WCPO bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks remain healthy

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Republished from FFA Trade and Industry Newsvolume 13, issue 4, July–August 2020

WCPFC’s 16th Scientific Committee (SC16) was held virtually from 12–19 August 2020. During this meeting new WCPO bigeye and yellowfin stock assessments were presented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), indicating that both stocks remain healthy.

The previous full stock assessment for bigeye was conducted in 2017. It indicated a positive change in WCPO bigeye stock status to ‘healthy’ from ‘overfished’, with overfishing occurring. For the 2020 assessment, median values of relative recent spawning biomass (2015–2018) and fishing morality (2014–2017) indicate that the bigeye stock remains not overfished (with 100% probability) and likely continues to not be experiencing overfishing (with 87.5% probability).

However, levels of bigeye fishing mortality and depletion differ among the nine regions used in SPC’s stock-assessment models, with higher impacts in the four tropical regions, particularly on juvenile bigeye. Hence, overall bigeye stock status is buffered by lower catches in the temperate regions.

Similarly, the 2020 stock assessment indicates that the WCPO yellowfin stock is not overfished, nor subject to overfishing (both with 100% probability). Like bigeye, yellowfin exploitation is higher in tropical regions where fishing effort is concentrated by the equatorial purse-seine fishery and ‘other’ fisheries (e.g. pole-and-line and handline vessels operating in Indonesia); there is low yellowfin exploitation in temperate regions.

Hence, for both bigeye and yellowfin, SC16 recommended that WCPFC17 continue to consider management measures that reduce fishing mortality from fisheries that take juveniles (i.e. purse-seine fishery) to increase bigeye and yellowfin fishery yields and reduce any further impacts on spawning biomass in the tropical regions.

SC16 also recommended that a precautionary approach be maintained, with bigeye and yellowfin fishing mortality kept at a level that maintains spawning biomass at 2012–2015 levels until the Commission can agree on appropriate target reference points (i.e. the optimal level of spawning biomass or fishing mortality that ensures long-term sustainability of the stock).

The WCPO continues to be the only ocean where stocks of the four key tuna species – skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye and albacore – are deemed to be in a healthy state.

2020 tuna research at sea conducted, but cut back to follow COVID-19 rules

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Two important tuna research trips have gone ahead in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) this year, although the research programs and the routes had to be curtailed dramatically.

Both programs, which are run by the Pacific Community (SPC), were cut back to comply with regional practices put in place to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

For the Pacific Tuna Tagging Programme, scientists continued routine tagging of tuna and tested new sampling methods that will help scientists analyse the structure and behaviour of tuna populations. 

The research was conducted in the high seas and the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Kiribati groups of Line Islands and Phoenix Islands. 

This year’s cruise was originally to have focused on understanding more about the habit of tuna to gather around drifting fish-aggregating devices (FADs). It was to have been conducted in waters around Tuvalu, which have one of the highest densities of drifting FADs in the WCPO.

Three men on deck of research vessel Gutsy Lady 4 being prepared at Kewalo Basin, Honolulu, for the tuna tagging cruise in the central Pacific. Photo SPC.
Research vessel Gutsy Lady 4 being prepared at Kewalo Basin, Honolulu, for the tuna tagging cruise in the central Pacific. Photo: SPC.

SPC research scientists Bruno Leroy and Valérie Allain reported on this year’s tuna tagging cruise in issue 162 of SPC’s Fisheries Newsletter.

The tagging cruise left from Honolulu, Hawaii, in mid-August, and returned to the same port in early October, staying clear of any other ports. Mr Leroy and Dr Allain said that protocols to protect Pacific Islands people from COVID-19 meant that, before the research vessels could depart, the crew and scientists had to stay isolated for 14 days and return negative test results to the disease.

Mr Leroy said that, since the Pacific Tuna Tagging Programme began in 2006, about 455,000 tuna had been tagged. If SPC tagging campaigns carried out since the end of the 1970s were included, the number was more than 800,000. On the 2019 cruise, researchers tagged nearly 17,000 tuna.

Second study to develop better ways to sample small marine animals 

Bruno Leroy and Valérie Allain also reported on a second SPC research cruise, which was also curtailed to comply with COVID-19 rules. 

The SPC’s scientific team conducted a four-day trial to develop a new sampling method to collect micronekton from the surface of the ocean to a depth of 600 m. (Micronekton are marine animals such as fish, crustaceans, jellies and squids that measure 2–20 cm in length. They are the main source of food for seabirds, tuna and marine mammals.)

