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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
HONIARA – The proposed Bina Harbour processing plant in Malaita province, Solomon Islands will be a key economic pull factor that will drive other developments for the province, says the Minister for Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR), Nestor Giro.
Minister Giro made the assurance when the Malaita Provincial Government (MPG) and his Ministry signed a historical Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding the Bina Harbour project on Friday, 10 July 2020.
The MOU signing in the Malaita provincial capital, Auki was between Fisheries Minister Alfred Giro and Malaita Premier Daniel Suidani, paving the way for the next phase of the project.
At the signing ceremony, Minister Giro reiterated
that the Bina Harbour Cannery project is a priority for the Democratic
Coalition Government for Advancement (DCGA) under the leadership of Prime
Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
“The Democratic Coalition
Government for Advancement recognises the crucial role that Malaita Province
will have in terms of implementing the project for the province and Solomon
“This MOU is a joint partnership
thus the need for stakeholders to work together in order to achieve the
objective of the project, which is a second tuna processing plant at Bina, is
important,” Giro said.
The minister stressed that the MOU is the guide to the government’s roles in implementing this project. “Malaita will be the project host and this means that it will not be without challenges. This MOU is the basis for our partnership for us to work together to achieve results, to look at problem-solving ideas to the challenges and also to allocate resources to the project both from the national government and the provincial government,” the Fisheries Minister said.
He added that the indirect and direct benefits it will bring to their lives are manifold.
Malaita Premier, Daniel Suidani also spoke highly of the MOU, adding that it has paved a new approach in how the national and provincial governments collaborated in implementing the project.
“We believe that the new approach we are witnessing today sets the benchmark for the working together of the National Government ministries and the province,” Premier Suidani said on the day of signing.
Mr Suidani added that the Bina Harbour project is also a priority project for his Malaita Alliance for Rural Advancement (MARA) government, and that it fully supports the MOU that was signed.
“Malaita Provincial Government has the most to offer as a partner in leading the Bina tuna project. It is a marker of this coordination and will allow us to proceed side by side in cooperation,” the Premier remarked.
The Premier also urges the people of Malaita, in particular
Bina, for cooperation as the project is heading towards its full
The signing of the MOU was witnessed by officials from the Ministry of Fisheries, the Malaita Provincial Government Executive and representatives from the landowning group from Bina.
While the MOU signing signals progress in the Bina project, both governments are aware that there is much to be fulfilled.
“The huge increases in revenues, from our work in getting hard limits for the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS), and in restructuring the VDS and running it as a business, demonstrated that we can manage our resources more effectively,” Dr Aqorau said.
“I wanted to share this story because for a long time we were really played off by the foreign fishing operators. It was quite unfair how the distant-water fishing nations, for the better part of 30 years, did not pay us for the true value of our tuna.”
The PNA began operating from a small office in Majuro, Marshall Islands, in 2010. Dr Aqorau said that, at that time, the PNA states collected US$60 million in revenue from tuna fishing.
Because of the agreement, in 2019 the same states earned revenue of US$500 million.
It was an achievement “that donors, regional organisations and political leaders have been trying to do for years, but could not”, Dr Aqorau said.
“it is about how a group of countries, friends and colleagues – through their friendship, alliance, shared vision and desire to control their fisheries … – put their heads together and created the largest capitalised tuna fishery in the world.”
He was motivated by wanting “to ensure that our peoples – the young, the old and feeble, the people in the village – get a fair share of the returns from our tuna resources”.
Dr Aqorau charts the early discussions on the agreement, and the opposition, challenges and victories along the way.
Some arrangements had been more successful than others, he said, but from the beginning the countries saw that the conservation of tuna populations and economic gain went hand in hand.
“The story of the PNA has been a remarkable one, especially the success of the VDS and how its significant economic returns have made such a large impact on the development of Pacific communities,” Dr Aqorau said.
The eight states that are members of the PNA are Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
The campaign is being run by the Wallis and Futuna Fisheries Service.
Bruno Mugneret, from the Department of Fishing and Management of Marine Resources in Wallis, said the number of washed-up FADs had become a problem.
