Salt fish trade gains new popularity in Solomons as pandemic grip lingers

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With the recent rise in popularity of the ‘salt fish’ trade in the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara, fresh fish and tuna vendors in the city markets are struggling to please their customers and earn enough income.

This is just one of an increasing number of challenges Honiara-based fish vendors have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In recent years, it’s been observed that there is also a steady increase in fish prices, with small-scale fish markets storming the capital as competitors come from almost everywhere in the country. It is becoming more challenging for both fish sellers and consumers to find quality fish at a reasonable price.

One of the most popular and oldest fish markets in Honiara is the Vaivila Fishing Village Market in East Honiara. The other two fish markets are the Honiara Central Market and the White River Market in West Honiara.

Vaivila fish market is located along the coastline near the Vaivila fishing village, which was populated by people from the Lau and Langalanga regions of Malaita. 

Village chief Robert Satu says his family were among the first settlers at the village in the early 1950s. Most of the first settlers were employed to work in a hospital established nearby – on a location that now hosts the Woodford International School, opposite the fishing village market. 

Vaivila fishing village past and present 

Today, ‘Fisheries’, as it is known, is a huge village with a roadside market. Chief Satu is a longtime fisher and fish vendor at the market. He said that selling tuna from catches outside the Honiara seafront between the 1960s and 1980s was totally different from its state today, as far as the prices of fish or tuna is concerned.

“From the 1960s through to the 1980s, the price of a single tuna or heaps of fish at the fishing village market was as little as 5 cents up to $5.00. The coastal areas of Honiara from White River up Tenaru in Central Guadalcanal was rich with marine resources, especially fish,” Chief Satu said.

“During our fishing trips in the 1960s, it took us only one drop of the fishing net and you’ll get a canoe filled with fish for marketing or consumption. In those years, the tuna or fish stocks are high and my life as a fisherman is very easy. Compared to nowadays, there are very low fish stocks along the Honiara coastline, due to the increase of settlers as a result of the growth in the city’s population.”

Chief Satu blames overfishing plus environmental pressure such as the change in coastal environments and pollution as the main cause of damage to the fishing grounds outside Honiara. 

Chief of Solomon Islands village Vaivila, Robert Satu, is a longtime settler, fisher and fish vendor at the village. He stands at fish market with fish for sale in his hands. Photo: George Maelagi.
Vaivila chief Robert Satu is a longtime settler, fisher and fish vendor at the village. Photo: George Maelagi.

Another fish vendor at the Vaivila Fishing Village Market, Alick Kabolo, said, “For those of us that are residing along these shorelines, it is a major challenge for us because we have to go further out into the ocean to trawl. We never rely on others to bring fish for us to sell, but we ourselves go out to fish and come back to trade at the market to sustain our daily needs.

“Back then, when I completely sold my fish catches, it is the happiest day of my life because I know that my hard work pays off as a fisherman, unlike others that are relying on other fishermen to fish for them.”

Mr Kabolo said that today, with a rise in the cost of living in Honiara city, these fishers would worry about the cost of getting their catch to market. 

“They have to spend money for transportation, fuel, ice cubes, and pay market fees,” Mr Kabolo said. 

“All this spending can be very expensive. They still need to make profit from their sales to recover their expenses.”

The rise of the salt fish trade

Salt fish become popular in 2006–2007. Since then, its fortunes have fluctuated, and there have sometimes been concerns whether it was safe to eat. But it has been rising in popularity again as people feel the economic bite of COVID-19 restrictions. 

‘Salt fish’ refers to frozen, salted fish offloaded from purse-seine vessels during transhipment at the Honiara port. Most of these vessels fish in local waters or the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of neighbouring countries. 

The fish offloaded are species that aren’t the target, but are caught accidentally (as bycatch) during tuna fishing, and tuna that has been damaged and is no longer marketable elsewhere. These fish don’t go to waste, however, as locals sell them in the fish markets.

The fishers of the fishing village live with the everyday struggles of spiralling fishing costs and finding enough fish to sell. The city-based fish vendors live with the struggle of relying on a supply of fish from the purse-seine vessels transhipping at Honiara. Some have resorted to the National Fisheries Development-owned fishing vessels that supply tuna for the SolTuna cannery at Noro, in Western province. They then transport the tuna and bycatch fish to the markets in Honiara.

