Report indicates Pacific tuna fisheries weathering COVID-19 well

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By Bernadette Carreon 

The fishing effort in the tuna-rich waters of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) does not appear to have been significantly impeded by the COVID-19 crisis, according to a report prepared by Brisbane, Australia-based resources consultancy MRAG Asia Pacific.

The report, which was completed in April, stated that travel restrictions as a result of the pandemic “has not resulted in a widespread decline in fishing effort”.

The 32-page report looked into the changes in fishery and market dynamics of the PNA member states — including Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands Tuvalu, and Tokelau — in the period of January to April 2020, as the pandemic took hold.

The report said that the information was drawn from PNA Fisheries Information Management System (FIMS), which focuses on the purse-seine fleet, and interviews with industry participants throughout the supply chain.

The FIMS data showed purse-seine fishing effort declined slightly in February 2020, compared to the period spanning November 2019 to January 2020, but has since recovered in March and April.

“Indications are that total effort (in exclusive economic zones plus territorial seas plus archipelagic waters) increased at a faster rate than effort solely in EEZs,” the report found. 

“Preliminary data on levels of effort and the intensity of fishing effort (measured as the number of fishing days recorded per calendar day) in April 2020 are the highest in the 2019–20 period.”

It said, based on the data, fishing effort in March 2020, when port closures and quarantine restrictions were put in place, “was roughly similar to equivalent periods in March 2018 and 2019”. It also noted that overall fishing intensity in March 2020 was around 6.5% higher than the average for March 2018 and March 2019.

While fishing intensity is up, and the geographic location of fishing has changed, and the report found catch rates for January to April 2020 were 30% lower than in the same period in 2019. The report suggested a causal link between the lower catches and increase in fishing intensity — presumably a result of vessels taking longer to fill up in the low-catch conditions.

Fishing intensity increased in the EEZs of Federated States of Micronesia, Tuvalu, and Kiribati by 68%, 68%, and 12% respectively; with intensity lower in the high seas (14%), Tokelau, and also marginally in PNG.

“There is limited evidence from the data to indicate any of the variations are COVID related to date,” the report noted. 

A steady decline in catch rates was seen at the end of 2019.

On 14 July, PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru said fishing efforts have not slowed down despite COVID-19.

“Business hasn’t slowed down, uptake of days is still OK,” he said. 

“Boats are still taking up the same number of days and even before COVID-19. So nothing has really affected us. Except some boats have stopped going into their ports, but those boats have shifted to other ports like Marshall Islands, to PNG, to FSM. So you see a lot less boats are going into Kiribati [and] those boats are now going into the Marshall Islands or going into FSM. So, in a way, COVID-19 hasn’t really impacted our operations or the PNA fisheries.”

Mr Kumoru added that PNA needs to keep its operation going, but is prioritising the safety of its observers as well.

Although COVID-19 has not gravely affected the purse-seine catch, challenges are looming as a result of market uncertainty associated with the pandemic. The MRAG report noted that with restaurants in Asia and North America having periods of shutdown, or seeing dramatically reduced clientele, demand for sashimi tuna—– which is generally caught by the longline fleet — has dropped sharply. 

And the report said the continued port closures and travel restrictions could eventually affect fishing efforts in the PNA, and also result in lower demand for fishing days under the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS).

The VDS is the foundation of the PNA’s economic revenues, bringing in about US$500 million (€438 million) annually to the PNA member states.

“It seems likely that, collectively, the impacts of these logistical issues, if prolonged, will have an impact on fishing effort (although at this stage it’s not clear how much, and the impacts do not appear to be evident in the overall effort figures to date). For those fleets/companies who purchased fewer days at the start of the year, logistical difficulties may ultimately influence demand for VDS days for the remainder of 2020,” the report said.

Forum Fisheries Agency Investment Manager Tony Sullivan said eventually the economic impacts of the pandemic will be felt in the fisheries industry. Those increased costs stem from higher freight costs, being forced to move exports overseas, employment costs, and other one-time expenses associated with the pandemic.