As the research vessel Alis is based in New Caledonia, the trial was conducted inside the country’s EEZ.

The original cruise planned for this year in the waters of New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and Federated States of Micronesia has been postponed until 2021. It is part of a long-term program to study the ecosystem of the open oceans in the Western and Central Pacific. 

Crew on the research vessel Alis haul in a net full of micronekton during the 2020 research cruise in New Caledonian waters. Photo: Valérie Allain, SPC.
Crew on the research vessel Alis haul in a net full of micronekton during the 2020 research cruise in New Caledonian waters. Photo: Valérie Allain, SPC.

FFA fisheries ministers progress observer and crew safety and longline fisheries development

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Republished from FFA Trade and Industry News, volume 13, issue 4, July–August 2020

The seventeenth annual Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Committee Ministers Meeting (FFC Min17) was held on 6–7 August 2020. In light of COVID-19 travel restrictions, this meeting was held virtually, with representatives participating from seventeen Pacific Island countries and territories. 

During this meeting, key activities and achievements of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) during 2019–2020 were highlighted including: implementation of the FFA Strategic Plan 2020–2025; addressing the impacts of climate change on tuna fisheries; progressing the Regional Longline Strategy action plan; FFA members’ achievements within the WCPFC; work to address observer safety and crew welfare; and work to further enhance the contribution of fisheries to Pacific Island economies, including in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Given considerably better fishery performance and higher economic rents generated from the Western and Central Pacific purse seine fishery compared to the longline fishery, Ministers welcomed FFA’s development of an action plan for implementation of the Regional Longline Strategy and identified this as a key priority.

This strategy aims to progress a zone-based management approach within WCPFC, with catch and/or effort limits established within FFA members’ EEZs, as well as binding limits set on the high seas. Ministers also welcomed the adoption of the Regional Longline Electronic Monitoring Policy, particularly in light of the suspension of human observers on vessels due to COVID-19 related health risks and travel restrictions, as a means of improving transparency of longline fishing operations. 

Ministers called for a strengthening of measures in the WCPFC relating to observer safety, including further investigation into regional options for ensuring observers are fully insured and that their families are supported in the event of tragedy at sea. Currently, observer safety issues are addressed at WCPFC through the Conservation and Management Measure for the Protection of WCPFC Regional Observer Program Observers (CMM 2017-03), but this CMM does not address insurance or observer family support. 

 On crew safety, Ministers called for full implementation of the harmonized minimum terms and conditions on human rights and labour conditions for crew adopted at FFCMIN16 in 2019. These legally binding MTCs came into effect on 1 January 2020 for all foreign and domestic vessels operating in FFA members’ waters. The Government of New Zealand will support a comprehensive multi-year project aimed at improving labour conditions at sea in the Pacific region. 

The suspension of onboard observers and port inspection activities as a result of COVID-19 has increased the risk of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activity in the Pacific region. Ministers highlighted the need to rely on other important monitoring, control and surveillance tools available during this time including aerial surveillance, vessel monitoring systems, as well as vessel of interest information and the regional surveillance picture, managed by FFA’s Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre.  Regarding climate change, Ministers stressed that fisheries issues should be firmly placed onto the wider climate change agenda, including through the Pacific’s engagement in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and that Pacific regional organisations need to collaborate more closely on climate change-related needs of the region

Purse-seine chopper pilot absconds with helicopter

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A Spanish contract pilot who flew a fish-spotting helicopter for a Taiwan-flagged purse seiner is now facing criminal charges in the Marshall Islands. Pictured is one of the Win Far tuna fleet purse seiners with a helicopter on the bow. Photo: Karen Earnshaw.

Republished from FFA Trade and Industry News, volume 13, issue 4, July–August 2020

In late June 2020, a helicopter pilot working onboard the Taiwanese purse seiner Win Far 626 that was fishing in the Kiribati EEZ absconded with his helicopter and flew northward, landing on Nallu Island, Mili Atoll, in the Marshall Islands, after what was said to have been a two-and-a-half-hour flight. Mili is about 112 km south of the capital, Majuro, and roughly the same distance from the EEZ boundary with Kiribati. 

