today, with a rise in the cost of living in Honiara city, these fishers would worry about the cost of getting their catch to market. 

“They have to spend money for transportation, fuel, ice cubes, and pay market fees,” Mr Kabolo said. 

“All this spending can be very expensive. They still need to make profit from their sales to recover their expenses.”

The rise of the salt fish trade

Salt fish become popular in 2006–2007. Since then, its fortunes have fluctuated, and there have sometimes been concerns whether it was safe to eat. But it has been rising in popularity again as people feel the economic bite of COVID-19 restrictions. 

‘Salt fish’ refers to frozen, salted fish offloaded from purse-seine vessels during transhipment at the Honiara port. Most of these vessels fish in local waters or the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of neighbouring countries. 

The fish offloaded are species that aren’t the target, but are caught accidentally (as bycatch) during tuna fishing, and tuna that has been damaged and is no longer marketable elsewhere. These fish don’t go to waste, however, as locals sell them in the fish markets.

The fishers of the fishing village live with the everyday struggles of spiralling fishing costs and finding enough fish to sell. The city-based fish vendors live with the struggle of relying on a supply of fish from the purse-seine vessels transhipping at Honiara. Some have resorted to the National Fisheries Development-owned fishing vessels that supply tuna for the SolTuna cannery at Noro, in Western province. They then transport the tuna and bycatch fish to the markets in Honiara.

However, the problems of the two groups are intersecting. The rise of salt fish trade is becoming a concern for the hardworking fish vendors at the Vaivila Fishing Village Market due to increase demand as a result of its cheaper price. 

Sheroll Galo and John Kennedy were longtime salt fish vendors in Honiara. Both said when they started selling fish, their startup prices ranged from $10 to $200 (Solomon Island dollars), depending on their size. 

“Most of us vendors in Honiara are relying on the purse-seine boats and passenger ships that are arriving from Noro every week. That said, we make more profits than those that are selling fresh fish at the market,” Mr Kennedy said.

Despite the restrictions and lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, the salt fish trade at Honiara’s Central Market has continued, as there has been an increase in the number of vessels transhipping at Honiara in recent months. This has been since the introduction of regional protocols that have allowed tuna fishing to resume in a COVID-safe way.

Sheroll Galo and John Kennedy were longtime salt fish vendors in Honiara. They are at a market, and positioned behind a table with 9 fish laid out on it, and in front of chiller boxes. Photo: George Maelagi.
Sheroll Galo and John Kennedy were longtime salt fish vendors in Honiara. Photo: George Maelagi.

COVID-19 and the challenges of fish trading 

However, despite this, COVID-19 is affecting most of these fish vendors. 

Small businesses have been particularly hard hit. When Honiara was declared an emergency zone in April 2020 and a state of public emergency was imposed, the vendors were told not to engage in any fish vending business in the capital. 

During the state of emergency, domestic ship operators and purse-seine vessels were warned not to provide fish to market vendors. The only vendors who continued with their businesses were those who brought in fish stocks in chiller boxes.

One of those is Emily Kawa. She is a frequent vendor at the Vaivila Fishing Village Market and Honiara Central Market.

“From four ice-chiller boxes, I’ve reduced it to two now. This is because not many people are buying fish at the Honiara Central Market,” Mrs Kawa said.

Another fish vendor hit hard is Brendale Bilusu, who hails from the famous Marovo Lagoon in the Western Province. He runs a fishing business. His target market is the Honiara Central Market.

Before COVID-19, Mr Bilusu used to enjoy the money he earned from selling fish. The money he raised supported his immediate and external family members. He said that, even in better times, running the fish business was not the easy feat others might think it is.

“There are lots of expenses you have to meet. These include hiring transport in Honiara, buying ice blocks, shipping freights for the ice-chiller boxes, as well as fuel expenses for outboard motor to go around and buy fish from fishermen and women in the villages along the Marovo Lagoon,” Mr Bilusu said. Life had become much tougher in the past few months.

“So it’s quite a tough business. But you know what, if it takes you more days to sell your fish, your expenses will also increase. You will need to pay for market fees as well as ice cubes to maintain the quality of the fish,” Mr Bilusu said.

The other problem he has encountered since the rise of the COVID-19 is slowing sales, which means he is left with fish for four to five days, during which time it deteriorates. To sell the fish while it’s at its best, he has had to lower his prices in order to attract customers. 

“Right now, I am also struggling to meet my family’s needs. I no longer received income like what I used to earn before this COVID-19. The COVID-19 is really affecting my small fish project,’’ he said. 

Mr Bilusu said the government should come up with ways to help people like him who are struggling during the pandemic. As more Honiara-based fish vendors like him are missing out on the government’s economic stimulus package, Mr Bilusu’s only wish right now is for the COVID-19 to vanish so that his small income could regain its status.

