Recent deaths on tuna-fishing vessels operating in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) have again signalled the need to improve safety and working conditions on vessels, and to introduce and enforce meaningful penalties for vessel owners that flout regulations.
Existing rules have been criticised for not going far enough to protect observers or crew, Trade and Industry News reported.
It said that at least one well-known voice in the region, Bubba Cook, of WWF-New Zealand, had called for a new approach to keep observers safe, since current rules and penalties were failing observers. Mr Cook said that using more electronic surveillance technology on ships might help. So might banning a ship from ever fishing in WCPO waters if an observer disappeared or died in suspicious circumstances.
Trade and Industry News said that “the death of an observer must be reported immediately and can shine a spotlight on the situation, some incidents relating to crew death or welfare can go unnoticed for months or even years”.
In 2016, FFA adopted harmonised minimum terms and conditions for access by fishing vessels (HMTCs). They are used to regulate fishing in the waters of the 17 countries that are members of FFA. The HMTCs make getting and keeping a licence to fish for tuna contingent on maintaining a safe work environment for observers. They give instructions on how to do this, and on what to do if an observer is assaulted, harassed, dies, goes missing, or is believed to have fallen overboard.
Trade and Industry News said the Indonesian Government tabled its concerns about “labour abuse” in a paper to the 16th annual meeting of the WCPFC in December 2019.
Under WCPFC resolution 2018-01, the countries of the region, and other countries that fish in the region are expected to enact laws that require fishing operators to provide crews of fishing vessels with fair working conditions, fair pay, and a safe environment to work in.
The rules of both organisations reiterate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Electronic monitoring may help improve working conditions
Trade and Industry News said the use of electronic monitoring and surveillance technology and artificial intelligence may make working conditions safer for observers and crew.
It reported increased interest in electronic compliance and observance as a result of suspending the observer program as part of COVID-19 restrictions. Observers are a lynchpin in keeping reporting of fishing effort accurate, and in the prevention of bycatch and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
The countries in the region have been working out how to make electronic monitoring feasible, especially for the small island developing states (SIDS). It is expensive, and much of it is not fully developed yet, Trade and Industry News reports.
The FFA newsletter also reported that Thai Union was looking at using artificial intelligence to detect IUU fishing and abuses of human rights on tuna fishing vessels.
One of the most important tools in understanding the biology and environment of tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean is a bank.
This particular institution, the Pacific Marine Specimen Bank (PMSB), has been slowly building its revenue of research currency – muscle, organ and bone samples, stomach contents, photographs, and radiographic images – since 2000.
It also collects samples from other large, oceanic species such as marlin and swordfish that are also economically valuable.The PMSB is managed by scientists in the Oceanic Fisheries Programme of the Pacific Community (SPC). The datasets held in the bank help the scientists understand the world of tuna. Their knowledge forms part of SPC’s annual assessments of the state of health of tuna populations. In turn, the assessments are used to manage tuna fishing in the region.
Specimen banks are important because they throw light on our understanding of current situations – and because scientists in the future can use the same samples to find answers to new questions or to ask the same questions using new techniques or research tools.
One of the challenges the staff of PMSB face is ensuring that samples, which are collected all over the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, are kept in prime condition until they get to a permanent storage facility. Part of the scientists’ work is to prepare some samples to make it easier to transport them to analysis laboratories outside New Caledonia.
Much care goes into getting, storing, and transporting samples so they can be used for immediate research and analysis, and also in many years’ time.
This usually means that they have to be kept cold enough. Many samples can be kept at –20°C; however, those used in genetic analysis must be kept at –80°C. Freezers of the second kind are difficult to come by, and expensive to run.
Other tissue must be preserved in formalin and then transferred into ethanol.
The nine cubic metres of freezer space at the laboratory at SPC in Noumea is now too small to contain the growing collection. Although there are plans to enlarge it, research partners are also helping to house pieces of the collection in other parts of the region.
And SPC has funded the purchase of freezers in the main fishing ports in the region to that samples can be stored safely until they are transferred to their final destination.
In April, the PMSB contained nearly 120,000 samples collected from 34,000 specimens. Some national observer programs have participated in collecting samples for the bank since 2002.
