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.
More than 16,600 tuna were tagged in a recent scientific tagging expedition in ocean generally north of Papua New Guinea.
The voyage targeted skipjack tuna, which makes up 70% of the volume of tuna caught in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).
Tuna tagging helps the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and national fisheries managers assess numbers of tuna. The assessments are used to set catch limits.
This voyage was conducted largely in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Palau, and Federated States of Micronesia, with a little time spent also in two pockets of high seas.
In its most recent fisheries newsletter, SPC reported that fisheries authorities in PNG, Palau and FSM provided research permits and gave support to the research being done in their EEZs.
An average of almost 450 tuna were tagged and released each fishing day. Most – 93% – were skipjack, the rest being yellowfin (6%) and bigeye (1%). Most came from free-swimming schools (i.e. the tuna were not caught near fish-aggregating devices, or FADs).
Some fish were implanted with what is known as an archival tag, a physical device which must be inserted using small surgery and a very fast turnaround – no more than 30 seconds – so that the tuna doesn’t become too stressed and lacking in oxygen.
SPC reported that it expected some of the tuna tagged in this way would be recovered and would provide good data on the behaviour and movement of the fish.
The agency also reported that some tuna were injected with strontium chloride, a slightly radioactive salt that becomes incorporated into a part of the tuna’s skeleton known as the otolith (or ‘ear stone’). As the fish grows, scientists can use the mark left by the strontium chloride in the otolith to estimate how old the fish is. (Otoliths help fish to balance and to understand how fast they are swimming.)
To conduct the tagging cruise, SPC chartered a pole-and-line vessel from Noro, in Solomon Islands.
This was the fifth western Pacific tagging cruise, and it lasted from July to September 2019.
Tuna tagging has been carried out regularly since the Pacific Tuna Tagging Programme ran its first voyage in 2006.
The 16th session of the Pacific Tuna Commission (WCPFC16) that oversees waters producing 55% of the global tuna catch gets underway this week in Papua New Guinea. With a yearly value of over $5 billion to fishers in the region the annual event is incredibly important to the Pacific region, which makes up the largest bloc of the 33-member group.
The 21 Pacific island countries and territories make up 64% of the Commission membership. Not only are their waters the seascape where the majority of the tuna harvest takes place, but these are the same waters and biosphere that define their indigenous reference.
Those are two of the main reasons why the annual Tuna Commission congress is all-important to Pacific nations and to their people – the resource owners.
“As custodians of our land and resources, this is an important forum that seeks to establish rules and regulations that conserve and preserve natural resources, especially the marine resources, and PNG is proud to be part of the 16th WCPFC forum,” Dr Lino Tom, PNG’s Minister for Fisheries and Marine Resources, told media earlier this week.
This feature is an attempt at introducing the Pacific resource owners: weavers, planters and fishers. Who they are; what and why the ocean means so much to them; and a number of reasons why they are not as engaged as they should be in their “tuna story”.
It is dedicated to Tuvalu’s Elisala Pita who passed away in August 2016, and to our brave forebears who fought, and continue to fight, for equity and sustainability of their offshore fishing resources. And in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) set up by Pacific nations to guard and protect its oceans and, ultimately, Pacific islanders’ way of life.
In the Samoan indigenous reference, Va Tapuia (sacred relations) means each living thing shares a common story of origin. It means that Va Tapuia governs relationships between people and the environment; that is, the land, the sea, the sky, the flora and fauna. For instance, water shares a genealogy with land, who in turn shares a genealogy with humans, the cosmos and the gods. This genealogy is sacred and invests a legacy of responsibility on all living things (trees, clouds, volcanoes, water, animals, people) to respect, through reciprocity, the divine balance or harmony they share.
Reciprocity: harmony’s Pacific meaning
History records “modern civilization”, the “West”, as birthed in the 15th century CE after the fall of the Roman Empire. And like those that preceded it, it is defined by the things it excludes. The people who do not fit.
The unfit, who civilization must prune to protect its sense of self. And so long as there is progress, the pruning is encouraged to continue. But progress and pruning bring with them an unwelcome side-effect – the increasing and unwanted human debris left behind in their wake: the excluded, littered muck on the outside looking in.
Every culture, except for Pacific islanders, has survived this way since early antiquity. And each has had to find an answer to the question that confronted it: What becomes of them, the human debris?
In the 17th century, the growing British empire’s “answer” was two-part: call them criminals, and throw them in a deep dark hole that hopefully would never run over. But justice demanded the “West” do better than that; that civilization be not judged by who it excludes, but by how it treats the excluded. Today, amidst trade wars, rampant diseases, mass killings, and wanton environmental destruction, we bear witness to that treatment.