Sam, as he would want to be called, said the COVID-19 pandemic had had a huge impact on his fish-vending business at the Honiara Central Market. He stands at a market with a calculator in his left hand and a fish in his right. Photo: George Maelagi.
Sam, as he would want to be called, said the COVID-19 pandemic had had a huge impact on his fish-vending business at the Honiara Central Market. Photo: George Maelagi.

NFD supports FFA gender equality campaign for fisheries

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Honiara –The biggest fishing company in Solomon Islands, National Fisheries Development (NFD), is determined to promote gender equality in the local fishing industry, despite the challenges faced by women engaging in fisheries work.

NFD’s Managing Director, Mr Frank Wickham, gave the company’s support to the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) when the agency announced the Gender Equity and Social Inclusion (GESI) initiative, a plan to focus on gender equality and social inclusion within the region’s tuna fisheries sector.

In September, FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen announced that the agency had initiated a gender policy in 2016, but would like to see improvements in promoting more women in the Pacific tuna fisheries. This was clearly integrated in the FFA’s 2020 five-year strategic plan.

This latest move by the Pacific’s biggest fishing organisation has received support from the NFD and its sister company SolTuna – both leaders in women’s employment rates in the Solomon Islands fishing industry.

“It’s a great move for us in the pacific region in recognising gender equality by promoting equal opportunity for men and women working in the fisheries sector. From catching fish through to canning and exporting of fish products, it’s good that we find possible ways to improve certain conditions to see more women working alongside men in the regional fishing industry,” Mr Wickham said.

NFD promoting gender equality at work

According to Mr Wickham, the NFD is continuing to promote the recruitment of more women for positions that have normally been afforded to men.

The Managing Director of the National Fisheries Development (NFD) in Solomon Islands, Mr Frank Wickham. Photo: PITIA.

“At the moment, we now have female managers and heads of departments, and we have also tried to identify some other jobs that were normally occupied by men, such as security guards. We have also recruited female crews to work on our fishing vessels,” he said.

However, coming from a cultural background involving so much respect for both men and women in a shared environment at work, it is a real challenge for the female workers when it comes to fisheries work in Solomon Islands.

“It’s challenging in the sense that it is a small area inside the vessels that’s being shared with male colleagues. But we are still monitoring the approach and will see how things turn out in the future. We are also looking to recruit more women in trade work like carpentry or plumbing, and we will look into other areas as well. We have also recruited more young women who are interested in working on-board our fishing vessels, by sending some to work in the engine room and deckhand positions.”

Mr Wickham said some of them are coping well with the challenges faced at sea while others have decided to quit working on the vessels. However, NFD will be looking to recruit more women to work on the vessels, starting from smaller vessels and then moving on to the bigger ships.

With the understanding that fishing is a male dominated industry, Mr Wickham thinks it will take some time for their female staff to be familiar with the challenges that are attached to the job.

“There is also a need to caution male workers to support and respect their female colleagues when they are out working in the seas. Before being engaged in the job, women too must be taught about the challenges that they will be facing when working in the fishing vessels,” Mr Wickham stated.

FFA’s gender equality policy

It is common knowledge that in the Pacific, there are more women working in the canneries. However, one of the key goals of FFA’s Gender Equity and Social Inclusion (GESI) initiative is to give women and minority groups a broader range of roles in the sector – not just in canneries alone.

According to the FFA’s HR Division, they are taking a three-pronged approach to advocate for these changes.

“First, we plan to collect more data, more regularly. Men and women in Pacific island countries engage in distinct and often complementary activities that are strongly influenced by the social, cultural and economic contexts in which they live. We need to collect a range of data more systematically and analyse it regularly to understand gaps and identify opportunities or barriers to progress,” a statement from the HR Division said.

“Secondly, we plan to deepen the analysis undertaken for meetings, workshops and trainings, and other engagements, to better incorporate a gender equity and social inclusion lens.”

FFA wants to strengthen the capacity of the fisheries sector and Pacific island governments to integrate gender equity and social inclusion into policies, processes and procedures.

“This includes reviewing job descriptions to make it possible for women and others from less represented groups to apply, posting job advertisements in accessible places, and better targeting recruitment for jobs across the value chain, including management,” the statement added.

FFA Director General Dr Tupou-Roosen (centre) with the two longest-serving female staff of the FFA, Solomon Islands nationals Mrs Susan Olisukulu (left) and Davinia Boso (right) in front of the FFA conference room named in their honour earlier this year. Photo: Ronald F. Toito’ona.

The future of the gender initiative

The planned activities for the next twelve months under FFA’s GESI initiative involve:

  • conducting a diversity pay audit across the fisheries sector in both the private and public domains, including within FFA
  • commissioning research to understand the impact of COVID-19 on women in Pacific offshore fisheries
  • coaching key employees on skills for analysing gender equality and social inclusion issues
  • convening a GESI forum, aimed at advocating for the advancement of women within the fisheries and aquaculture sectors
  • providing a platform for effective interaction and cooperation among academics, technicians, government and NGO experts involved in issues related to equality and inclusion in Pacific fisheries.