“In Wallis and Futuna, the problem appeared with great intensity in 2019, when the population saw the resurgence of these objects on beaches, on reefs, in the lagoon, and also in the open sea around the islands, causing many questions about the origin and the activities associated with this multiplication,” he said.
The Fisheries Service is collecting data from fishers and local populations. It will use a radio campaign to raise awareness in communities about their important role as “sentries” in locating washed up FADs.
The results of the research will be shared with coastal communities, so they can help develop ways of managing the FADs and protecting coastal environments.
“SPC conducted this study to estimate the impact that the massive use of FADs can have on the coastal areas of our region. The data available demonstrate a certain under-estimation of strandings,” Dr Escalle told Wallis and Futuna Fisheries Service people at the launch of the local campaign.
She said it was important that island nations and territories collect information on stranded FADs to contribute to existing databases that are used to assess grounding rates and the consequences of strandings on coastal ecosystems and local fisheries.
HONIARA – Despite the threat of COVID-19 to global tuna production, production chains in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean have continued to operate efficiently. Credit is due to the measures the industry has taken to keep up normal tuna production.
As the world continues to focus on the deadly coronavirus, fishers and others in the fishing industry are working around the clock to continue providing healthy and safe wild food like tuna to the global market.
A spokesperson for the Fong Chun Formosa (CFC) fisheries company in Taiwan, Ray Clarke, said COVID-19 had brought positives to the tuna industry in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). The industry had at this stage remained relatively stable, organised and efficient.
The WCPO tuna industry, and its associated supply chain, had so far proven to be relatively robust, and without sacrificing important sustainability and social transparency requirements, he said.
However, Sancho Kim, the Operation and Sales Manager at the Korea-based Silla fishing company, said that travel restrictions and the forced closure of most PNA ports had had an impact on tuna fishing in the region.
“I fully understand those measures are to ensure their safety and life. However, as fishermen, due to those measures, we are having many difficulties with transhipment, crew issues, supplying provisions, et cetera,” Mr Kim said.
The CEO of Silla, Tuna Lee, said that canned tuna was one of the best emergency foods to have because tuna was wild-caught, healthy food and also kept for a long time when canned.
“I think not only fishermen, but also all stakeholders such as canneries, brand owners, can sellers, PNA, FFA, and RFMOs should do their best to supply healthy and safe food to all peoples continuously,” said Mr Lee.
All eyes on canned tuna
“People started to put their eyes on canned tuna products, as it has longer validity to keep and consume, as well as being rich in nutrition at a comparatively cheaper price than other food categories,” Mr Lee said.
“Taste will last for a while for canned tuna, and it will help to promote tuna consumption overall on a long-term basisfor Silla.”
The CEO of the Frabelle fishing corporation in the Philippines, Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jnr, said demand for retail packs of canned tuna would increase, but demand for catering packs would drop.
“One positive thing is that our industry will continue despite COVID-19, as people have to eat and canned tuna is one of the healthiest foods for people that is shelf-steady. It can be kept for many years, unlike other foods in other industries that are forced to shut down at this time,” Mr Laurel said.
Thai Union’s General Manager, Narin Niruttinanon, said there had been a marginal increase in global demand for canned tuna.
“All the increase has been in retail or supermarkets, while food-service and restaurant orders have largely been delayed or cancelled,” Mr Niruttinanon said.
“The experience from the previous disasters would suggest that people largely bought canned food to give themselves a sense of security. How quickly they actually consume those cans is an entirely different question.
“Although COVID-19 may continue for months to come, as long as the global logistics systems are still functioning quite normally – and this is surely a top priority of all governments – I still cannot imagine a serious food shortage that will force people to only eat food from emergency stock.
“On the other hand, once the world comes out of this COVID-19 episode, I am concerned about a serious drop in demand for canned tuna in retail and supermarkets. But, hopefully, the food-service and restaurant markets may come back to add some cushioning for the industry,” Mr Niruttinanon said.
Mr Niruttinanon said the company had implemented health assessment and hygiene practices for its 40,000 Thai workers to maintain operations as close to normal as possible. It has also donated product worth 1 million Thai baht to Bangkok communities that had been affected by COVID-19.