Pacific civilisation, Polynesian in particular, traces its roots back to 800 BCE, 2,300 years before the “West” was born. It is defined by a culture based on the collective and on reciprocity. An “inclusive” society that embraces rather than excludes, living a way of life based on sacred relations.
In the Samoan indigenous reference, Va Tapuia (sacred relations) means each living thing shares a common story of origin. When followed, Va Tapuia gives rise to other principles such as the Va Fealoa’I, or mutual respect; Tofa mamao ma le Faautautaga Loloto, or wisdom in the exercise of authority. It is this “reciprocity” in place of the West’s “progress” that gives rise to the Pacific interpretation of “harmony”. It is a reference with clearly defined components that ensures no one is excluded, no one is left behind – there is no human debris.
School of fish in Auckland: March 2016
In the world’s most populous Pacific city, Auckland, an old man smiles, eyes calmly surveying the throng of people busy setting up in the room. It reminded him of a school of fish swimming in the lagoon close to shore all those years ago.
His head still fully covered with hair that has almost completely turned grey, clearly, this is an important person, despite his simple appearance. Respected too, judging by the glances and the manner of endearments invited guests and peers show him. His Order of the British Empire, awarded in 2001, affirms him a person of distinction, international stature and influence.
As he sat there, calm and relaxed behind the front table, there was a glint in his eyes. An excitement made obvious by the satisfied veneer subtly painted over his demeanour. The impression one gets is that he had been party to something of great importance recently – yet the occasion on 15 March 2016 that finds him in Auckland’s Mercure Hotel was not about the telling of that tale.
As questions about what that “significant other” swirled, a call from the organiser that the event was about to start quieted the crowd.
The grey-haired gentleman was introduced.
Elisala Pita, tuna champion
“We are honoured to have here with us the Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee,” smiled Lisa Williams-Lahari, “and Tuvalu’s Minister for Works and Natural Resources, Honourable Elisala Pita.”
Yet those titles barely scraped the surface of the immense influence this man wielded in the vastness of oceans and historic negotiations over the Pacific’s 9.6million square kilometre tuna fishery. Or his pivotal role in 2013 that promoted Enele Sopoaga from leader of the opposition to Prime Minister of Tuvalu. Or of the ancient Polynesian wayfarers’ heritage coursing through his veins, and founded on a way of life built not on the individual and self-interest, but of a shared tofi (inheritance) with fellow islanders. A communal way of life, its roots traced back to around 800 BCE. Although fading, a way of life that is still practiced today.
Slowly, as is the contemplative way of Pacific elders, he leaned forward. With assurance borne of confidence as an experienced orator, he acknowledged his ancestors, and surveyed his audience. Then he spoke.
“Let me start off with a brief mention of the importance of the tuna fishery,” he asked politely.
In English, the strong and unmistakable orator’s tenor voice and accent overlaid with authenticity the topic of his address: why the Pacific’s tuna fishery is so important to Pacific island nations, people, and their struggle against the threats casting shadows and uncertainties in today’s modern world. Threats like illegal fishing, driven by self-interest, corruption, greed and desperation.
“For many Pacific islands, including my country Tuvalu, tuna is the only renewable commercial resource,” he continued without pause.
“The revenues Tuvalu receives from tuna fishing taking place in our waters represent about 45% of the Government’s 2016 budget. It does, however, require our joint efforts to protect and to sustain this revenue source.” (The joint efforts refer to working with another 15 Pacific independent states, plus Tokelau.)
Tuvalu has 26 square kilometres of land, and 900,000 square kilometres of ocean.
At the time of his address, Tuvalu’s vast ocean area was being serviced by a fisheries staff of three. And the cost of running its purse-seine fishery was estimated to be US$4 million a year.
To the north-east of Tuvalu is Kiribati. A country where its 810 square kilometres of land houses 110,000 people, inside its 3,600,000 square kilometres of waters. With only one patrol boat to police it.
Elisala re-emphasised that the immense expanse of ocean that Pacific countries are responsible for monitoring is fraught with many challenges: a complicated legal seascape, an even more complicated political seascape, and with limited resources at their disposal, both human and financial, the sustainable management of the fishery is nigh on impossible. The situation is made worse by foreign countries breaching not only their licence and terms of access, but also reneging on legal obligations to manage their fleets when harvesting tuna in Pacific island-owned waters.