The FFA’s statement has also highlighted that the planned forum will involve a diverse set of people coming together to share, e-learn and ideally map out ways to work together in bridging the GESI gap in fisheries. The forum is planned for 2021.

Mapping tribal owners to benefit Bina landowners and cannery

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Verification has begun of the people who have claimed tribal ownership of the land where the Bina Harbour tuna cannery will be built, and nominations for positions as tribal trustees opened on Monday, 24 August.

Elections for trustees will be held in the next two weeks.

These are important steps in ensuring the building of the Bina Harbour tuna cannery is not disrupted by landowning disputes, which have halted other projects in Solomon Islands.

Verification is part of the process of formally mapping the tribal owners of the land. Its importance has been underlined by the estimated cost of the project and the level of private investment in it.

The project is likely to cost at a little over SB$2 billion dollars, with an external investor to contribute about 40%. 

Celsus Irokwato Talifilu, a local adviser to the Malaita Province Premier, said the cost of the project meant the government of Solomon Islands needed to be “very careful” to build the right foundations for success — and that meant mapping the tribal beneficiaries before the project started. Mapping entails identifying and registering people from the tribes acknowledged as tribal owners by the Solomon Islands High Court.

Mr Talifilu heads the Premier’s Advisory Research Unit (PARU) for the Malaita Provincial Government (MPG). He said it was important to establish who the resource owners were before site preparation and building began.

“These exercises are pillars for a sustainable project,” Mr Talifilu said.

He said those who intended to invest their hard-earned cash in the project would not do so if they believed the land-settlement process was inadequate. 

dispute over land was settled in 2016–2017. In July, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to commence work on the Bina Harbour project was signed. It included agreement to map tribal landowners as beneficiaries of the project. Mapping was conducted over eight days in July.

Bina Harbour women, men and children wait inside open-walled room to have names recorded as beneficiaries, Solomon Islands
Tribal landowners waiting their turn to have their names recorded as part of beneficiary mapping at Bina Harbour

In a statement, PARU said: “The beneficiary mapping exercise is a critical part of the land-settlement process for the Bina Harbour tuna processing plant project. This exercise ensures the resource owners are rightly identified and recorded. It is also the basis for a clear beneficiary scheme for the landowning groups.

“The MPG participation is crucial as a partner in the development of the project under the newly signed MOU. It is also a good exercise for the province so that the province can help with messaging of the new scheme that is more such sustainable.” 

Man uses a tablet to take a photo of a young woman who is a tribal landowner at Bina Harbour, Malaita, Solomon Islands
Albert Benisi of Pacific Horizons goes through the formal process of identifying and registering a tribal landowner as part of the Bina Harbour beneficiary mapping

Mapping means formally agreeing who the landowners are

The mapping exercise involves formally registering all living people among the landowning tribes. The record of each person includes a photo of them, and the names of their parents and grandparents. The list of names is then verified by the group elders. After verification, the list is given back to the group for final checking. The checking might take two weeks. 

After the final list has been approved, the groups seek nominations for the election of their trustees.

Pacific Horizons Consultancy Group is mapping the beneficiaries. It conducted the same exercise for the Tina hydro project. 

New approach means representation should be fair

Albert Benisi of Pacific Horizons said the consultancy used a new approach to mapping the benefits for landowning groups. In the past, disputes over land ownership had brought projects to a halt. 

Mr Benisi said the approach taken at Bina Harbour would benefit all landowning groups. 

“The approach taken now is different from logging, which normally leads to unfair distributions of benefits to landowners,” Mr Benisi said.

“For this approach, there will still be trustees overseeing the tribal group who are parties to the development, just as with current logging and mining operations in the country. 

“But the trustees will be working for tribes as representatives only, and not deal with benefits and such.” 

Man sits at table writing in book while other tribal landowner applicants look on, Bina Harbour beneficiary mapping, Solomon Islands
Another step taken in recording the details of tribal landholders during the Bina Harbour beneficiary mapping

Because trustees would be elected, they stood as the choice of the tribes. Representation would be fair. In the past, those who were close associates of the land would be automatically qualified to be a trustee.

“One of the good things about this approach is every single member of the tribal landowning groups, from infants to elderly individuals, will be the beneficiary of the Bina Harbour cannery project,” Mr Benisi said.

He said that mapping would be completed for both primary and secondary rights holders of Bina land, and that everybody would have the same benefits from the cannery once it was fully operational.

Any company that runs the cannery will need to buy shares directly through the bank accounts of the individuals registered under the tribes. Young people would be eligible to receive their shares when they turned 18.