Ray Clarke of the FCF fisheries company in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, said they had seen considerably increased demand for their canned tuna products as consumers stocked up to sit through periods of social distancing.
“The demand for canned tuna is especially strong at the moment. Fresh-fish operations were initially hurt considerably, and we have had to take actions to ensure the health and safety of all of our crew, officers, employees and staff,” Mr Clarke said.
Fishing companies monitor the situation closely
He said FCF was closely monitoring the situation – a challenge, as monitoring involved several countries.
“For instance, here in Kaohsiung, things have been relatively safe, thanks to early action by the government of Taiwan, which took actions including requiring masks in public, and initiating COVID-19 testing. So here we seem to have controlled, to the degree possible, the spread of the virus.
“We are closely monitoring the health and safety of our vessels, captains and crew, as well as the health and safety of processing-facility workers, especially in places like Wewak, Papua New Guinea. We are making sure that all of the captains and crew either stay on the COVID-19-free vessels – at their concurrence – or we ensure they return to their home countries in a manner that reduces any exposure to the virus,” Mr Clarke said.
“We are working with our customers to ensure all their needs and concerns are addressed. At this point, other than in a few minor instances, I believe we have been successful in this regard.”
Mr Clarke said he had come to appreciate much more any face-to-face interactions he has had with people since the outbreak of COVID-19.
“Chiefly, the outbreak has emphasised the importance of interpersonal interaction. Although video conferences, telephone calls and emails provide useful communication platforms, it remains important to interact safely with colleagues, staff and customers.
“I have come to value those human-to-human interactions even more.”
Local management means operations kept at near-normal
At Noro in Solomon Islands, operations at the SolTuna cannery are normal, despite the scaling down of workers. Even though it is partly owned by the United States-based Trimarine, most managers are locals, unlike the management of some other tuna companies in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.
The cannery is supplied solely by the National Fisheries Development purse-seine fleet; and in the absence of the expatriate workers, the operations at the cannery are normal.
Joe Hamby, a board member of SolTuna Fishing Company, said they had learnt a lot from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Because SolTuna’s management and staff are almost all Solomon Islanders, we can continue to operate during periods when expatriates have had to evacuate back to their home countries,” Mr Hamby said. “By contrast, despite COVID-19, SolTuna has continued to safely produce badly needed food for both the domestic and export markets.”
HONIARA – In an effort to step up monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) efforts to improve the management of its tuna fisheries, Solomon Islands will soon be the first state in the region to introduce a digital catch documentation and traceability scheme for the Noro port.
Following a workshop held in March in Munda, Western Province, plans are in place to have Noro port, which will be known as an e-port, conduct a pilot of the scheme.
The port of Noro is the only one in the region with all three types of fleets: purse seine, pole-and-line, and longline. It exports regionally and internationally, shipping whole fish, loins, canned fish, and sashimi-grade tuna.
The workshop involved representatives from the Ministry of Fisheries, customs, health, ICT services, the Forum Fisheries Agency, Soltuna Fishing Company, and National Fisheries Development (NFD).
Noro project will have “regional ramifications”
Local fisheries expert, the founding director of Pacific Catalyst, and the CEO of iTuna Intel, Dr Transform Aqorau, was instrumental in the establishment of the new scheme, which is currently in its infant stage.
“The project will have regional ramifications, as there have been a lot of discussions of a regional catch and traceability system,” Dr Aqorau said.
“The Noro e-port will be able to test the integration of electronic tools available into a pilot in a port-based context, as the starting point for a catch documentation scheme. The Noro e-port will see the digital integration of all port monitoring, compliance and surveillance related activities.
“The data to be integrated will include the requirements of the WCPFC port state measures, unloading data, factory weigh-in, and processed volumes leaving Noro. The system will mass balance inputs and outputs, and will use tablet-based apps,” said Dr Aqorau.
He said markets require transparency along the value chain, not simply assurances about the legality of the catch.
“Soltuna already has a world-class traceability scheme. Industry is leading the way. This is a partnership between the government and industry,” he added.