Note: post updated 6 July 2020 to correct a spelling error.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
HONIARA – The Central Islands Province (CIP) of Solomon Islands has commenced work to develop the fisheries sector in the Russell Islands group.
This follows the signing of a memorandum of understanding (M0U) on 30 April between the constituency (electoral division) of Savo–Russells, the Central Island Provincial Government and the Russell Islands Investment Forum (RIIF).
The group of islands lies north-west of the island of Guadalcanal, where the Solomons capital Honiara lies.
Fisheries are an untapped resource that have the potential to improve livelihoods in the Russell Islands once they are properly developed and managed by rural communities to supply local and regional markets.
The MOU was signed by Savo–Russells MP Dickson Mua, CIP Premier Stanley Manetiva, and RIIF chairman Lesley Assad Norris. It was the culmination of a consultative and mapping effort by national government officials and other stakeholders in early April.
The mapping exercise was to organise fishermen and fisherwomen in the islands into distinct village fisheries committees.
Nine villages, and a total of 300 fishers, were identified to kick off the project and work according to the fisheries framework.
The Yandina Fisheries Centre and the constituency fisheries centre were identified as suitable for providing facilities to assist fishers to stock up supplies for the fisheries development program.
It is anticipated that the facilities will enhance the capacity to store, handle and transport fish to markets. They will soon be rehabilitated to meet minimum standards for fish storage and handling.
Struggle for reliable infrastructure
For years, fishing, copra and coconut have been the main source of income for the people of Russell Islands and Savo Island in the Central Islands Province.
However, the lack of facilities has been a challenge to fishers of these islands.
The Yandina Fisheries Centre has been the major ice cube supplier for fishers, but it currently lies idle and this has been a big setback for the fishers there. It was built by the national Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources in 1984, but has lacked the machinery needed to handle fish. When operating, it is also the main storage centre for local fishers who need to store their catches before they are shipped to the capital, Honiara, or other locations in the country.
A former officer in charge at Yandina, Talent Taipeza, said people were willing to fish.
“In my view, we are the ones that failed them and their fishing business by slowing down in our ice supplier service,” Mr Taipeza said.
“The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is trying to make this place work. It has supplied us with fuel, but that has stopped. The machines have broken down and we are no longer receiving ice orders.
“Due to that, the fishers have to bring their own ice blocks from Honiara when coming down here to fish.”
After years of dormancy, the centre resumed operation in 2016. However, after a few months, the machinery broke down again, forcing services to a halt.
Mr Taipeza said the ministry was trying to fully utilise the centre but the continuous breakdown of machinery was hampering efforts.
“Our ice machines have broken down. We made a little run with some European Union assistance but then the ice machines broke down,” Mr Taipeza said.
“We have decided to halt operations until we get support again from the Overseas Fishery Cooperation Foundation of Japan. They have been trying their best to see us run this centre by ourselves. They supplied us with a generator and the ice machines. The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is supporting the projects.”
The centre was also in “dire need” of piped water, so that the centre can go back into operation.
“For so long, the facility is lacking the support of water supply, and the province has tried its best to make water possible,” Mr Taipeza said.
“Now there is water, but to make it reach the centre is a problem. My job is to look after the centre. I can do any work in starting the machine, running ice block and other things that fishermen need. But as long as water is connected through here, we will not have any more problems, we will run this facility full time,” he said.
Following the halt of operations, most fishers in the Russell Islands were demanding that more centres open.
With the assistance of the Member of Parliament for Savo-Russells Constituency, a new fisheries centre was built on Loun Island. It was funded by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.
“We have the machines here such as refrigerators, generators and other equipment funded by the European Union and the OFCF. If the province can assist us in strengthening the operations of this fisheries centre, I believe people will benefit greatly from it,” Mr Taipeza said.
“The most expensive machines that the province cannot meet are already here in this centre. They will just need to assist the centre with proper water and electricity.”
Leaders optimistic about Russell Islands fishing industry
Following a recent follow-up assessment of the project area and sites, provincial fisheries officer Jacob Piturara was positive about the project.
So, too, were all the communities consulted during the discussion phases. They pledged support to organise and develop their fisheries resources.