The cannery is due to start operating in 2023, and process about 27,000 metric tons of fish a year.

In Solomons, some fisheries sectors thrive while others struggle under pandemic rules

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HONIARA – In the provinces of Solomon Islands, a rising interest in fishing by people in coastal communities is helping keep the country’s fishing industry active amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Treasury, Makini Dentana, has confirmed that the fisheries sector is the only industry currently generating revenue in the Solomons.

“The good news is that, despite the COVID-19 pandemic crises globally, our fisheries industry, especially Soltuna, is still generating revenue to the country,” Mr Dentana said.

Records from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) show a steady increase of revenue collected from fisheries exports and licence fees by both inshore and offshore fisheries activities in recent years.

But with the current closure of the Solomon Islands border and other pandemic restrictions, there has been an increase in fishing, as most working-class people have been laid off or made redundant due to COVID-19.

And despite the restrictions and the introduction of the State of Public Emergency (SOPE) by the government in April, purse-seine vessels that continue to fish in the Solomon Islands exclusive economic zone (EEZ) are still transhipping at the Honiara port.

The main fish market in Honiara remains open, and continues to benefit from the tuna industry, just as it did before the arise of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. This market is also where most of the fish stocks from the provinces end up.

The country needs the fisheries: according to the Central Bank of Solomon Islands, the local economy is projected to shrink by 4.99% by the fourth quarter of this year.

Fisheries one of four sectors that hold up the economy

In July, former Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo, an economics expert, said the fisheries sector should be prioritised to sustain the country’s shrinking economy.

In an interview with the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, Mr Lilo said that, while COVID-19 continued to ravage the global economy, small economies like that of Solomon Islands would be hit especially hard. The country needed to set its priorities to make the most of gains.

“The fisheries sector will put our economy back on track. The most immediate one that comes to mind is the processing fisheries sector. I want us to put more focus on the fisheries sector,” Mr Lilo said. 

“A good part of our territorial boundary is made up of waters where we can fish, and we need to focus on both offshore and inshore fisheries. That will put our economy back on track.”

Head and shoulders photo of Gordon Darcy Lilo, former Solomon Islands Prime Minister. Photo: Charles Piringi/SIBC.
Former Solomon Islands Prime Minister and economics expert, Gordon Darcy Lilo. Photo: Charles Piringi/SIBC.

He said the fisheries industry was different to other important industries such as tourism, which involved complicated processes in order to operate. The fisheries industry could operate more freely, but needed continued commitment from the national and provincial governments.

“With fisheries, the resources belong to the state, it only requires both the national and provincial government to attract the right investors to establish processing facilities here, say in all provinces,” Mr Lilo said.

In recent times, the national government has identified fisheries as one of the four sectors with agriculture, mining, and tourism that stimulate most growth in the Solomon Islands economy.

The government hopes the four sectors will earn adequate incomes for the national purse to replace income earned from exporting round logs to China, as economic planners envisage all harvestable forests will have been logged in three or four years.

The logging industry currently provides about 50% of the government’s annual income.

With the inception of focus on the four sectors, the government aims to set up 50 fisheries centres and 50 economic zones in the 50 constituencies countrywide. 

For the fisheries and tourism sectors, contacts have been established between ministries and foreign investors, mostly in Asia.

Tuna in nets being transhipped from purse-seine vessel at Honiara port. Photo Francisco Blaha.
When tuna is transhipped at the Honiara port, fish that are discarded from the purse-seine vessels normally end up at the fish markets in Honiara. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

Fish vendors in Honiara struggle as sales fall

When the first SOPE was declared, Fishing Village market in east Honiara and White River market west of Honiara city were forced to close down. 

Only the Honiara Central Market has been allowed to continue operating, but under strict rules. This has allowed fish vendors to continue to work. But nearly all fish vendors have left Honiara for their home provinces, as part of a repatriation exercise by the national government conducted when the lockdown began. 

Local vendors have continued to work, and now, three months on, those from other areas are slowly returning. However, the Sunday Isles newspaper recently reported that a cash-flow problem was hitting the vendors hard, as the number of customers was well below the usual and was affecting daily earnings.

“Local vendors at the Honiara Central Market are attracted to this occupation because of the possibility of earning relatively medium to high incomes,” the paper wrote. 

“The impact of the state of public emergency on Honiara’s formal sector, which includes many fish-market vendors, will be huge.”

It said that vendors’ economic survival was threatened. They had already had “months and weeks with less cash flow as their customers spend less on their fresh fish” and would have to go through more if the SOPE was extended. 

Fish vendors at Honiara. People work among ice-chests under the shade of shelters or umbrellas. Photo Sunday Isles.
Almost all fish vendors have left Honiara for their home provinces, as part of a repatriation exercise by the national government to minimise the spread of COVID-19. Photo: Sunday Isles.