“Tuna do not recognise our borders or our baseline maritime boundaries. Managing and enforcing a fishery where fish move freely in an area of water over 9.6 million square kilometres, with occasional tiny low-lying coral atolls in between, can only be achieved through regional collaboration,” Elisala said.
This was part of Elisala’s keynote address to launch the study, “Towards the quantification of illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Pacific islands region”.
When he sat down, one could now see why the old man was given those admiring and respectful looks before he spoke.
In the global world of tuna, worth US$42 billion a year, Elisala needs no introduction. World-renowned and recognised by the highest powers, he is one of the Pacific’s founding fathers who champions multi-million dollar benefits and favourable conditions in order to manage, protect and maximize the economic potential of the Pacific fishery. He was so good that even the United States hired him as their fisheries adviser early in his fisheries career.
Sadly, on 22 August 2016, just five months after his March speech, Elisala passed away in Funafuti, Tuvalu. His loss was made more poignant through the rekindled memories of other Pacific tupuna who fought hard and uncompromisingly in the years of the tuna war.
Elisala was Pacific old school. A direct descendant of ancient Pacific mariners who, without the aid of navigational equipment, settled the tiny islands of Oceania that dot its multi-million acreage of ocean. This deed was achieved hundreds of years before the first European explorers ventured into the region in the 17th century.
As with all others born on Tuvalu, the dominant geographical feature of Elisala’s childhood was the ocean.
It shaped his identity and perceptions, and contextualised his understanding of reality and the world. With roots anchored in the ancient Pacific’s communal way of life, he left home, one of the first Pacific generation to attend Western schooling in preparation for the new world. Yet embossed in his spirit were the ancient stories and lore of his mariner ancestors: of warriors, legends, tales of discovery as told by elders in the shadowed blanket of night lit by flickering tongues of flames from sooty kerosene lamps, the stars and moonlight.
Knowledge gleaned from these two worlds informed Elisala, and selected kin of his generation, with gave them ways to navigate that world and influence the reality that plays out now in today’s modern world of tuna, oceanic management and technologically advanced tools of harvest.
But for all the international and regional acknowledgements, accolades and Pacific milestones – sadly, they are virtually unknown to the weavers, planters and fishers of the Pacific.
Wouldn’t it be great if every Pacific islander knew about the monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) employed to protect their fisheries? It is the story of how Elisala and other Pacific leaders came up with the MCS suite of tools that is fighting the bane of IUU.
The MCS system is worth talking about. In fact, Elisala did tell the Auckland meeting how the MCS, used as a tool, saw “an astonishing number of achievements ranging from:
the first centralised regional satellite based Vessel Monitoring System (VMS)
innovative agreements and systems to share data and intelligence, and
cooperative mechanisms that allow us to share our limited surveillance assets.
“These are coupled with:
robust systems for data collections, including well developed yet growing programs for the placement of independent observers on fishing vessels, and
excellent support and coordination from our regional agencies like Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).
“I am therefore extremely proud to note that the results of this study demonstrate that these programs have been effective. As you will hear, there is of course still more that can be done, but there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that without that historical and ongoing effort, we would be looking at a much different report today. We would be looking at a report that says:
rogue vessels come and go as they please,
that industry knows it can fish illegally with impunity, and
that the Pacific is losing more than its gaining.
“I am pleased to say that this report says none of those things.”
And this is the sad part: Elisala’s words describing the effort, innovation and hard work put in by Pacific leaders, fisheries officials – women and men – and their international partners, collaborators and friends to protect the Pacific fishery were not heard by the many ordinary weavers, planters and fishermen.
It is evidence that the “tuna story” and those involved in its composition and distribution have challenges and barriers they need to scale in critical mass.
For it is clear that fully maximised economic returns, achieving preferred levels of sustainable management for the Pacific fishery, will only happen if the weavers, the planters and the fishers are integral to the “tuna story”. That they become subscribers, writers, poets, songwriters, movie producers, advocators, owners of the tuna story.
Why is that so important?
The answer lies in the next two paragraphs. Bear in mind that this is not definitive, as there are other pockets of literature inked with the same narrative and message.
The first is from the IUU study launched by Elisala. It states:
“One of the ways to ensure Pacific countries get their fair share (of profits, exports, jobs) would be by increasing value rather than volume, by eliminating oversupply, and targeting higher value products and markets.”
leveraging that control to maximise the economic benefits generated from the fishery to national economies.
The “something else”
With the vastness of the Pacific fishery, the inadequate resources to manage and control it, and the weak political clout the Pacific holds internationally, the Pacific will never truly reach above aspirations. It needs “something else”.