Pilot project will test integration of electronic tools
The pilot project will be used to test the integration of current electronic tools into port activities, as the starting point for an electronic catch documentation scheme (CDS) that should provide a substantial benefit to the region.
“The recent development of a regional blockchain-based traceability tool that could provide assurances, beyond the regulatory scope from harvest to export, offers a unique opportunity to be integrated in the development, and hence “extend” the range of the assurances provided all the way to the final consumer,” Dr Aqorau said.
Edward Honiwala, the Director of Fisheries for the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, said the scheme was part of the Solomon Islands Government’s effort to improve compliance.
“The linkage of information and data from the fishing vessels to the market is vitally important for the government. The complete information is important for the government, through the Ministry of Fisheries, to make decisions,” Mr Honiwala said.
He said that tuna was a product in high demand globally, and the local tuna industry had to work in the international arena with both marketing and trade. There were many challenges to face, especially in compliance and monitoring. That made improvements in Solomon Islands’ MCS important.
“This e-port project will be part of our MCS tools. We have a growing tuna industry in Solomon Islands; we have Noro, the tuna hub of Solomon Islands. The Bina Harbour project is also coming up, which the government named as its priority project. With those developments in the tuna sector … we must prepare as well,” he said.
Dr Aqorau said the next step was to scope and develop the project. There was still a long way to go, including identifying a developer, but the excitement of the stakeholders and their sense of ownership of the project were encouraging.
He hoped the e-port project would put Solomon Islands at the cutting edge of digitally integrated CDS.
“This will truly put us at the forefront of port state management and enforcement that integrates blockchain technology and other innovative apps, making us a leading tuna innovator,” Dr Aqorau said.
HONIARA, 17 April 2020 – Solomon Islands is facing an economic crisis: with the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic, the prognosis for the near to medium term is not looking good, says iTuna Intel CEO and founding director of Pacific Catalyst, Dr Transform Aqorau.
“The only revenue going to be coming into the Treasury is through the sale of fishing vessel days (VDS) to foreign fishing vessels and a little from existing logging operations. The latter are at levels that are much lower than 2019 but the forecast is not really bright,” Dr Aqorau said.
“With regards to tuna revenues, we have to keep our fingers crossed that this natural phenomenon, which has seen tuna concentrated in our waters as a result of the shift of the warm pool, will remain in Solomon Islands over the next few years.”
In normal years, the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, of which Solomon Islands is a part, generates about $25 billion in revenue from tuna a year.
Tuna is the second largest revenue earner for Solomon Islands, behind the depleting logging industry. The tuna industry’s contribution to the Solomon Islands Government revenue on average is $260 million, of which 90% comes from fishing licences, the Central Bank of Solomon Islands (CBSI) has reported.
Dr Aqorau is a Solomon Islands fisheries law expert, and a former boss of the Parties to Nauru Agreement (PNA). He said that Italy and China, which were the two biggest importers of Solomon Islands tuna, had to date been the countries worst affected by the coronavirus.
“This will no doubt have a percolating effect on our major exports and, ultimately, revenue,” he said.
“No economy can survive without new money coming in, whether it is the form of donor aid or revenues from exports, as this will eventually impact on its ability to pay for import.”
CBSI reports on Covid-19 threats to local economy
The CBSI reported in March that the coronavirus would likely have a negative impact on the Solomon Islands economy. The spread of the pandemic and the considerable disruption it would cause would be exacerbated by the increasingly intertwined trade and investment relationships between China and its neighbours in the Asia–Pacific region.
The report stated that “being a small, open economy, the Solomon Islands will likely be adversely affected through the trade channel and thereafter the economy, and even fiscal operations”.
The report said: “The downward movement in the global economy, as well ensuing public health measures and business closures, could see a significant decline in real GDP of between minus 3% to minus 5% in 2020. The current information at hand indicates that the economy is moving into a recession starting in the second quarter of 2020.”
The impact of COVID-19 was expected to affect almost all sectors of the Solomon Islands economy. Supply chains had been affected, with travel limits and disruptions to business activity.