Sunday Isles reported fish vendor Henry Fafaluta as saying, “I find it very challenging during these past months by trying to earn the amount to cover the expenses I spent daily for fuel.”

He explained that normally his earnings depended entirely on his catch.

“If the catch is good then, I will surely earn good money that day, but compared to now, even if my catch is good, my earnings will still be low, due to the cash flow problem we experienced now.”

The person in charge of the fish section at the Honiara Central Market, Betty Fraser, said that she had seen vendors struggling in the current situation. 

“Vendors struggle every day to get the amount of profit to cover their expenses, some for their catch, and others for purchasing from the fishing vessels. With that they also try their best to at least earn a little extra to take back home to their families at the end of the day,” Ms Fraser said in the Sunday Isles.

Ambrose Sade normally gets fish discarded during transhipment in Honiara and sells it at the Honiara Central Market. He has observed changes in the way customers have bought fish in recent months.

“During the SOPE active period, I was fully engaged in fish sales here at the market. Everything is normal, except that the number of customers coming to buy fish at the market is a little below my normal take,” Mr Sade said.

“Cash flow is definitely an issue for me and the other fish vendors. Otherwise, everything is just normal here, as we are still keeping the fish-vending activities going.”

Vendors hope that an economic stimulus package proposed by the national government will be implemented soon and help to keep them going until sales pick up again.

Russell fishing communities solidify management set-up

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HONIARA – The Russell Islands Fisheries Association (RIFA) in the Central Islands Province of Solomon Islands is officially launched, following the signing of its mandate at Louna village on 19 July.

This agreement formally institutes the association, which is made up of the people of nine fishing communities who will manage the islands’ fisheries to develop and maintain sustainable use for the benefit of current and future generations.

An interim executive committee was appointed at the signing ceremony at Louna. It will oversee the set-up of the association to meet legal requirements.

By signing the mandate, RIFA members have formalised a partnership with the Savo–Russell constituency, the Central Islands Provincial (CIP) Government, and the Russell Islands Investment Forum (RIIF).

Constituency MP Dickson Mua, CIP Premier Stanley Manetiva, and nine representatives of RIFA signed the mandate documents. The signing was witnessed by senior national and provincial government officials.

Group of men at formal signing up of Russell Islands Fisheries Association, Solomon Islands. In the photo are unidentified members of the association and Savo-Russells MP Dickson Mua and Central Islands Province Premier Stanley Manetiva. Photo: Solomon Islands Government Communications Unit.
Savo-Russells Constituency MP Dickson Mua (centre) and CIP Premier Stanley Manetiva (second from right) with representatives of RIFA and the Russell Islands Investment Forum at the document signing at Louna village on 19 July 2020. Photo: Solomon Islands Government Communications Unit.

During the signing ceremony, MP Dickson Mua congratulated the communities for their hard work in establishing RIFA. He noted that they had moved another step ahead in advancing their communal interests in developing their fisheries resources. 

“Moving together like what we have witnessed now is very encouraging, especially as we prepare ourselves to respond to the tough times ahead for our country,” Mr Mua said.

Mr Manetiva assured the association and its members that the provincial government was committed to supporting RIFA to achieve its ambitions.

“I wish to congratulate you for your efforts by reaching this far and be assured that your provincial government under my leadership is committed to support your noble aspirations to develop and manage our fisheries resources,” Mr Manetiva said.

Russell Islands comprises two main islands and several islets. It lies about 50 km north-west of the island of Guadalcanal. It has hundreds of untouched inshore fishing grounds that are rich in resources, and RIFA is aiming to develop and manage these for its current and future generations.

Group of women, men and children sitting under shade of tree on beach at Louna, Solomon Islands. Photo: Solomon Islands Government Communications Unit.
Russell Islanders attending an awareness program at Louna village as part of the development of the fisheries association. Photo: Solomon Islands Government Communications Unit.

The formal establishment of RIFA follows the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Savo–Russell Constituency, RIIF, and the Central Islands Provincial Government on 20 April 2020.

The nine fishing communities agreed in a meeting in May to establish individual village committees to assist distinct communities to organise and create a network of fishers in the islands.

The first tasks of the interim executive are to develop a Russell Islands fisheries management and development program, as well as guiding principles and a code of conduct for the fisheries network. The Central Islands Provincial Government Fisheries Division will assist the interim executive to develop and register a constitution and financial processes.

The RIPEL Cabinet Subcommittee of the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is providing administrative support and advice as RIFA is set up.

New cannery key to development on Malaita

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HONIARA – The proposed Bina Harbour processing plant in Malaita province, Solomon Islands will be a key economic pull factor that will drive other developments for the province, says the Minister for Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR), Nestor Giro.

Minister Giro made the assurance when the Malaita Provincial Government (MPG) and his Ministry signed a historical Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding the Bina Harbour project on Friday, 10 July 2020.