And that something else exists and has been successfully used in similar situations at the highest level.
That something else is … A Movement – a groundswell of united voices so powerful that they influence a change of mindset, a change in lifestyle, a change in choices, and the political impact to act in solidarity to stand up and defend the Pacific’s tuna fishery. A movement that envelopes and packages the interrelated work and tools needed to sustainably manage, protect and maximise economic benefits of the Pacific tuna fishery into one singular call to action.
Based on a philosophy inspired by American philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s 1849 essay “Civil Disobedience”, it is called the “non-violent movement of passive resistance”.
It won for Ghandi India’s independence. It won for Martin Luther King his dream. It won for Samoa sovereignty in 1962.
The single critical element to its success? Ordinary people. Not the elites: ordinary people who are the owners, who have the integrity, honesty, courage, and rights. It is they, when united in solidarity, that bring the truth to bear.
It is why the weavers, planters and fishers of the Pacific are of paramount importance in achieving control of the Pacific fishery. It is they, and only they, who can make such a movement possible and successful.
How do non-violent movements work?
According to Why violence? author Robert J. Burrowes, non-violent action works because of its capacity to create a favourable political atmosphere and a non-threatening physical environment, and its capacity to alter the human psychological conditions that make people resist new ideas in the first place.
“In essence, non-violent activists precipitate change because people are inspired by the honesty, discipline, integrity, courage and determination of the activists – despite arrests, beatings or imprisonment – and are thus inclined to identify with them,” he said.
“Moreover, as an extension of this, they are inclined to change their behaviour to act in solidarity.”
In the context of groups, like Pacific countries struggling to defend their tuna fishery, Mr Burrowes wrote that they should convey compelling messages that explain what people can do in their particular context.
“It is important that these messages require powerful personal action, not token responses. And it is important that these actions should not be directed at elites or lobbying elites,” he wrote.
“Elites will fall into line when we have mobilised enough people so that they are compelled to do as we wish. And not before.”
Ghandi’s Pacific fishery example?
An example of this non-violence protest that parallels the experience in the Pacific tuna fishery is that of Ghandi and the Salt March message that illustrated what an Indian independence stance against British rule would look like.
“At the end of the Salt March in 1930, Gandhi picked up a handful of salt on the beach at Dandi. This was the signal for Indians everywhere to start collecting their own salt, in violation of British law,” Mr Burrowes wrote.
“In subsequent campaigns, Gandhi called for Indians to boycott British cloth and make their own khadi (handwoven cloth). These actions were strategically focused because they undermined the profitability of British colonialism in India and nurtured Indian self-reliance.
“A key reason why Mohandas K. Gandhi was that rarest of combinations – a master non-violent strategist and a master non-violent tactician – was because he understood the psychology of non-violence and how to make it have political impact.”
And this is why regional agencies like Forum Fisheries Agency, its member countries and officials, and their champions such as the late Elisala need to solve the information barrier so the weavers, planters and fishers can be reached and engaged.
For it is they, not the elites, who have the honesty, integrity, and rights as owners to garner solidarity and international political support to effect required results and outcomes.
Some of the possible results that could be had:
reduction or elimination of illegal fishing
greater and broader industry and flag state support to MCS system for sustainably managed fishing, and
consumer preference for Pacific-owned brands and certified products at various levels of the value chain (valued at US$22.7 billion in 2014).
Challenges and barriers to reaching weaves, planters and fishers
There are two major barriers that need scaling if the tuna story is to reach the weavers, planters and fishers of the Pacific.
Fisheries officials, national offices and regional agencies
There is no doubt about the commitment, and the innovative, difficult and ground-breaking work Pacific fisheries officials, MCS practitioners, ministers, non-government organisations and their various partners dedicate to the cause.
The same is equally true of regional staff and their application to the cause at the FFA, the related regional sibling the Pacific Community (SPC) and, to a lesser extent, the University of the South Pacific (USP), Forum Secretariat, and a whole raft of international stakeholders.
However, what is noticeable at this level of the tuna story is how insular, narrow and specific their focus is. And that is a function of a few home truths.
That the complex, highly technical, drawn-out fieldwork and overlapping or collaborative nature of the work with other government agencies takes most of the officials’ time.
When added to that is the number of meetings that must be attended to ensure each country’s voice is represented and their interventions noted on issues where the majority of them, like the illegal Vietnamese blue boats, are live and developing – it means scarcity of time for anything else.
In a country like Tuvalu that level of difficulty is multiplied manyfold when taking into account that there were only three fisheries officials in 2016.
But that’s not all.
