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.
HONIARA, 17 April 2020 – Solomon Islands is facing an economic crisis: with the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic, the prognosis for the near to medium term is not looking good, says iTuna Intel CEO and founding director of Pacific Catalyst, Dr Transform Aqorau.
“The only revenue going to be coming into the Treasury is through the sale of fishing vessel days (VDS) to foreign fishing vessels and a little from existing logging operations. The latter are at levels that are much lower than 2019 but the forecast is not really bright,” Dr Aqorau said.
“With regards to tuna revenues, we have to keep our fingers crossed that this natural phenomenon, which has seen tuna concentrated in our waters as a result of the shift of the warm pool, will remain in Solomon Islands over the next few years.”
In normal years, the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, of which Solomon Islands is a part, generates about $25 billion in revenue from tuna a year.
Tuna is the second largest revenue earner for Solomon Islands, behind the depleting logging industry. The tuna industry’s contribution to the Solomon Islands Government revenue on average is $260 million, of which 90% comes from fishing licences, the Central Bank of Solomon Islands (CBSI) has reported.
Dr Aqorau is a Solomon Islands fisheries law expert, and a former boss of the Parties to Nauru Agreement (PNA). He said that Italy and China, which were the two biggest importers of Solomon Islands tuna, had to date been the countries worst affected by the coronavirus.
“This will no doubt have a percolating effect on our major exports and, ultimately, revenue,” he said.
“No economy can survive without new money coming in, whether it is the form of donor aid or revenues from exports, as this will eventually impact on its ability to pay for import.”
CBSI reports on Covid-19 threats to local economy
The CBSI reported in March that the coronavirus would likely have a negative impact on the Solomon Islands economy. The spread of the pandemic and the considerable disruption it would cause would be exacerbated by the increasingly intertwined trade and investment relationships between China and its neighbours in the Asia–Pacific region.
The report stated that “being a small, open economy, the Solomon Islands will likely be adversely affected through the trade channel and thereafter the economy, and even fiscal operations”.
The report said: “The downward movement in the global economy, as well ensuing public health measures and business closures, could see a significant decline in real GDP of between minus 3% to minus 5% in 2020. The current information at hand indicates that the economy is moving into a recession starting in the second quarter of 2020.”
The impact of COVID-19 was expected to affect almost all sectors of the Solomon Islands economy. Supply chains had been affected, with travel limits and disruptions to business activity.
Trimarine’s Soltuna scales down operation
More workers from the fisheries sector are being laid off as the pandemic’s grip on the Solomon Islands economy tightens. Soltuna, which employs over 1,000 workers, is one company that is scaling down.
Speaking in Parliament last Tuesday during a motion to extend the state of public emergency to four months, Minister for Finance and Treasury Harry Kuma said fisheries exports to Italy in particular had indicated a declining trend from the end of the first quarter of 2020 .
He added that prices were likely to fall by 5%.
“This will severely affect the operation of Soltuna and the employment of mainly women and girls in the Noro Cannery,” the minister stated.
On a similar note, Trimarine’s spokesperson, Joe Hamby, specified that Soltuna production depended firstly on the supply of tuna from its sibling company, National Fisheries Developments (NFD).
“As you can imagine, fishing is directly impacted by the weather. Cyclone Harold has severely interrupted NFD’s fishing operations. Soltuna cannot operate without a steady supply of good quality tuna from NFD,” Mr Hamby said.
He went on to say that Trimarine had learned a lot from the COVID-19 pandemic. This was because Soltuna’s management and staff were almost all Solomon Islanders, and Soltuna could continue to operate during periods when expatriates had to evacuate back to their home countries.
For example, only one of the six tuna processing plants in Papua New Guinea was operating at the moment. The others had closed because they don’t have enough local management and technical expertise. Expatriates with those skills had gone home, Mr Hamby added.
“By contrast, despite COVID-19, Soltuna has continued to safely produce badly needed food for both the domestic and export markets.”
Dr Aqorau had projected that demand for canned tuna products would increase, including in China, where demand for fresh fish was declining as a result of the pandemic.
“It will be an evolution in China, but the tuna industry will be in for some very exciting times in the future,” Dr Aqorau said.
Transhipment problems threaten the global tuna supply chain
Frabelle Fishing Company in the Philippines is another company that is affected by COVID-19, as most ports in the Pacific are closed to transhipment.