Malaita Provincial Secretary Fredrick Fa’abasua presents a gift of Malaita traditional shell money to MFMR Minister Nestor Ghiro. Photo: Wilson B. Saeni

The MOU signing in the Malaita provincial capital, Auki was between Fisheries Minister Alfred Giro and Malaita Premier Daniel Suidani, paving the way for the next phase of the project.

At the signing ceremony, Minister Giro reiterated that the Bina Harbour Cannery project is a priority for the Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (DCGA) under the leadership of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

“The Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement recognises the crucial role that Malaita Province will have in terms of implementing the project for the province and Solomon Islands.

“This MOU is a joint partnership thus the need for stakeholders to work together in order to achieve the objective of the project, which is a second tuna processing plant at Bina, is important,” Giro said.

The minister stressed that the MOU is the guide to the government’s roles in implementing this project. “Malaita will be the project host and this means that it will not be without challenges. This MOU is the basis for our partnership for us to work together to achieve results, to look at problem-solving ideas to the challenges and also to allocate resources to the project both from the national government and the provincial government,” the Fisheries Minister said.

He added that the indirect and direct benefits it will bring to their lives are manifold.

Malaita Premier, Daniel Suidani also spoke highly of the MOU, adding that it has paved a new approach in how the national and provincial governments collaborated in implementing the project.

“We believe that the new approach we are witnessing today sets the benchmark for the working together of the National Government ministries and the province,” Premier Suidani said on the day of signing.

Malaita Premier Daniel Suidani signing the MOU in the presence of Dr Philip Tagini, while minister Nestor Ghiro looks on from the back. Photo: Wilson B. Saeni

Mr Suidani added that the Bina Harbour project is also a priority project for his Malaita Alliance for Rural Advancement (MARA) government, and that it fully supports the MOU that was signed.

“Malaita Provincial Government has the most to offer as a partner in leading the Bina tuna project. It is a marker of this coordination and will allow us to proceed side by side in cooperation,” the Premier remarked.

The Premier also urges the people of Malaita, in particular Bina, for cooperation as the project is heading towards its full implementation.

The signing of the MOU was witnessed by officials from the Ministry of Fisheries, the Malaita Provincial Government Executive and representatives from the landowning group from Bina.

While the MOU signing signals progress in the Bina project, both governments are aware that there is much to be fulfilled.

Tilapia hatchery to boost fish supply in rural Guadalcanal

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HONIARA – A new tilapia hatchery in Guadalcanal is set to ease in-shore fishing activities and boost food security for the Aruligo community.

Construction of the hatchery should be completed by the end of the year. Aruligo is about 32 km north-west of the Solomon Islands capital, Honiara. 

It is jointly funded by the Solomon Islands and the New Zealand governments under the Mekem Strong Solomon Islands Fisheries programme (MSSIF). The hatchery will improve food security, help reduce pressure on existing in-shore fisheries, and help rural people, particularly youth, participate in the productive sector.

The New Zealand Government said the Aruligo hatchery project was one of the most important projects of MSSIF.

“We’re excited to see the progress made by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) at the Aruligo Tilapia Hatchery,” the New Zealand High Commission’s Office in Solomon Islands said in a statement.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has slowed progress on the construction of the hatchery. However, work is continuing.

“Despite challenges caused by COVID-19, the contractor has made excellent progress towards completion of Phase 1 of the project,” the High Commissioner’s office said. 

“We think the office building and ponds look fantastic! We expect completion of Phase 2 – fencing, utilities, and further pond construction – within the next few months.”

The first phase includes a laboratory, an office, a covered area of tanks for growing juvenile fish, and a perimeter fence. 

MSSIF has supported the MFMR for the past decade. 

The fisheries ministry hopes the project will provide much-needed facilities to import tilapia and to make an improved strain available to rural fish farmers. This is driven by MFMR’s policy to develop an aquaculture sector that supports rural livelihoods, food security and economic returns.

Newly built concrete pools, with roof, to be filled with water to hold tilapia, Aruligo hatchery, Guadalcanal
These pools at the Aruligo tilapia hatchery will be filled in the next phase of the project

Optimism over new venture

MFMR said the COVID-19 pandemic had done little to dampen the spirits of the group of dedicated government officers and contractors who continued to work on construction activities at the hatchery. Ministry staff conducted a site visit in April to see first-hand the stage the project had reached and were satisfied with progress.

The Ministry of Fisheries is developing the Aruligo site into a national aquaculture centre. On 9 June, it was officially handed over to the ministry. 

During the handover ceremony, the ministry’s Under-Secretary of Corporate Service, Patterson Lusi, appealed to the Aruligo people to look after the property.

“As we gather in this magnificent building and the first set of ponds that we have here, it demonstrates a true commitment that we all have in making sure that there is a national tilapia hatchery project to be built here,” Mr Lusi said.