However, the problems of the two groups are intersecting. The rise of salt fish trade is becoming a concern for the hardworking fish vendors at the Vaivila Fishing Village Market due to increase demand as a result of its cheaper price. 

Sheroll Galo and John Kennedy were longtime salt fish vendors in Honiara. Both said when they started selling fish, their startup prices ranged from $10 to $200 (Solomon Island dollars), depending on their size. 

“Most of us vendors in Honiara are relying on the purse-seine boats and passenger ships that are arriving from Noro every week. That said, we make more profits than those that are selling fresh fish at the market,” Mr Kennedy said.

Despite the restrictions and lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, the salt fish trade at Honiara’s Central Market has continued, as there has been an increase in the number of vessels transhipping at Honiara in recent months. This has been since the introduction of regional protocols that have allowed tuna fishing to resume in a COVID-safe way.

Sheroll Galo and John Kennedy were longtime salt fish vendors in Honiara. They are at a market, and positioned behind a table with 9 fish laid out on it, and in front of chiller boxes. Photo: George Maelagi.
Sheroll Galo and John Kennedy were longtime salt fish vendors in Honiara. Photo: George Maelagi.

COVID-19 and the challenges of fish trading 

However, despite this, COVID-19 is affecting most of these fish vendors. 

Small businesses have been particularly hard hit. When Honiara was declared an emergency zone in April 2020 and a state of public emergency was imposed, the vendors were told not to engage in any fish vending business in the capital. 

During the state of emergency, domestic ship operators and purse-seine vessels were warned not to provide fish to market vendors. The only vendors who continued with their businesses were those who brought in fish stocks in chiller boxes.

One of those is Emily Kawa. She is a frequent vendor at the Vaivila Fishing Village Market and Honiara Central Market.

“From four ice-chiller boxes, I’ve reduced it to two now. This is because not many people are buying fish at the Honiara Central Market,” Mrs Kawa said.

Another fish vendor hit hard is Brendale Bilusu, who hails from the famous Marovo Lagoon in the Western Province. He runs a fishing business. His target market is the Honiara Central Market.

Before COVID-19, Mr Bilusu used to enjoy the money he earned from selling fish. The money he raised supported his immediate and external family members. He said that, even in better times, running the fish business was not the easy feat others might think it is.

“There are lots of expenses you have to meet. These include hiring transport in Honiara, buying ice blocks, shipping freights for the ice-chiller boxes, as well as fuel expenses for outboard motor to go around and buy fish from fishermen and women in the villages along the Marovo Lagoon,” Mr Bilusu said. Life had become much tougher in the past few months.

“So it’s quite a tough business. But you know what, if it takes you more days to sell your fish, your expenses will also increase. You will need to pay for market fees as well as ice cubes to maintain the quality of the fish,” Mr Bilusu said.

The other problem he has encountered since the rise of the COVID-19 is slowing sales, which means he is left with fish for four to five days, during which time it deteriorates. To sell the fish while it’s at its best, he has had to lower his prices in order to attract customers. 

“Right now, I am also struggling to meet my family’s needs. I no longer received income like what I used to earn before this COVID-19. The COVID-19 is really affecting my small fish project,’’ he said. 

Mr Bilusu said the government should come up with ways to help people like him who are struggling during the pandemic. As more Honiara-based fish vendors like him are missing out on the government’s economic stimulus package, Mr Bilusu’s only wish right now is for the COVID-19 to vanish so that his small income could regain its status.

Sam, as he would want to be called, said the COVID-19 pandemic had had a huge impact on his fish-vending business at the Honiara Central Market. He stands at a market with a calculator in his left hand and a fish in his right. Photo: George Maelagi.
Sam, as he would want to be called, said the COVID-19 pandemic had had a huge impact on his fish-vending business at the Honiara Central Market. Photo: George Maelagi.

How the Pacific fisheries sector managed to navigate COVID-19

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In a year like no other, the work to harvest and sustainably manage the world’s largest tuna fishery in the Western Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) has not been spared the ravages of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) – the virus that causes COVID-19.

On 30 January 2020, when the WHO declared COVID-19 to be a public health emergency of international concern, itopened a door to face an unknown enemy with a penchant to sow seeds of uncertainties. WHO declared a pandemicon 11 March.