“What I don’t have available currently is what the actual economic impacts of this are, and it is probably a little bit too early to tell, but we know that it is going to be significant in terms of export revenue, employment, and businesses actually being able to sustain themselves through this pandemic crisis,” Mr Sullivan said.

This news story first appeared in Seafood Source on 20 July 2020.

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.

COVID-19 impacts lead agenda for FFA Fisheries Ministerial meeting: media release

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HONIARA, 5 August 2020 – THE first ever Forum Fisheries Committee Ministerial meeting to be held online opens tomorrow, with the impacts of COVID-19 on the regional tuna fishery at the top of the agenda. 

The 17th FFC Ministers meeting (6–7 August) is occurring virtually, due to travel restrictions arising from the pandemic.

Fisheries Ministers will consider ways in which FFA can provide further assistance around the Observer Programme, including how observer livelihoods can be sustained as well as Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) support, and national economic impact assessments. 

Ministers will also be provided with the Tuna Fisheries Report Card 2020 before it is submitted to Forum Leaders later this year. The Card reports on progress against a range of indicators in the Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Fisheries.

FFA Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, said: “The pandemic has had a significant impact on the work of FFA Member countries, particularly around MCS. For example, it is now extremely difficult to place observers on board fishing vessels, due to travel restrictions and health and safety concerns, and requirements for fishing vessels to carry observers have been suspended. 

“The FFA Secretariat has been providing assistance to Members to help them address the impacts of COVID-19, including studies to review food security and how best to support Observers over the longer term.”

The meeting will take place via a virtual meeting platform. Dr Tupou-Roosen said greater use of such technologies in the wake of the pandemic had reinforced the value of investing in appropriate wireless broadband capabilities throughout the Pacific region. 

“Our Member countries see an opportunity to invest in technology, with a range of flow-on benefits for time and cost savings in the way FFA works,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.

“While the pandemic has been extremely challenging, it has also given Members and the Secretariat a chance to reflect on how we consolidate approaches to fisheries issues. The region can emerge as even more resilient.”

ENDS//

For more information contact Ronald F. Toito’ona, FFA Media,
ph: +677 7304715, ronald.toitoona@ffa.int

About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)

FFA assists its 17 member countries to sustainably manage fishery resources that fall within their 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs). FFA provides expertise, technical assistance and other support to its members who make decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision making on tuna management.

Follow us on Facebook | on Twitter | on LinkedIn | on YouTube | www.ffa.int

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.

Initial economic impact of COVID-19 reported for Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and Palau: media release

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WASHINGTON, 23 June 2020 – US Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary, Insular and International Affairs Douglas W. Domenech today announced the publication of three technical notes from the Graduate School USA’s Economic Monitoring and Analysis Program (EconMAP) providing an initial assessment of the economic impacts of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. 

“While each of the three Freely Associated States continues to remain free of COVID-19 cases, the slow down and near termination of transportation across the region has had strong repercussions on their economies,” said Assistant Secretary Domenech. 

“It is hoped that the data and analyses in these technical notes can help illuminate impacts as FAS leaders draft fiscal measures and implement mitigation strategies to maintain financial and economic stability now and as they emerge from the impacts of COVID-19.”

Funded through the US Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs (OIA), the projections made in the EconMAP technical notes assume that travel will remain limited for all three of the FAS through fiscal year 2021 or until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed. 

The technical notes also utilize economic modeling techniques that project the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic without consideration of any external donor assistance and in the absence of any confirmed domestic cases. Should any of the three FAS report COVID-19 cases and develop community transmission, the projected negative impacts of the pandemic could be compounded. 

As laid out in the reports in more detail, the following highlights reflect initial expected COVID-19 impact in each FAS in fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

The Republic of Palau

The Republic of Palau – Heavily dependent on tourism with 20 per cent of all its workers employed in the tourism industry, Palau attracted 90,000 foreign visitors in fiscal year 2019, with the tourism industry contributing 20 per cent to gross domestic product. Prior to the pandemic, Palau’s fiscal year 2020 first quarter tourism numbers were on track to grow more than 30 per cent and estimated to attract 116,000 visitors for the year. Instead, it is now projected that Palau will experience a 51 per cent reduction of tourists, with a total expected of about 44,075 visitors, and a further 89 per cent reduction in fiscal year 2021.

