A fresh vision to take Solomons tuna fishery into a bright future

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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.

Dr Transform Aqorau on deck of a purse-seine fishing vessel. Photo: Giff Johnson.
Dr Transform Aqorau on board the purse-seine fishing vessel Lojet during a two-week voyage. Photo: Giff Johnson.

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.” 

Women under awnings with tables laid with fresh tuna for sale at market
Women sell tuna at the Honiara Central Market

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.

Reviews should build on the framework of the Fisheries Management Act 2015, which needed amending, the draft Solomon Islands Tuna Management and Development Plan 2020–2025, and Solomon Islands National Ocean Policy. They should be utilised to reshape fisheries to help the country, including business, adapt to climate change.

Solomons as a hub of innovation

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.

In foreground man sliding a frozen tun along a chute, with other men behind him and fishing vessel in background
Workers offload tuna catches from the longline fishing vessel


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. 

On World Tuna Day, the Pacific states focus on flourishing

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HONIARA – The small island developing states (SIDS) of the Pacific celebrated this year’s World Tuna Day on 2 May with a virtual dialogue with a serious purpose.

The discussion involved the United Nations’ Group of Friends of the Oceans. The group is made up of countries that help to accelerate the full implementation of the United Nations Development Program’s sustainable development goal 14, which focuses on life below water.

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. 

They are working around the clock to ensure that the harvesting of tuna is kept at levels that allow the fish to maintain healthy populations. So far, the WCPO has managed to keep tuna numbers at sustainable levels. But this is becoming more difficult. They face the pressures of increasing demand and uncertainty over the availability of tuna as the ocean environments change.

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. 

Tuna lying on a plastic tarp. Photo Ronald Toito'ona.
Tuna offloaded from fishing vessels during transhipment at the port of Honiara. Photo: Ronald Toito’ona

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.

Head and upper body photo to Dr Satyendra PrasadFiji’s permanent representative to the UN. Photo: FBC TV.
Dr Satyendra Prasad, Fiji’s permanent representative to the UN. Photo: FBC TV.

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.” 

Dr Aqorau said that climate change and the illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing of tuna in the region were a growing concern that Pacific governments needed to be fighting in the international arena.

Head and shoulders portrait of Dr Transform Aqorau. Photo Pacific Catalyst.
Dr Transform Aqorau, who spoke by video link from Honiara. Photo: Pacific Catalyst.

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.

Smiling man wearing bandana on head and large plastic apron holds whole bagged tuna on wharf. Fishing boat in background.
Offloading tuna at the Mua-i-walu wharf in Fiji … SIDS want to maintain populations of tuna in their waters to ensure a continued flow of revenue and economic opportunities

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.”


Give a thought for the workers who put tuna on your plate

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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.

Man in clothing to protect him from icy environment in ship's hold with part of a tuna. Photo Francisco Blaha
Because of the restricted space on a fishing vessel, most of the work of handling tuna is hard manual labour. This crew member is working in the freezer of a longliner, where the temperature may be as low as –35°C. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

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. 

Until recently, fisheries authorities of coastal state and port states had very limited scope on what they could do when labour rights where abused, since they were considered labour issues and not fisheries offences. But in momentous move, FFA’s member states ruled that vessels allowed to fish in their waters must comply with labour standards as part of the regionally harmonised minimum terms and conditions (MTCs) for access by fishing vessels. The labour component of the MTCs are based on the International Labour Organisation’s standard C188, Working in Fishing Convention.

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.

Four men on a tuna fishing vessel maintaining equipment. Photo Francisco Blaha.
While the fishing vessel is looking for the next catch of tuna, crew members attend to maintenance tasks. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

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.

Three fishers stand among hundreds of tuna in a ship's hold. Photo Francisco Blaha.
Crew members of a purse-seiner will unload or tranship a tuna catch that weighs anything from 700 tons to 1,700 tons. Photo: Francisco Blaha.