Nearly one year later, the only certainty in a world awash with fear is that COVID-19 is still on the rise, with only a few countries remaining COVID-19-free – but at such cost. The global tally of the dead nears the 2 million mark, and the number of infections has passed the 70 million mark. The most powerful nation in the world has breached the unenviable milestone of more than 3,000 deaths a day. Even with the vaccine rollout that started in Britain last week, there is no confidence a cure has arrived, as two British health workers suffered severe allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine soon after.

Long reach of COVID-19 felt immediately in the WCPO

For the Pacific, the reality of COVID-19 was felt immediately after WHO’s 11 March declaration. Tourism collapsed: one of the region’s mainstay revenue streams was dammed behind closed borders and stranded aeroplanes.

And as Pacific island countries and territories (PICTs) followed health advice to close borders and enter lockdowns, nervous Pacific leaders looked to Honiara, the home of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), with prayers that their agency was working on a plan – on a response – so the same fate would not befall the fisheries sector.

Leaders knew that if COVID-19 also destroyed the fisheries, it would result in an existential crisis for most of the PICTs.

The challenge for FFA was to come up with ways to continue working through border closures, restrictive testing and quarantine conditions, which made it much harder for fishing vessels to continue to fish and unload their catch. The lockdown also made it very difficult for coastal states to monitor and survey fishing activities, and left businesses grappling with new challenges in transporting products to markets – and then some.

Redesigned tools and a redrawn map to weather the emergency

So at this year’s Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission virtual meeting (WCPFC17), where the 24 PICTs join the other 17 nations making up the Tuna Commission, there is relief and belief that the WCPO fishery will weather this one-in-a-hundred-year global emergency.

There is relief that FFA and its partners, with the support and guidance of PICTs fisheries agencies, have managed to redraw a map now pocked with COVID-19 reefs, and to navigate a safe passage through them.

And there is a belief that the work to recalibrate current tools has enabled Pacific members, and the WCPFC as a whole, to better sail the COVID-19 waters. At the same time, they have quickly learned to use the lessons and experience so far to better prepare for more troubled waters that experts forecast are ahead.

A brief view of the redrawn map and redesigned tools was provided to regional journalists end of last week at a virtual media conference with the Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC), Mr Eugene Pangelinan; the Director-General of FFA, Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen; and the Deputy Director-General of FFA, Mr Matt Hooper.

Following are some highlights of what the FFA leaders had to say.

The map redrawn using a virtual work platform

FFA began to focus on using a virtual platform to transact work and business in March. April was a transitioning period. By May, Tuna Commission work processes had been successfully transferred and were being transacted on virtual platforms.

Mr Pangelinan outlined the difficulties, some of which continue. He said: “Internet connectivity in the Pacific is not the best in the world … Some of the most developed countries themselves are having challenges with internet connectivity. And so it just goes to prove our point that trying to conduct meetings through the virtual platform, while I think is it has produced some very good results … has hindered our progress on developing [WCPFC conservation and management] measures. Given the limited time we have to have these discussions and agree on the ways forward, it is certainly a challenge with so many different interests.”

Dr Tupou-Roosen said: “COVID definitely impacted our work program. But whilst it delayed it at first, there has been a lot of savings in the FFA budget, and that’s just normal, [as] a lot of our budget used to go to travel and that’s obviously not happening now.”

The FFA-led team explored new ways to continue supporting the priority activities of each Pacific member and also their individual and collective obligations to the WCPFC. 

“So, thinking of those innovative ways where we can continue to support our members … whether it is at the national level by utilising in-country experts to assist, say, for example, FFA or even the Tuna Commission, to continue to run the work at national level. Those are the types of opportunities that we’re seeing at this time,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.

Mr Hooper said: “Transacting complex issues through virtual platforms is a challenge, and particularly for members with unstable internet connections or even unstable power, which has been the case for FSM [Federated States of Micronesia] in particular. 

“It has been difficult participating in all of these online meetings, and even in some of our discussions with developed-country members of the Commission. As recently as last week, I don’t think we had a single one where there weren’t some problems with people joining or dropping out. So it is really not the forum for transacting complex negotiations, which have the potential to have such a significant impact on the members involved.” 

Mr Hugh Walton, FFA’s Chief Technical Officer and OFPM2 Coordinator, summed up the discussion. He said: “One of the really big take-home messages here is the solidarity across FFA members and PNA in moving forward and progressing in these very difficult times. The way we’ve been able to build a home-team consensus despite the difficulty of the [new] electronic platforms, and getting used to the new platform. 