Trimarine’s Soltuna scales down operation
More workers from the fisheries sector are being laid off as the pandemic’s grip on the Solomon Islands economy tightens. Soltuna, which employs over 1,000 workers, is one company that is scaling down.
Speaking in Parliament last Tuesday during a motion to extend the state of public emergency to four months, Minister for Finance and Treasury Harry Kuma said fisheries exports to Italy in particular had indicated a declining trend from the end of the first quarter of 2020 .
He added that prices were likely to fall by 5%.
“This will severely affect the operation of Soltuna and the employment of mainly women and girls in the Noro Cannery,” the minister stated.
On a similar note, Trimarine’s spokesperson, Joe Hamby, specified that Soltuna production depended firstly on the supply of tuna from its sibling company, National Fisheries Developments (NFD).
“As you can imagine, fishing is directly impacted by the weather. Cyclone Harold has severely interrupted NFD’s fishing operations. Soltuna cannot operate without a steady supply of good quality tuna from NFD,” Mr Hamby said.
He went on to say that Trimarine had learned a lot from the COVID-19 pandemic. This was because Soltuna’s management and staff were almost all Solomon Islanders, and Soltuna could continue to operate during periods when expatriates had to evacuate back to their home countries.
For example, only one of the six tuna processing plants in Papua New Guinea was operating at the moment. The others had closed because they don’t have enough local management and technical expertise. Expatriates with those skills had gone home, Mr Hamby added.
“By contrast, despite COVID-19, Soltuna has continued to safely produce badly needed food for both the domestic and export markets.”
Dr Aqorau had projected that demand for canned tuna products would increase, including in China, where demand for fresh fish was declining as a result of the pandemic.
“It will be an evolution in China, but the tuna industry will be in for some very exciting times in the future,” Dr Aqorau said.
Transhipment problems threaten the global tuna supply chain
Frabelle Fishing Company in the Philippines is another company that is affected by COVID-19, as most ports in the Pacific are closed to transhipment.
The company’s CEO, Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jnr, said Solomon Islands was a major resource for tuna in the Western Pacific, as well as a major transhipment point. He said any restriction imposed by the government on fishing and fish transfers would surely affect the flow of goods to the markets.
“If we are operating unhampered, we are actually not losing so much, but if we go into port and we are made to wait for 14 days’ quarantine, we will be losing about US$10,000 per day in our operations cost while at port, plus the island nations will lose 12 of those 14 days in terms of vessel fishing days that fishermen are supposed to pay PNA,” he said.
“So, for every port call with quarantine, each boat loses about US$120,000, and the island nations will also lose about US$130,000 per day per vessel at port under quarantine.
“These are rough figures, but realistic,” Mr Laurel said.
He added that if Frabelle was not allowed to tranship in other ports, the company would have to run to ports that would allow them under certain conditions. But this would entail burning more fuel and losing more fishing days for both the fisherman and the island nations.
Inability to replace crew
Marko Kamber, of Caroline Fisheries Corporation, has also stated that another major issue that island-based operators faced was the inability to replace crew because of the travel bans in place.
“Also many island ports do not allow disembarkation of crews to fly home,” he said.
Korea-based company Silla is also facing hiccups with their operations, with difficulties due to restrictions imposed by island countries despite a 100% fleet operation, says Operation & Sales Manager Sancho Kim.
Mr Kim said their operation was affected by the 14-day quarantine rule and some countries were closing their ports, both air and sea, to block COVID-19 transmission.
“It is obvious any one of those measures are affecting our operation negatively, causing delays in finding available ports to call for transhipment and maintenance operation,” Mr Kim said.
Honiara port in Solomon Islands is one of the main ports for tuna purse seiners’ transhipments. Solomon Islands’ exclusive economic zone has been a good fishing ground for tuna purse seiners this year, so far, leading vessels to call more frequently to Honiara for transhipment.
“It surely helped to improve the local economy to bring more economic activities into Honiara and also increase government revenue. However, Solomon Islands is also implementing a 14 days quarantine policy, which is forcing vessels to turn around to find other ports available to call.”