Elders in Russell Islands stated that, while the fisheries development program undertaken by the province, constituency and local people was underway, it was also important to develop proper management and sustainable practices.
“For so long, the Yandina fisheries facility in the Russell Islands was non-serviceable. Most of the time, we have to travel to Honiara just to get ice cubes to store our fish stocks,” the elders said in a government statement.
A woman in Alokan, an island off Banika, said her husband had been a fisherman for the last 20 years. She supported the program because she saw the challenges and hardships that fishers faced in trying to make ends meet.
She said she was pleased that Russell Islands fishermen would be able to organise and share experiences, and at the same time work on how best they could handle their fishing and basic needs.
The MP for Savo–Russells, the Hon. Dickson Mua, said he was optimistic that everyone was working together to assist ordinary fishers and their families.
Mr Mua said there were also more opportunities in the agriculture sector, especially the coconut industry.
The CIP Premier, Stanley Manetiva, said he wanted to build momentum for the fisheries program.
“We are happy to have a plan moving forward, and the most important thing is the people must benefit from their resources and improve their everyday livelihoods,” Mr Manetiva said.
“Organisation is key. As the Premier for Central Islands Province, I will fully support initiatives that will place my people in a better position.”
The signing of the MOU for the Russell Islands fisheries development project was witnessed by interested fishers from the Malaita Outer Islands (Lord Howe). They, too, hope to develop a similar project for their rich fishing grounds.
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.”
Meet Salim. He works on a purse-seiner flagged to a distant-water fishing nation operating in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.
You may be at home enjoying a leisurely weekend meal of tuna from a fish he helped catch, freeze and tranship during his current work stint.
Salim is still working on that boat. His contract is for three years, and he has almost two years more to go before he can go home and sit down to dinner with his family.
There are no weekends or holidays on a fishing boat. The day is marked by mealtimes and the weeks and months by fishing, coming to port to tranship or unload, and going back fishing.
When at sea, the vessels are either looking for fish or catching it. The catching requires a highly choregraphed and dangerous set of manoeuvres that, while completed in a rigorous order, depend a lot on the weather and sea conditions for their execution. And while the vessel is looking for fish, the crew are doing maintenance: moving fish from wells to dry lockers, repairing nets, cleaning, and a hundred more chores.
When in port, you have to unload (either tranship or land), and that means handling one by one all the tuna in a catch that may weigh in at anything from 700 tons to 1,700 tons.
There are different jobs on board during the unloading, and crew get rotated among a few of them. Salim is wearing protective clothing because he is loading frozen tuna into a cargo net to move the catch to carrier during transhipment. On deck temperature may be 35°C, but where he is working is around –15°C. (On a longliner, the freezer may get down to –35°C.) On this kind of day, Salim starts at 7 am and finishes at 10 pm, and has five breaks during the day.
Crew members’ rights are protected when working in waters of FFA states
Salim’s rights as an employee are complex. In principle, they depend on the flag state of the vessel, but unfortunately there many loopholes that allow some operators to circumvent these.
This is momentous because, since 1 January 2020, if a vessel does not uphold these labour rights and conditions as part of their licensing, its right to fish can be removed and the vessel would not be in good standing. This is the first time in the world that a direct link has been made between labour standards and the right to fish by a coalition of coastal states!
This is good for Salim, as his rights are protected as long as the vessel fishes in the waters of FFA members.
While we can help protect what he earns, we do not influence how much he earns. Crew in Salim’s deckhand position earn around US$350 a month. A fisher doing the same work but from a country with a stronger labour set-up and unions or a flag state that applies its domestic laws to its vessels would earn four or five times that.
So why do people like Salim do this work? Simply, because the work opportunities in his home country are so limited that this actually a good deal for him. And although this fact can be used to justify his very limited earnings, one could argue strongly that it fits under the definition of exploitation of labour.
But international guidelines on working conditions remain voluntary
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is in the process of developing guidelines for social responsibility in the fishing industry. However, they are being watered down by some powerful countries that are bent on maintaining the status quo to keep labour costs low, so as to maximise profits from fishing. As with most of the UN instruments, unless signed by nations, they remain voluntary.