“So, hats off to the FFA secretariat and members for playing with a straight bat for progressing their priorities and getting us to where we are.” 

E-monitoring of longlining redesigned to be COVID-safe

One of the first tools to be redesigned was the process for monitoring the longline fishery. The observer program was suspended, and the commitment to the rollout of electronic reporting and the development of electronic monitoring has been prioritised to take up the slack. 

For electronic monitoring, FFA is doing this this by developing a costed-out work plan of how to deliver key elements. 

Electronic monitoring is in the process of being adopted for the longline fishery, with a further focus being on strengthening the safety component of the observer program. FFA has also been working out how to make the most of observers’ skills while they are stranded on land, to keep jobs going.

Dr Tupou-Roosen said: “It is important to recognise that, [although] the observer program has been suspended, [FFA] members have built an integrated monitoring, control and surveillance framework over the last 41 years. The observer program does not operate in isolation. There is a suite of tools, authorised officers that can be pooled, and our patrol boats can be pooled. 

“Even for countries that do not have patrol boats, they could still have surveillance on the water in certain areas within their zones. The tools we have can be realigned to make available further resources to all members so that they can plan out and implement more surveillance and enforcement activities during this time.”

Mr Hooper said: “We are taking steps to provide opportunities for observers to get back on vessels as quickly as possible, but also to engage them in land-based work, be it training or upskilling or looking at different ways that we can utilise their analytical skills until they can get back to sea. 

“It is about making sure that we don’t lose that cadre of highly qualified observers. One of the initiatives being looked at is observer safety at sea refresher courses.”

FFA was able to permit some monitoring and observation work to continue at fishing ports, such as this one at Apia, Samoa, by adopting COVID-safe protocols. Image shows workers on dock, some wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), next to fishing vessel moored alongside
FFA was able to permit some monitoring and observation work to continue at fishing ports, such as this one at Apia, Samoa, by adopting COVID-safe protocols

FFA explores new markets and better working conditions

COVID-19 has brought unexpected economic challenges to getting products to market. This has prompted FFA to explore trading potential in a Pacific members’ bubble, including opportunities in Australia and New Zealand.

As if on cue, the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus) came into force over the weekend, on 13 December. It is a free trade agreement that covers goods, services and investment.

“PACER Plus will be instrumental in supporting Pacific economies to rebuild from the devastating impacts of COVID-19,” New Zealand’s minister for Trade and Export Growth, Mr Phil Twyford, said.  

“The agreement provides opportunities for goods and services produced in the region to be sold within the Pacific and globally, thereby using trade as an engine of economic growth and sustainable development.”

Australia’s federal Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, added in a statement, “This trade deal ensures greater market access and lower tariffs across a range of products that will benefit communities, farmers, fishers, businesses and investors in our region.”

Australia, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and New Zealand are parties to the agreement. Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are signatories and will become parties to it 60 days after ratifying it.

Another opportunity that FFA is pursuing is full support of Indonesia’s proposal that WCPFC adopt a conservation and management measure (i.e. a binding rule) on labour standards for crew on fishing vessels operating in the region.

Mr Pangelinan said: “I do think that there could potentially be a measure next year if members really work hard on helping and supporting Indonesia’s lead on the drafting of its proposed measure.” 

Dr Tupou-Roosen said: “[We have] a good understanding of just how important it is for us to do the right thing. And that these human rights abuses are not suffered by crew that are operating within our region, and ensuring that the Commission collectively commits to implementing standards for the high seas.”

A win for Pacific members on rolling over the Tropical Tuna Measure

It is fair to conclude that, as of December 2020, Pacific fisheries have come through the COVID-19 pandemic not only relatively unscathed but enhanced in certain areas such as the re-imagining of compliance, monitoring and surveillance.

Another is the successful transition to a virtual work environment. This has provided a platform for FFA and its members to consolidate and table 10 priorities for decision at this year’s Tuna Commission.

The work not only serves the economic and conservation interests of PICTs, but also those of the entire Tuna Commission membership. This is reflected in the most sought-after outcome for this year’s meeting: Commission members’ support to roll over the Tropical Tuna Measure to 2021.

Midway through WCPFC17, the Pacific’s proposal for the Tropical Tuna Measure was passed. And by delivering on everyone’s best interest, the Pacific bloc also achieved its top priority.

“There are other measures that are equally important,” said Mr Pangelinan. “But the Tropical Tuna Measure for us is paramount. It is the biggest fishery in the Pacific.”