Officials are in a sector where those at the coalface are taking a giant leap to developing and using cutting-edge technology.
Surveillance and monitoring are fast-tracked into the digital world of hyper-telecommunications with many of the paperwork legacy systems transitioning and upgraded with urgency to digital information management systems (IMS) platforms. The hugely successful Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) employed by Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) is made possible by its highly developed Fisheries Information Management System (FIMS) that is able to manage and monitor the VDS.
It all adds up to the situation where more is expected of fisheries personnel, and at the same time, Pacific countries are doing the best they can with the limited human and financial resources at their disposal. Which essentially leaves no time to look beyond their core work program to even try and engage with relevant layers of government, let alone the media, and weavers, planters and fishers directly.
It also reveals another barrier: that Pacific fisheries departments or divisions are usually merged within a wider government ministry. In the internal challenge to get a media advice, a press release or article drafted, there is usually an information officer who deals with the multiple departments. In many cases, there is no dedicated information officer. Which means the time-poor fisheries officer will need to draft the material.
In any case, the information needs to be drafted which then has to go through the approval process before it could be posted on the department Facebook page or website, which will need another dash through a separate can and technical process. The process can be delayed when the website administrator is not a journalist and changes a few things to make it look more aesthetic, but inadvertently changes the whole technical context of the information.
The difficulty is multiplied many-fold when the information is to be sent externally, for example when it’s a media release or an article for the local paper.
And heaven forbid if a journalist interprets the information in a way that is negative: the fallout will impact the official, their relationship with their bosses, the public perception of the issue, and trust of journalists generally. Most times, the extrapolation of these scenarios usually render it best for officials not to even start the process.
But in the case that all internal hurdles are successfully navigated, what is the assurance that getting the information to the media would, first, reach the weavers, planters and fishers, and, second, be in a format they understand, and is relevant enough to engage them to action?
Media channel for weavers, planters and fishers
It is this question that is important for national officials and regional communications officials to answer: are they using the right communications and media channels; and do they know what the information channels for weavers, planters and fishers even look like?
Sadly, the low rate of engagement success in this area says they don’t. And that the West’s media platforms and role as the Fourth Estate is not working for the Pacific’s grassroots.
To find the weavers, planters and fishers “media” platform, there is a need to analyse the “Western” model and then assess if the Pacific platform exists within that space.
The scope of this feature does not allow for an extensive treatment of this topic, but a brief narrative of the relevant communication element to tease out the “media/messenger” in a Pacific setting is important to include.
But first a bit of background as to where democracy and the Fourth Estate came from and why they are important today.
Western civilisation and the Fourth Estate?
Today’s modern world, the “West”, is the most extraordinary civilisation in all of history (so far). Its roots lay in medieval Europe from where a Christian feudal society developed after the fall of the Roman empire, and started sprouting in the 15th century, spreading to the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, Oceania and pretty much to the rest of the world.
It has become a globe-spanning industrial society colonising and establishing control over its subjects through democracy and the rule of law.
It is distinguished by two unique features:
representative government (born out of the republican government idea from Rome, and the fragmented power structures fostered by medieval feudalism), and
science (a distinct and rigorous way of looking at the world).
The combination of the two has driven technological advancement and economic growth. While the rise of democracy, from the American Civil War (1775–83) maintains control and power by enabling individualism and free-thinking to revolutionise social change through the accompanied changes of thought and philosophy.
What does that look like?
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution became widely accepted, and encouraged the rise of a more secular outlook.
Sigmund Freud and others pioneered a scientific understanding of the mind and the emotions, previously regarded as the preserve of spiritual sphere.
Einstein’s theory of relativity changed people’s views of the universe.
Karl Marx and others analysed society in new ways, leading to calls for the creation of radically new economic and social structures.
The importance of the media was first recognized by Thomas Carlyle. He was the first to use the term “fourth estate” back in 1837 (in his French Revolution paper), in an attempt to quantify why the press would be instrumental to the birth and growth of democracy: by spreading facts and opinions, and sparking revolution against tyranny.
How the press does that in a representative democracy is threefold:
it informs citizens
it sets up a feedback loop between the government and voters, and
it provides a forum for debates to expose people to opinions contrary to their own by moderating and curating arguments presented by all sides. This is important because informed decision-making on the part of voters requires an awareness of multiple points of view, not just seeking out those with opinions the same as their own.
Basically, Carlyle’s argument vouches that the press makes the actions of the government known to the public. Voters who disapprove of current trends in policy can take corrective action in the next election. And that without the press, the feedback loop is broken and the government is no longer accountable to the people.