According to an affidavit filed by the Marshall Islands’ Director of Immigration, “The pilot took off without permission and unannounced from the vessel.” The pilot, 39 year-old Brazilian and Spanish dual citizen Jose Eduardo Marinho Goncalves, later told authorities that he was tired of eating fish and rice almost every day and missed his family after a long period at sea and wanted to return home.

After being advised by Mili officials of the helicopter’s landing, the Marshall Islands Government dispatched its patrol boat, Lomor, and several government officials to Mili where Goncalves was arrested and brought to Majuro. He was charged with entry at an unofficial port of entry, entry without a valid visa, and failure to surrender any document.

The illegal entry offenses were particularly concerning to Marshall Islands officials, since the country has been in a border lockdown since late March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has banned all entry of people into the country and so far, has not recorded any COVID-19 cases.  

Upon arrival in Majuro, Goncalves was handed over to the Department of Health, was tested for COVID-19 and immediately went into quarantine at a facility that has been set up by the Department of Health during the pandemic. The Lomor crew and others onboard were also tested, with all tests including that of Goncalves returned as negative.  After completion of quarantine the pilot had his first appearance in front of the Marshall Islands High Court and was released on his own recognizance. Goncalves was represented by the Chief Public Defender who entered into negotiations with the Marshall Islands’ Attorney General prior to a plea hearing on 24 July.

At the hearing, the resident of Madrid, Spain apologized for his illegal entry and expressed his appreciation for the treatment he received while in the Marshall Islands. Also present at the hearing was Spain’s Honorary Consul in the Marshall Islands, Deborah Kramer. As part of a plea bargain between the Chief Public Defender and the Attorney General, Goncalves pleaded guilty to entry at an unofficial port of entry, which is a misdemeanor. The other two charges, entry without a visa and failure to surrender any document, were dismissed by the Attorney General. Chief Justice Carl Ingram gave the pilot a suspended sentence and said that if the court has not revoked probation and imposed a jail sentence at the end of six months, he would vacate the conviction from Goncalves’ record.

In what was a happy ending for Goncalves, he departed Majuro on 24 July on the United Airlines special monthly repatriation flight that had been recently introduced for outgoing passengers only. It is not known if either the company that owns the Win Far 626 or the owner of the helicopter, Guam-based Hansen Helicopters, are planning any further legal action against the pilot.  What is known is that at the end of July the helicopter was still stuck on Mili. Hansen, which also has a base in Majuro where they service helicopters used by the purse seine fleet in the Western Pacific, asked Goncalves to assist in retrieving the helicopter by flying it from Mili to Majuro before his departure, but he declined to do so. Whilst there are no indications in this particular case of human rights or labour abuse, this demonstrates the highly challenging nature of life at sea on distant water fishing vessels, even for those in higher-level positions.

China’s distant-water fleet continues to expand, gather critical attention in its wake

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Around 260 Chinese fishing fleets were recently detected in the seas surrounding the Galápagos islands off the coast of Ecuador. The vast armarda of fishing vessels in the biodiverse Pacific islands has raised alarm bells over the fishing practices that conservationists say could severely damage the region’s protected marine ecosystem. Photo: www.greenqueen.com.hk

Republished from FFA Trade and Industry News, volume 13, issue 4, July–August 2020

China’s distant-water fishing fleet is in the headlines once again. In a story hitting the international media, a flotilla of an estimated 243 China-flagged tuna longliners, squid boats, supply vessels and reefer carriers was fishing on the border of the Galápagos Islands EEZ in the eastern tropical Pacific.

The environmental concern is sharpened in these waters because the Galápagos marine reserve has a concentration of shark species, including endangered whale sharks and hammerheads. Further, the Ecuadorian navy claimed that 149 of these boats had turned off their vessel monitoring systems. 

China’s ambassador to Ecuador responded to queries raised by Ecuadorian authorities that “except for some delays or temporary loss of satellite signal, all Chinese ships keep operating and using monitoring systems normally,” adding that “China is a major fishing nation … and it is also a responsible fishing nation.” The spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs subsequently announced that China would ban fishing near the Galápagos from September to November.

While the Galápagos incident garnered most attention, China’s fisheries expansion is touching all oceans, and most fisheries and markets. In Nigeria, Chinese investment of between US$1.5 billion and $2.5 billion is being poured into the creating of the Andoni Fishing Port and Processing Zone. The complex is anticipated to use Nigeria’s influence with other countries in West Africa in to create a regional hub for the landing and processing of a wide range of species including mackerel, herring, tuna, and crustaceans. Critics argue that fisheries in West Africa are already at capacity.