Dr Tupou-Roosen added, “Chair [Pangelinan] highlighted that it already has been a big win for all of the Tuna Commission members – it is not just FFA [members].”

Full steam ahead into 2021

Mr Hooper was looking forward to next week, hopeful that the positive feeling generated this year in FFA and solidarity by Tuna Commission members will continue onto the hard work needed next year – even if it is still dominated by SARS-CoV-2.

“This year, not being able to meet face to face has really made it difficult. There are a lot of fishing industry players that are feeling the pain; there’s a lot at stake,” said Mr Hooper.

WCPFC17 will come to a close tomorrow, Tuesday, 15 December 2020. The outcomes will give FFA a better idea of the scope and scale of the work ahead under the large shadow of COVID-19. Nevertheless, there is excitement about rising to the challenge of securing the fishery and its benefits for the people of the Pacific, stewards of the world’s largest and most abundant offshore fisheries resources. 

For more information from the Forum Fisheries Agency on WCPFC17, contact Hugh Walton, ph. +677 740 2428, email Hugh.Walton@ffa.int.

Pacific cooperation ensures fisheries continue despite COVID-19: media release

Categories Media releases, NewsPosted on

Honiara, 4 September 2020 – Member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) are actively working together to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 being transmitted through fisheries operations, allowing the industry to continue making a vital contribution to Pacific island economies.

Regional protocols have been developed through a strong partnership, led by the Australian Government’s Office of the Pacific, with the Office of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, the Forum Fisheries Agency, the Pacific Community, the Australian Government’s Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security, and Marine Resources Assessment Group Asia Pacific, in close consultation with Members. 

Infographics will be displayed on vessels and at ports to explain hygiene practices and goods-handling protocols, to mitigate against the risk of COVID-19 transmission. 

At their meeting in August, Fisheries Ministers from FFA member countries emphasised the importance of supporting the fisheries sector to continue, given COVID-19 has had a major negative impact on tourism and trade in the Pacific.

“It is crucial for fisheries to continue operating at this time, providing much needed income to support the economic recovery as well as to enhance contribution to the food security of our people,” said Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, FFA Director-General.

“It is very encouraging that several Members have been utilising these protocols to inform their national activities during our regional surveillance operation that concluded today. We acknowledge and sincerely thank our partners Australia, PNA, SPC, MRAG Asia-Pacific and especially our Members for their continued support and assistance in developing this valuable tool,” Dr Tupou-Roosen added.

The Parties to the Nauru Agreement also welcomed the new protocols. 

“This is critical to the continuation of a viable fishery and the safety of our island nations in this pandemic, remembering always that complacency kills,” said CEO Mr Ludwig Kumoru.

The protocols can be found on the FFA website: http://ffa.int/covid19.

ENDS//

Background

These protocols are designed as an overarching guide to health and safety, and as minimum operating standards relevant to fishing sector operations in the Pacific. These protocols may be used by Members of the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency, and/or flag and coastal States that operate in the region, to guide the development of national orders related to the fisheries sector under State of Emergency legislation and policies responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For more information please contact covidprotocols@ffa.int.

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. Find out more here www.ffa.int.

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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.

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

Categories News, NewsPosted on

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

Categories Media releases, NewsPosted on

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.

Ferry route an economic lifeline for Russell Islanders

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Over the years, the Gizo–Honiara ferry has provided an economic lifeline for the fishing community of the Russell Islands. This ship is moored at the wharf at Yandina, in the Russell Islands, to pick up the latest catch. The seafood is packed in ice in chiller boxes and will be sold in the Honiara markets.

The importance of the route has grown because of the on-off operation of the Yandina Fisheries Centre on Russell Islands.

The group of islands is in the Central Islands Province of Solomon Islands, and lies north-west of the national capital, Honiara. Gizo is the capital of Western Province.

The national government, through the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, built fisheries centres around the country in 1984. But many of the centres, including the Yandina one, have often stood idle due to the lack of machinery to keep them running.

To get around this problem and maintain a flow of fish for sale at the Honiara market, fish vendors saw an opportunity to purchase fresh fish from the Russell Islands or tuna from Noro, in Western Province. 

Because the Yandina centre is not running at the moment, the ice has been brought from Honiara. However, this is about to change: an agreement has been signed to repair the Yandina Fisheries Centre and get it running again.