“I also want to appeal to people around here to look after the property. Remember the maximum benefits of this project will pour out to the communities in and around this area.

“The first species of tilapia will be from here, the first training for farmers will also be done here, so please look after our facility well.”

Speaking at the ceremony, the Senior Fisheries Officer of Guadalcanal Province, Willie Kokopu, said the division was proud to be part of the development of the centre.

Locals employed in building the site

Part of the centre sits on a World War 2 site, and early work involved clearing unexploded ordnance from the area. Locals were employed to help with this work, and the ministry said that more locals would be employed on Phase 2 works.

An elder was reported as saying that the project would “be a magnet for other proposed development in region”.

It is anticipated that construction will be completed this year. The hatchery should become fully operational once Nile tilapia are imported in 2021. They will be dispersed to farmers in late 2022 or early 2023.

Aquaculture is relatively new in Solomon Islands. MFMR’s Aquaculture division expects tilapia to contribute to food security and rural livelihoods. So far, the fish has only been used for stocking natural bodies of freshwater bodies to increase inland fishing production. 

Malaitans reap benefits from conserving marine areas

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HONIARA – Communities along the coastline of Malaita Province have transformed degraded natural environments in recent years – and have improved their access to local foods as a consequence.

People in this most populous province of Solomon Islands have depended for their livelihoods directly on what nature provides: roots, fruit from forest trees, and fish and other marine animals and plants. 

But these natural resources have been under increasing pressure. As in many other places in the world, the resources here were carelessly managed in the face of growing human populations and increasing need to harvest them for food and other uses.

To turn this situation around, several communities have worked with WorldFish Solomon Islands, a fisheries NGO, which has done most of the work in setting up the conservation sites. The provincial government’s fisheries division has also helped.

Now the Malaitan people are benefiting from the conservation of local sea resources, and discovering that the “modern” conservation techniques they’ve been introduced to are the same practices that were used in the past.

The Fumamato’o success story

Manaoba Island is located on the north-eastern part of Malaita. It is the home of the Fumamato’o community, which lives along the Lau Lagoon. 

The community decided to protect its marine resources in 2013, and has already benefited greatly from its efforts. Before, this island community was a victim to overharvesting of fish, trochus, sea cucumbers, clam shells, and many other sea creatures.

But now, overharvesting is a thing of the past, thanks to chair of the Manaoba Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA), Mr Dominick Tuita, and his team.

During an interview with the Malaita Star magazine, Mr Tuita said Fumamato’o was like any other coastal community in Malaita Province. 

“The people depend heavily on their sea for income and food,” Mr Tuita said.

The island of Manaoba is well known to the Tobaita people, Mbaelelea people and Baegu people as the main provider of fish and other seafood. But Mr Tuita said that the overharvest of marine resources had taken a toll. 

In 2013, the people of Manaoba realised that they needed to change as they observed that resources were running out. They formed a committee to set up an LMMA.

“There are two areas where we restricted fishing: one is a total marine protected area and the other is open-and-close area,” Mr Tuita explained.

In the protected area, fishing is banned. In the close-and-open area, harvesting is allowed once a month. 

“We usually open it at the end of each month to allow villagers to fish for income or for community gatherings. When we open the open-and-close area, we invite fishermen from nearby communities to come and fish. During harvest day, everyone is welcome to fish,” Mr Tuita said.

Two Fumamato'o men standing in open long boat haul in a net while fishing in the open-and-close area. Photo: WorldFish/Bira'au Wilson Saeni.
Fumamato’o men haul in a net while fishing in the open-and-close area. Photo: WorldFish/Bira’au Wilson Saeni.

As a result of close management, fish were now present in greater numbers and larger sizes. 

Some fish species that they thought were extinct had returned to the fishing ground.

“The marine protected area and the open-and-close area made a big difference,” Mr Tuita stated.

Fumamato’o man holds two fish of a species that was thought to be locally extinct. Photo WorldFish/Bira'au Wilson Saeni.
Fumamato’o local holds fish of a species that was thought to be extinct. Once the community began to actively manage the marine areas, the fish has returned. Photo: WorldFish/Bira’au Wilson Saeni.

The women of Fumamato’o also benefit greatly from the locally managed marine area.

Betty Koidi, in an interview with the Malaita Star, said that fish was now available in big number and large sizes, which greatly helped in the marketing of the fish. 

Mrs Koidi said the women of Fumamato’o could sell one fish for SBD$10.00 (US$1.20) and above. Before the locally managed marine area was set up, they struggled, as there was not enough fish and the fish they did catch were small. 

“We women will strive and work together with the men and youths of this community to maintain the open-and-close area for our benefit,” Mrs Koidi said.

Mr Tuita said the Manaoba LMMA operated under clear rules.

“If we find you fishing in the marine protected area, you will pay a fine of SBD$500 (US$61.00),” he said.