Overall, Palau is expected to experience a 22.3 per cent decline in GDP and a loss of 3,128 jobs, primarily in the private sector.

The fiscal deficit for Palau, resulting from the loss of tax revenues such as the payroll tax, gross revenues tax, hotel room tax, and import taxes, is projected to be about US$40 million; however, this impact is partially mitigated by Compact grants and trust fund revenues. Construction and infrastructure projects already planned for Palau are anticipated to serve as an important economic stimulus when the cyclical negative impact of COVID-19 on Palau’s economy is being realized.

The Federated States of Micronesia

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) – While the FSM does not enjoy the same level of visitor arrivals as Palau, the majority of the COVID-19 impact will also be felt in the private sector, namely in the transportation and tourism sectors. The hotel and restaurant industries are projected to fall by 46 per cent in fiscal year 2020 and then an additional 75 per cent in fiscal year 2021, reflecting the absence of tourists and minimal interstate visitors. Similarly, the transportation sector, which includes shipping, port services, aviation, and airport ground handling, is projected to decline by 27 per cent in fiscal year 2020 and an additional 14 per cent in fiscal year 2021. Notably, the total projected loss to the FSM economy will be the most severe decline in the FSM economy since the start of the amended Compact period in 2004. 

Ultimately, the FSM is expected to experience a 6.9 per cent decline in GDP and a loss of 1,841 jobs, reflecting an 11 per cent reduction of employment levels in the FSM compared to fiscal year 2019. 

Optimistically, given the FSM’s strong fiscal position at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the application of targeted internal and external assistance, including Federal assistance, to bolster health sector investments, improve resiliency in the health system, provide budgetary resources to offset revenue losses during the pandemic, and to provide direct support to affected individuals and businesses, will be sufficient to offset much of the projected threat to the FSM economy and to its fiscal position going forward.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) – The overall RMI economy relies very little on tourism and visitor arrivals with the hotel and restaurant sector representing only 2.3 per cent of GDP. It is, however, more heavily dependent on the public sector, which includes important fisheries activity and sovereign rent receipts. The Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority is already seeing declines ranging from 30 to 50 per cent across aquarium fish exports, the tuna loining plant operations, purse seining operations, and shore-based support to the longline fishing industry. With airline travel to the RMI near complete shutdown, wholesale fuel operations are projected to drop by 45 per cent, reflecting the loss of nearly all of its aviation fuel sales. 

Overall, the RMI is projected experience a 6.9 per cent decline in GDP and a loss of 716 jobs.

The projected impact on tax revenues, employment, and job loss coupled with potential significant reductions in fisheries revenues may result in a sizeable fiscal shock in the range of US$14 to US$20 million, larger than previous fiscal downturns experienced by the RMI. The RMI will benefit significantly from donor assistance that can help mitigate the projected negative impacts on the economy as a whole and to avoid a dangerous deterioration of its fiscal position. 

Breadth and depth of impact in three countries

In all three countries, the breadth and depth of economic impact will be substantial in the tourism, transport, and fisheries sectors, again under the current modeling with each country still reporting zero COVID-19 cases. Although Palau is hardest hit due to its tourism-centered economic structure, the FSM and RMI are also deeply affected. The EconMAP team expects to update the technical notes to eventually quantify the full range and impact that internal mitigating efforts and external donor assistance will have in each FAS, eventually providing a full report to better understand the combined impact of assistance and the net impact of the COVID-19 response.

The full and complete COVID-19 technical notes for the FSM, RMI, and Palau can be accessed at http://www.pitiviti.org. EconMAP technical notes are intended to provide a concise and timely analysis of an immediate situation for decision-makers, utilizing currently available data sets and macroeconomic tools developed in close collaboration with stakeholders.

All three FAS governments are working closely with Federal partners in the United States government, including the Department of the Interior, to invest in strengthening their health systems and to mitigate the impact on affected individuals and businesses. For a partial list of US Federal assistance to the FAS related to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit https://www.doi.gov/oia/covid19.