In Europe, Shanghai Kaichuang Marine International has announced a US$36 million investment in a new tuna processing plant in Spain under its Albo subsidiary. Shanghai Kaichuang Marine International is currently an enormous commercial presence in China’s seafood markets, especially for mackerel, tuna, fish fillets and krill, but only has a very small export presence and is looking to expand internationally. In the Pacific, China is building ever stronger ties with the Solomon Islands since ‘the switch’ in diplomatic relations from Taiwan, including proposed tuna industry investments.

More broadly, and perhaps driving these dynamics, is that China’s distant water fishing fleet is between five to eight times larger than previous estimates. Recent research by the UK’s Overseas Development Institute identified 16,900 vessels, 90% of which are flagged by China. The study uses unique fishing vessel identifiers compiled in the Krakken database, which is reportedly the world’s largest database on fishing vessels.

The seemingly relentless expansion of China’s marine fishing industry continues to give competitors the jitters. Spain’s main tuna industry association – Organization of Associated Producers of Large Freezer Tuna Vessels (OPAGAC) – is arguing that crew conditions on Chinese fishing fleets is not only morally wrong, but gives their product an unfair competitive advantage as safety and working conditions are far laxer than those for EU boat owners.

NFD supports FFA gender equality campaign for fisheries

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

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

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

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

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

NFD promoting gender equality at work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FFA’s gender equality policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The future of the gender initiative

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

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

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

PNG fishing association wins MSC certification

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The Papua New Guinea Fishing Industry Association won Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in May.

The association covers 32 purse-seine vessels flagged to PNG and another 32 flagged to the Philippines that are based in PNG. The tuna must be processed in one of six PNG-based facilities, all of which are members of the association.

The May and June 2020 issue of Trade and Industry News said it was seventh purse-seine certification given in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO), and the first covering the use of drifting fish-aggregating devices (FADs). 

As part of becoming certified, the association must meet 10 conditions. Seven relate to lessening environmental impact, including on whales and dolphins, and interactions between whales and sharks. Three relate to how the fisheries are managed. 

Trade and Industry News, which is published by the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), said that certified organisations had to adopt harvest strategies to limit fishing to sustainable numbers. However, these were still being developed in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. 

Marine Stewardship Council logo of certification
MSC certification logo

Certification may help sell local tuna in the US

MSC-certified tuna might give the PNG association an advantage in the US market. Trade and Industry News reported that the US retailer Walmart was moving towards using only certified tuna in its brand Great Value. The brand Bumble Bee was doing the same.

The newsletter also discussed new tariffs on fish products being introduced by the United Kingdom now that it has left the European Union. Even though tariffs for canned tuna and tuna loins would drop from 24% to 20%, the price of Pacific Islands tuna means it should remain competitive.

Tuna observers likely to stay off boats as concern for health continues

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By Taobo Amon Tebikau (Radio Kiribati News)

To protect people’s health, Kiribati and other Pacific countries are likely to extend the current strict rule that suspends all purse-seine fishing boats carry an independent observer.

Observers are important for conservation of tuna but with the COVID-19 pandemic still growing world-wide, travel to and from the boats poses risks to countries like Kiribati that have not had a COVID-19 infection.

In March, Kiribati and other members of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement decided to suspend the requirement that tuna boats carry observers.

That suspension is due to expire on July 31.

But PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru told reporters this week, it is likely the suspension will be extended for three months.

“We had to make sure that our islands are safe and that they still have the operations going on because once the operations are going on, that’s our means of earning money,” he says.

Before the extension can be approved, countries that are members of the PNA must talk to the other major Pacific fisheries agency — the FFA.

“We’ll have to work together with FFA and have a common stance on who’s for the extension,” Kumoru said.

Despite the change to the rules about observers, 30 per cent of purse-seine boats still have observers on board, Mr Kumoru said.

Some chose to stay on board and some countries, like Papua New Guinea, have not suspended are still allowing movement of observers, despite closed borders.

Mr Kumoru said Pacific countries are still monitoring tuna boats through the Vessel Monitoring System or VMS andcan see patterns they make so they know if they are making a set that is against the rules.

Note: this news story was produced as part of the Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting (FEMM) journalists’ workshop in July 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fisheries one of four sectors that hold up the economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fish vendors in Honiara struggle as sales fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russell fishing communities solidify management set-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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