A group caught fishing illegally in the area at the beginning of the year paid a fine of $500 and a live pig. 

He said the surrounding communities knew about the rules and were working with Fumamato’o. 

“At first other communities found it hard to accept, but as they learn about the benefits of the marine protected area, they start to work together with us”, he said.

Sea resources protected on a taboo site at Mararo

The Mararo Community Based Organization in East Are’Are has taken steps to conserve its marine resources at the Puriasi Management Area. 

The area is a unique place that also contains traditional taboo sites. 

According to Tony Atitete, the community put rules in place to safeguard the area from being exploited and to scare away potential intruders.

Mr Atitete told the Malaita Star that the area was important for their tribe for the taboo site that their ancestors used to conduct their traditional form of worship. 

Thickly vegetated hillsides and heavily mangrove treed water edges of Puriasi Management Area. Photo WorldFish/Bira'au Wilson Saeni.
Puriasi Management Area. Photo: WorldFish/Bira’au Wilson Saeni.

Because the site was being managed to honour culture and to protect the natural resources, it was becoming a breeding area for marine life. 

He said the community aimed to preserve the marine resources for future generations. Rules prohibit the catching of certain animals and from some fishing methods for three years, and ban the collection of mangrove trees for firewood, and the “unnecessary” cutting of trees. 

After the three years, the taboo area would be opened only for one week for any special occasion, and then closed again. 

Anyone found to have breached the rules would face fines of up to SBD$500 (US$61.00).

Mr Atitete said the management plan had been developed and endorsed by surrounding communities. 

Although the hillsides of the Puriasi Management Area is covered with thick virgin forest, and its shoreline with mangroves, there was a persistent threat from a logging operation nearby. Mr Atitete said he feared that the Puriasi Management Area would be disturbed if the logging company went into full-scale operation. 

Head and shoulders portrait of Tony Atitete. Photo WorldFish/Bira'au Wilson Saeni.
Tony Atitete. Photo: WorldFish/Bira’au Wilson Saeni.

Conservation an ancient practice in East Kwaio

Marine conservation has been regarded as a longstanding part of the East Kwaio culture.

East Kwaio man Tome Arika said during a recent meeting with WorldFish and Malaita Province government officials that the “modern” conservation technique they were being taught was similar to the traditional conservation practices of Kwaio people.

“Personally, I find this concept blends in well with our traditional setting,” Mr Arika said.

“Before, we restricted these fishing grounds only for feast days. At that time this place was full of fish and turtles. 

“I’ve seen it with my own eyes. But today people overharvest fish and shells.”

Mr Arika, who holds onto the ancient Kwaio way of worshipping, said the increase in the coastal human population had put much pressure on the sea resources.

“Today you will hardly find fish in the fishing grounds, which were formerly conserved by our forefathers. There are fish, but they are small in size and less in numbers.

“I think we are all in support of looking after marine resources because we want to make life easy for ourselves,” he said.

FAD launches in Malaita to support incomes during COVID-19 restrictions

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This group of Malaita residents is preparing to release a fish-aggregating device (FAD) at Uhu in the West Are’are area of Solomon Islands’ Malaita Province. Another has just been launched at Small Malaita.

The FAD releases are part of a $100,000 provincial government project to support livelihoods during COVID-19 restrictions. Work continues in the small island communities despite the current state of public emergency that is operating in the Solomon Islands capital, Honiara. 

For years, the Malaita Provincial Fishery Office in Auki has supported coastal communities with the deployment of FADs. In May, the fisheries officers put FADs to sea near Kwai and Ngongosila Islands in East Malaita, and Musukwi in North Malaita. It plans to extend the use of FADs to the Malaita Outer Islands soon. 

Photo: Mathew Isihanua.

Ferry route an economic lifeline for Russell Islanders

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Over the years, the Gizo–Honiara ferry has provided an economic lifeline for the fishing community of the Russell Islands. This ship is moored at the wharf at Yandina, in the Russell Islands, to pick up the latest catch. The seafood is packed in ice in chiller boxes and will be sold in the Honiara markets.

The importance of the route has grown because of the on-off operation of the Yandina Fisheries Centre on Russell Islands.

The group of islands is in the Central Islands Province of Solomon Islands, and lies north-west of the national capital, Honiara. Gizo is the capital of Western Province.

The national government, through the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, built fisheries centres around the country in 1984. But many of the centres, including the Yandina one, have often stood idle due to the lack of machinery to keep them running.

To get around this problem and maintain a flow of fish for sale at the Honiara market, fish vendors saw an opportunity to purchase fresh fish from the Russell Islands or tuna from Noro, in Western Province. 

Because the Yandina centre is not running at the moment, the ice has been brought from Honiara. However, this is about to change: an agreement has been signed to repair the Yandina Fisheries Centre and get it running again.