Funded through the Office of Insular Affairs’ Technical Assistance Program, EconMAP is managed by the Graduate School USA’s Pacific & Virgin Islands Training Initiatives. EconMAP produces annual economic statistics and economic reviews for the RMI, FSM, and Palau, as well as occasional technical notes on emerging issues.

The Assistant Secretary, Insular and International Affairs, @ASIIADomenech, and the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) carry out the Secretary of the Interior’s responsibilities for the US territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands. Additionally, OIA administers and oversees federal assistance under the Compacts of Free Association to the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau.

For more information, contact Tanya Harris Joshua, Deputy Policy Director, Office of Insular Affairs – Policy Division, US Department of the Interior, ph. 202 208 6008 | mob. 202 355 3023.

FAD launches in Malaita to support incomes during COVID-19 restrictions

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This group of Malaita residents is preparing to release a fish-aggregating device (FAD) at Uhu in the West Are’are area of Solomon Islands’ Malaita Province. Another has just been launched at Small Malaita.

The FAD releases are part of a $100,000 provincial government project to support livelihoods during COVID-19 restrictions. Work continues in the small island communities despite the current state of public emergency that is operating in the Solomon Islands capital, Honiara. 

For years, the Malaita Provincial Fishery Office in Auki has supported coastal communities with the deployment of FADs. In May, the fisheries officers put FADs to sea near Kwai and Ngongosila Islands in East Malaita, and Musukwi in North Malaita. It plans to extend the use of FADs to the Malaita Outer Islands soon. 

Photo: Mathew Isihanua.

COVID-19, climate change lead agenda as Forum Fisheries officials meet: media release

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HONIARA, 17 June 2020 – Measures to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change are high on the agenda of the 114th Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC) meeting, which commenced yesterday.

The meeting comprises representatives from each of the 17 members of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). This year’s meeting is being held from 16–19 June 2020.

Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, the Director-General [pictured above], said: “The pandemic has resulted in a significant economic impact in member countries in key sectors, such as tourism. This makes it even more important to ensure that other key economic activities, such as fisheries, continue to function effectively.

“Revenues and associated benefits need to be maximised in a sustainable manner. Food security also needs to be prioritised.”

The meeting will discuss FFA’s response and recovery measures, and how the FFA approaches key priorities for the coming year. 

“The pandemic is undoubtedly a once-in-a-generation challenge and no less so for the Pacific’s tuna fisheries. However, it also presents a range of opportunities to innovate how FFA operates and we are focused on actioning those opportunities” added Dr Tupou-Roosen.

The meeting will also focus on measures related to an action plan for the Longline Strategy, Electronic Monitoring policy, Observer safety and livelihoods, and how to support members in increasing social benefits from the tuna fisheries.

ENDS//

For interviews, information and photos, contact Ronald F. Toito’ona, FFA Media,
ph: +677 7304715, ronald.toitoona@ffa.int


About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)

FFA assists its 17 member countries to sustainably manage fishery resources that fall within their exclusive economic zones (EEZs). FFA provides expertise, technical assistance and other support to its members who make decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision making on tuna management. 

Follow us on Facebook | on Twitter | on LinkedIn | on YouTube | www.ffa.int

Positives of COVID-19 for the WCPO tuna supply chain

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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. 

Composite of two images of canned tuna, one SolTuna and Solomons Blu cans, the other Bumble Bee can
Left: SolTuna cannery products (photo Intra Fish). Right: Bumble Bee 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.

Man standing next to flat table-like area that has empty cans for tuna sitting on it in factory with corrugated metal walls. Photo Francisco Blaha
Proud tuna worker, Solomon Islands. Photo: Francisco Blaha

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.”

Aerial photo of Noro, Solomon Islands, with inset photo of can of Ocean Naturals skipjack tuna. Photo Solomon Star
The tuna township of Noro, Solomon Islands, with (inset) one of the products it exports to the US market. Photo: Solomon Star.

COVID-19 threatens Solomon Islands’ global tuna industry

Categories News, NewsPosted on

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”.