When these pieces of information are taken together, what we have is that the Western civilization of today, born in the 15th century CE, and democracy born in the 18th century, are only 1,100 and 800 years old. These are young ideas compared to the Pacific’s communal governance system, which traces back to more than 3,000 years ago.
To tease out the Pacific media role in the way Thomas Carlyle saw it within democracy in 1837, the Samoa way is used as a reference.
This is done for two reasons.
First, because of mounting evidence, both oral and scientific, that the settlement of Polynesia originated from Samoa around 800 BCE (but if it’s Tonga that’s fine too). It ended with the settlement of New Zealand around 1300 CE. And second, because it means the traditional and communal way of life unique to Samoa would have also spread along the settlement path. A Pacific way of life, history, religious practice, and language that is one of the most well-known internationally.
Characteristics of weavers, planters and fishers
The most basic unit of the Samoan system is not the individual – it is the aiga, or family.
The term aiga is contextually different to the “West’s” definition of family. ’Aiga includes not only the immediate family (father, mother and children), but also the whole union of families of a clan and those, who although not related, are subject to the aiga’scontrol.
At the head of each aiga is a matai. It is a chiefly title (suafa) by and through which they exercise their rights in the family over which they preside.
Although it is common for each ’aiga to have a number of matai titles, one particular title, the Sa’o, is the most important and serves as the paramount matai title to which all others of the aiga defer.
With Samoans consisting of groups of families with close ties and history, the influence of the matai is felt not only in the village but also in the district and beyond.
That power and influence extended to life and limb. But that has been altered and absorbed by the advent of Western civilization through the democratic government of today where the matai’s authority is now confined and balanced against.
It is from this aiga unit that the structure of Samoan society is founded. Briefly, parts of its traditional structure are described below.
A Village Chief Council is part of Samoa’s faamatai system of governance. It is the highest level of authority in the village where decisions are passed by consensus. It maintains village traditions, and organises village affairs. Its decisions and deliberations are carried out and informed by various committees and groups.
The Women’s Committee is responsible for administering women’s duties and role, which include: traditional hospitality for guests and beautification of the village through scheduled visitations to ensure each family house and the surrounding are clean; managing village events and schedules, child rearing and initiatives such as training, education, handicraft production and the like.
The Village ’Aumaga (untitled men) protect and serve the village in all faasāmoa ceremonies and keeping up traditional agriculture and fishing methods. Tautua (service) is the core function of the ’aumaga. They serve the matai council, develop the family land, provide food through plantation and fishing, and ensure the welfare and protection of the family.
The Aualuma (unmarried women) are charged with gardening, weaving, cooking and beautifying the village. Traditional ceremonial such as the ifoga play an important part in peace-keeping, and the traditional kava ceremony contributes to maintenance of good relationships. Cultural practices such as community correction through the village council are to ensure social cohesion and order in a Samoan village.
What is clear is that information and its channels were original parts of the social structure, not later additions. And the central conduit through which information is received, interpreted, and disseminated to all the various parts of society is the matai.
From the Samoan perspective, it is the matai and the traditional structures of its villages that are key to reaching and engaging the weavers, planters and fishers.
Have Pacific fisheries officials, regional communications officials, their international networks, and media practitioners built this into their information content and channels of communications?
They must. For even as the West’s influence has compromised, absorbed and taken over some of these traditional societal structures, the isolation and youthfulness of the islands region means that disseminating information to the weavers, planters and fishers still rely on traditional structures.
It is the matai element and similar social structures in other Pacific countries that need to be incorporated into communications and media platforms to scale current information barriers.
Success of any movement will depend on the engagement of weavers, planters and fishers for it is they who have the voice and power to make the political impact and initiate action to manage and protect the Pacific fishery.
How to get there
As in all things, the common element to long-term success in the Pacific is: trust and face to face.
And that leads us to the final message Elisala Pita left just over three years ago.
“Ladies and gentlemen, let me close by saying that the fight against illegal fishing is one that we cannot afford to lose as it is bound to our future prosperity and wellbeing. It is a hard fight; it is hard to even tell how bad the problem is, but it is a fight that we have made significant ground on, and one that we will continue to challenge.”
When he sat down, the glint in his eye was still there. For in February just before heading down to Auckland, he had just secured the US treaty after a hard-fought arm wrestle with the United States.
As James Movick, the FFA Director-General from 2012–2019, said:
“The role of that generation in setting up fisheries management from which we benefit today is a debt that we owe to Minister Pita and other pioneering colleagues.