Although people such as Salim are meant to be the main beneficiaries of these guidelines, it may be a long time before Salim sees working conditions similar to those of fishers from developed nations.
The issue of labour right in fisheries is very complex, multifaceted and political and, as with most difficult problems, there are never easy answers. Yet there are many good people trying to work it out. Initiatives like FFA’s MTCs are a solid start in what is a marathon and not a sprint.
My approach to the work ahead would be from two parallel angles. On one side are regulatory frameworks, and international agreements under flag, coastal, and port state jurisdiction. On the other are private sector due diligence, since at the end of the day consumers in rich market states would not be keen to buy if they have doubts about the human cost of their fish.
So, the importers have the chance to influence the international supply chains to see labour conditions and earnings of crew raised. (Hopefully, this would be supported with a price difference.)
For all this, it is important that you don’t pity Salim and many other thousands like him in many jobs in the world. Pity the circumstances they live in, and shame the operators that exploit those circumstances.People like Salim are some of the most resilient, positive, nicest, and most innovative and determined people Ihave ever met and worked with. Without these qualities, they wouldn’t be alive.
Yet, operationally, for a country, the whole point of PSMs is to avoid the use of its ports for the unloading of fish caught in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing operations by vessels both foreign and domestic.
One does not need to read every word in a document with a lawyer’s loupe or sign agreements to start operations. You just start working it out in your own time and at your own pace. There is no need to have all the papers lined up and all the standard operation procedures written before you start doing something.
‘Doing something’ may entail fisheries authorities changing the way the port operations are conducted. Training by doing takes time, resources will need to be mobilised, routines need to be created, and so on. Many aspects of the day-to-day work cannot be foreseen by doing a one-week workshop, attending some meetings, and expecting all things to be right. You need to start, and to learn by doing – and for that you do not need to sign any high-level document.
Anyone working in compliance has learned that there is only one thing worse than not signing a piece of paper: it is to sign it and then not be able to comply with it.
All countries do understand the importance of signing on to international commitments. Still, they are also aware, on a daily basis, of the limitations faced, particularly when small countries blessed with good natural ports are taking on the on the job of controlling vessels.
This is a job that ought to be shared with the flag states, yet that is not always the case. For example, many port states in the western and central Pacific region inspect more vessels from distant water fishing nations (DWFN) than the vessel’s own flag state authorities do.
Routine PSM operations pay off
Yet, when you start doing PSM routinely, it pays off. The recent case of the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA) is the perfect example. In February, it charged a Korean longliner for fishing in Marshall Islands waters without a valid licence. The charge was based on best PSM practices.
MIMRA’s PSM strategy focuses on intelligence analysis around the identity, licensing and operations of arriving vessels before they are authorised to use the port.
The operations part requires them to analyse the ship’s movement before it enters port. This is done by looking at its vessel monitoring system (VMS) track. Yet it is one thing is to look at VMS track, and another is to understand the behaviour of a particular type of vessel based on gear deployment and manoeuvring.
While VMS may give you a good indication of what happened at a time and place, sometimes it does not suffice as evidence. So, once on board, the officer needs to know what to look for and where to find it, so they can collect definitive evidence that cannot be disputed.
Accurate analysis of ship’s documents also needed
The types of supplementary evidence that make cases watertight include logbooks (captains’ and chief engineers’), temperature records, onboard GPS plotters, and buoy-recovery marks, among other types of vessel information.
Furthermore, the active conduct of the boarding officers shows the captains that they know their job. In most cases, captains accept this, and accept the charges to cut their losses.
And this is exactly what my colleagues in Majuro have done with the FV Oryong 721. Officer Beau Bigler identified the offence during the manoeuvring analyses that are part of the routine intelligence report prepared for every vessel intending to enter Majuro. He took notes on time and place, and once on board went straight to the bridge and collected evidence from documentation written and instruments operated by the captain, making the evidence really hard to dispute.
The charging of the vessels (the last one of four the past two years) is a total win for the PSM team in MIMRA. It is one you get by understanding how different fishing vessels operate, and what and where info is recorded and stored on board.
Add to that the dedication of competent officers, and we have PSM that does work and produce results without having to sign – for now – any big documents … simple as that.
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.