This month, CBSI reported that the speed of the spread of COVID-19 and the extent of the pandemic around the world meant that it had to revise its near-term growth outlook for the Solomon Islands economy

Front of Central Bank of Solomon Islands building, Honiara
The Central Bank of Solomon Islands says that the COVID-19 is a huge threat to the country’s economy


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.

Densely packed group of Solomon Islanders outside building with security shutters down. Photo: Lachlan S. Eddie.
Most businesses in Solomon Islands have scaled down operations as more workers are being laid off. Photo: Lachlan S. Eddie.

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.

Two female workers and one male worker at Noro tuna cannery, Solomon Islands
Workers at Soltuna cannery, Noro … nearly 1,000 workers have been affected as Soltuna scales down work during the coronavirus pandemic


“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.

Head and upper body portrait photo of Frabelle CEO Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jnr
Frabelle CEO Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jnr


“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.

Three fishing vessels in Honiara waters, with trees in foreground and hills enclosing waterway in background. Photo: Ronald Toito’ona.
Fishing vessels conducting transhipment at the Honiara port. Photo: Ronald Toito’ona.

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.”

Purse-seine tuna fishing vessel offloading catch at Noro, Solomon Islands
NFD’s purse seiner Solomon-Topaz offloading tuna at Noro in a trial held during better times in 2018

Extraordinary surveillance with Operation Rai Balang in the Pacific: media release

Categories Media releases, News, NewsPosted on

Honiara, 26 March 2020 – On Friday, the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) closes the two-week fisheries surveillance activity, Operation Rai Balang 2020. The operation is unprecedented in achieving maritime surveillance across 14.1 million square kilometres, including 108 sighting and 24 boardings, during the heightened global response to coronavirus. 

The FFA coordinated air and surface surveillance assets from eight Pacific Island countries and four regional defence partners for 12 days from 16–27 March, during which time international response to coronavirus was rapidly developing. 

“Fishing doesn’t stop, so neither will our surveillance,” said Commander Robert Lewis, at the FFA’s Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC) in Honiara. 

“Fisheries surveillance in the Pacific is imperative to ensure compliance by the fishing fleets, and deter any illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities. Fisheries have a direct benefit for Pacific island counties economies, and that makes surveillance even more important in these unprecedented times.”

There were 24 boardings conducted during Op Rai Balang, both at sea and in harbour. 

“Twenty-four boardings is a real impact considering the current COVID-19 situation; obviously each crew considered national guidelines to ensure their safety and avoid any potential coronavirus transmission,” said CMDR Lewis. 

The participants of Operation Rai Balang were eight FFA member states: Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. This was supported by quadrilateral defence partners: Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States, and the Pacific Maritime Surveillance Programme aircraft. Due to developing global travel restrictions and recalls of national surveillance assets, not all surveillance assets were utilised as planned.

FFA Director-General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, underlined the regional coordination demonstrated during Operation Rai Balang. 

“At the outset, we sincerely thank all of those who participated to ensure the success of this operation during these challenging times.  In the Pacific, we know that together we are stronger,” she said. “The extraordinary circumstances for Op. Rai Balang presented a unique way to demonstrate our collective commitment to protecting our valuable fisheries resources and confirming that any challenge can be overcome through cooperation.  The FFA is proud to continue to assist our member states in this way.”

Operation Rai Balang is one of four targeted operations hosted by the FFA annually, however regional surveillance is supported 365 days a year through the RFSC Regional Surveillance Picture. 

ENDS

For more information, please contact Vicki Stevens, FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre, vicki.stevens@ffa.int.

Fisheries Operations at FFA provides Monitoring Control and Surveillance (MCS) activities, policy and services, for members to strengthen national capacity and regional solidarity to prevent, deter and eliminate Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Pacific.

MCS activities of Fisheries Operations includes technical expertise, information sharing and projects around monitoring activities, regional surveillance operations, the FFA Observer ProgramFFA Vessel Monitoring SystemFFA licence information list, and staff training and support regarding relevant regional decision making bodies, notably the Technical Compliance Committee of the WCPFC

About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)

FFA assists its 17-member countries to sustainably manage fishery resources that fall within their 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). FFA provides expertise, technical assistance and other support to its members who make decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision making on tuna management. www.ffa.int

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