“Minister Pita will be particularly remembered for his active and committed chairmanship of the committee of Pacific Fisheries Ministers over the past year (2015–16). His strong leadership, personal engagement and steady support contributed significantly to the successful adoption of the Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Pacific Fisheries that was endorsed by Forum Leaders in 2015; and the successful renegotiation of the fisheries treaty between Pacific countries and the US in June of this year.”
Written by Lealaiauloto Aigaletaule’ale’a F. Tauafiafi
Tropical tuna are one of the few wild animals we still hunt in large numbers, but finding them in the vast Pacific ocean can be tremendously difficult. However, fishers have long known that tuna are attracted to, and will aggregate around, floating objects such as logs.
In the past, people used bamboo rafts to attract tuna, fishing them while they were gathered underneath. Today, the modern equivalent – called fish aggregating devices, or FADs – usually contain high-tech equipment that tell fishers where they are and how many fish have accumulated nearby.
It’s estimated that between 30,000 and 65,000 man-made FADs are deployed annually and drift through the Western and Central Pacific Ocean to be fished on by industrial fishers. Pacific island countries are reporting a growing number of FADs washing up on their beaches, damaging coral reefs and potentially altering the distribution of tuna.
Our research in two papers, one of which was published today in Scientific Reports, looks for the first time at where ocean currents take these FADs and where they wash up on coastlines in the Pacific.
Attracting fish and funds
We do not fully understand why some fish and other marine creatures aggregate around floating objects, but they are a source of attraction for many species. FADs are commonly made of a raft with 30-80m of old ropes or nets hanging below. Modern FADs are attached to high-tech buoys with solar-powered electronics.
The buoys record a FAD’s position as it drifts slowly across the Pacific, scanning the water below to measure tuna numbers with echo-sounders and transmitting this valuable information to fishing vessels by satellite.
Throughout their lifetimes FADs may be exchanged between vessels, recovered and redeployed, or fished and simply left to drift with their buoy to further aggregate tuna. Fishers may then abandon them and remotely deactivate the buoys’ satellite transmission when the FAD leaves the fishing area.
Fishing licence fees can provide up to 98% of government revenue for some Pacific Island countries and territories. These countries balance the need to sustainably manage and harvest one of the only renewable resources they have, while often having a limited capacity to fish at an industrial scale themselves.
FADs help stabilise catch rates and make fishing fleets more profitable, which in turn generate revenue for these nations.
The abandonment or loss of FADs adds to the growing mass of marine debris floating in the ocean, and they increasingly damage coral as they are dragged and get caught on reefs.
Perhaps most importantly, we don’t know how the distribution of FADs affects fishing effort in the region. Given that each fleet and fishing company has their own strategy for using FADs, understanding how the total number of FADs drifting in one area increases the catch of tuna is crucial for sustainably managing these valuable species.
Where do FADs end up?
Our research, published in Environmental Research Communications and Scientific Reports, used a regional FAD tracking program and fishing data submitted by Pacific countries, in combination with numerical ocean models and simulations of virtual FADs, to work out how FADs travel on ocean currents during and after their use.
In general, FADs are first deployed by fishers in the eastern and central Pacific. They then drift west with the prevailing currents into the core industrial tropical tuna fishing zones along the equator.
We found equatorial countries such as Kiribati have a high number of FADs moving through their waters, with a significant amount washing up on their shores. Our research showed these high numbers are primarily due to the locations in which FADs are deployed by fishing companies.
In contrast, Tuvalu, which is situated on the edge of the equatorial current divergence zone, also sees a high density of FADs and beaching. But this appears to be an area that generally aggregates FADs regardless of where they are deployed.
Unsurprisingly, many FADs end up beaching in countries at the western edge of the core fishing grounds, having drifted from different areas of the Pacific as far away as Ecuador. This concentration in the west means reefs along the edge of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea are particularly vulnerable, with currents apparently forcing FADs towards these coasts more than other countries in the region.
Overall, our studies estimate that between 1,500 and 2,200 FADs drifting through the Western and Central Pacific Ocean wash up on beaches each year. This is likely to be an underestimate, as the tracking devices on many FADs are remotely deactivated as they leave fishing zones.
Using computer simulations, we also found that a significant number of FADs are deployed in the eastern Pacific Ocean, left to drift so they have time to aggregate tuna, and subsequently fished on in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. This complicates matters as the eastern Pacific is managed by an entirely different fishery Commission with its own set of fisheries management strategies and programmes.
Growing human populations and climate change are increasing pressure on small island nations. FAD fishing is very important to their economic and food security, allowing access to the wealth of the ocean’s abundance.
We need to safeguard these resources, with effective management around the number and location of FAD deployments, more research on their impact on tuna and bycatch populations, the use of biodegradable FADs, or effective recovery programs to remove old FADs from the ocean at the end of their slow journeys across the Pacific.
THE 21st National Tuna Congress is happening on September 4-6, 2019 in General Santos City. The Theme for this year’s Congress: “The Tuna Industry: Embracing Technologies and Sustainable Strategies”. Why this Theme?
The choice of the Theme is anchored on sustainability supported by technologies. We all know that Sustainability of Tuna Resources is paramount to the fishing industry. It cannot be overemphasized that the sustainability of the ocean’s resources does not only rest on the shoulders of government. The same responsibility is likewise demanded of the private sector, especially the global players of the Tuna Industry, and the global fisheries advocates.
The Theme calls that sustainability can only be achieved if Conservation and Management Measures are dutifully observed, and international and regional agreements calling for preservation of species and recovery plans, are honoured.
Sustainability also means no overfishing. It means that we enable an environment for Tuna and Tuna-like species to spawn and propagate for another season of catch. The intention is not to deplete our resources.
On technology, the world is currently driven by technology. The fishing industry needs to keep up by continuously upgrading systems and processes to achieve full efficiency while being ocean-friendly.
For 2019, the SOCSKSARGEN Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc. (SFFAII) welcomes its new President, Andrew Philip Yu. Outgoing President Joaquin T. Lu has served SFFAII for 8 years, starting in 2011. He also held the chairmanship of the National Tuna Congress for eight years.
President Lu’s accomplishments include: Active and dynamic Advocacy, Lobby Work, and Involvement in International and Regional Collaborations; Focused Partnership with National Government and Steadfast Observance and Compliance with Philippine Laws; and Implementation of the electronic Catch Documentation and Traceability System (eCDTS).
On the first, the country is a driven Member of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. Under his watch, the Philippines has been granted access to fish in the High Seas Pocket 1 (HSP1). This means that the country’s 36 fishing fleets can fish in the HSP1 of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. This is a major breakthrough for the country. It may be recalled that for a time, the Philippines was no longer allowed to fish in Indonesia. The prohibition affected the Tuna Industry. The severity of the situation was felt in General Santos City, the home base of the Tuna Industry.
Under his leadership, the fishing industry was able to surmount the acute challenge. Of course, even as the Philippines is granted access to fish in the high seas, the country is duty bound to comply with international regulations, like the observance of conservation and management measures.
SFFAII also pushed for the Philippines’ inclusion in the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission. The high seas of the Indian Ocean and the Exclusive Economic Zones of member-coastal states are potential fishing grounds for Philippine purse-seine fishing vessels. Fishing in other fishing grounds will enable our own fishing grounds to recover.
SFFAII also pushes the promotion of ASEAN Tuna globally and branding it as a suitable and traceable-produced product. SFFAII supports the move to properly label the fishing industry and its allied industries’ products. However, it likewise urges that international certification be made affordable, yielding benefits not only to stakeholders, but also on marine ecosystems.
On Focused Partnership with National Government and Steadfast Observance and Compliance with Philippine Laws. For 20 years, SFFAII has hosted 20 Tuna Congresses. The Tuna Congress is now on its 21st year. The yearly Congress has become a venue for intense lobby efforts from among the active players and loyal stakeholders of the industry. The issues and concerns afflicting the industry are highlighted in the yearly Tuna Congress.
The yields of the past Tuna Congresses include the Formulation of a Policy governing Illegal, Unlawful, and Unregulated fishing practices; Finalization, Production, and Issuance of the Philippine Fishing Vessels Safety Rules and Regulations; 2018 National Tuna Management Plan which is aimed at establishing a sustainably-managed and equitably-allocated Tuna fisheries by 2026 and promoting responsible fishing practices and trade of Tuna products; Creation of National Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council that serves as an advisory/recommendatory body to the Department of Agriculture in policy formulation; Reconstitution of the National Tuna Industry Council; Approval of the Handline Fishing Law and the amendment of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the said law; among others.
On Implementation of the eCDTS. In 2017, a major milestone for the Tuna Industry unfolded when SFFAII partnered with USAID Oceans and Fisheries Partnership and BFAR to develop and implement the eCDTS. The system, when operational, will trace the movement of seafood from “bait to plate”, all the way through to export markets like US, EU, and neighbouring ASEAN markets. General Santos City has been chosen as the pilot city. Now on its final year, we will see how this system will actually impact the fishing industry.