The company’s CEO, Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jnr, said Solomon Islands was a major resource for tuna in the Western Pacific, as well as a major transhipment point. He said any restriction imposed by the government on fishing and fish transfers would surely affect the flow of goods to the markets.
“If we are operating unhampered, we are actually not losing so much, but if we go into port and we are made to wait for 14 days’ quarantine, we will be losing about US$10,000 per day in our operations cost while at port, plus the island nations will lose 12 of those 14 days in terms of vessel fishing days that fishermen are supposed to pay PNA,” he said.
“So, for every port call with quarantine, each boat loses about US$120,000, and the island nations will also lose about US$130,000 per day per vessel at port under quarantine.
“These are rough figures, but realistic,” Mr Laurel said.
He added that if Frabelle was not allowed to tranship in other ports, the company would have to run to ports that would allow them under certain conditions. But this would entail burning more fuel and losing more fishing days for both the fisherman and the island nations.
Inability to replace crew
Marko Kamber, of Caroline Fisheries Corporation, has also stated that another major issue that island-based operators faced was the inability to replace crew because of the travel bans in place.
“Also many island ports do not allow disembarkation of crews to fly home,” he said.
Korea-based company Silla is also facing hiccups with their operations, with difficulties due to restrictions imposed by island countries despite a 100% fleet operation, says Operation & Sales Manager Sancho Kim.
Mr Kim said their operation was affected by the 14-day quarantine rule and some countries were closing their ports, both air and sea, to block COVID-19 transmission.
“It is obvious any one of those measures are affecting our operation negatively, causing delays in finding available ports to call for transhipment and maintenance operation,” Mr Kim said.
Honiara port in Solomon Islands is one of the main ports for tuna purse seiners’ transhipments. Solomon Islands’ exclusive economic zone has been a good fishing ground for tuna purse seiners this year, so far, leading vessels to call more frequently to Honiara for transhipment.
“It surely helped to improve the local economy to bring more economic activities into Honiara and also increase government revenue. However, Solomon Islands is also implementing a 14 days quarantine policy, which is forcing vessels to turn around to find other ports available to call.”
(Tuna Pacific): There is no doubt that the Pacific’s ocean needs to be better managed so
that respective countries in the region can gain the maximum benefits.
This is something the Government of
Tonga believes should be done urgently.
Almost everyone believes activities being carried out in Tonga’s waters, including the tuna industry here, have not raked in the maximum that the kingdom should be getting in terms of income and earnings.
Locals are of the thinking that overseas companies and operators are taking advantage of the lack of monitoring and policing – making money and taking that away overseas, without any contribution to the local economy.
“There is no doubt that a lot of activities have been happening in our ocean, throughout our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and we are not getting the full advantage we should be getting,” said Mr Paula Ma’u, the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Meteorology, Environment, Information, Disaster Management, Energy, Climate Change and Communication (MEIDECC).
“This includes the tuna industry and fisheries in general. And we have decided that we needed to look into how best we can better manage our marine resources and activities so that we gain the benefits we should be getting.
“That saw the birth of the Tonga
Ocean 7, which is the name we have given our team tasked with putting together
the Tonga Ocean Plan.”
The Tonga Ocean 7 is made up of government ministries and departments that have come together with the common interest of ensuring that Tonga’s ocean and its resources are managed for a sustainable future.
They include the Ministry of MEIDECC, Ministry of Lands and Survey, Ministry of Fisheries, Ministry of Tourism, the Marine Department, the Ports Authority of Tonga, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
How will the Tonga Ocean Plan help the tuna industry?
The tuna industry in Tonga has faced
its fair share of ups and lows over the last 30 years.
Tuna fisheries have been identified as one of Tonga’s most important natural resources.
Former Minister for Fisheries Hon. Semisi Fakahau stated in the ‘Tonga National Tuna Fishery and Management Plan’ (2018–2022) that in recent years Tonga had experienced challenging times with the domestic longline operations.
“The rising fuel prices, low albacore prices, low catch rates, and economic pressures create a very difficult environment for domestic operators to remain viable, even with technical and policy support and advice from government,” he stated.
“That said, progress in developing
tuna resources for the benefit of the people of Tonga is vital.”
Hon. Fakahau said then that Tonga was working to “fulfil our national and international obligations and to further provide for the sustainable development and management of our domestic tuna fishery”.
In reality, there have been more lows than highs, especially in terms of the local industry’s survival.
Fisheries Chief Executive Officer Dr Tu’ikolongahau Halafihi said there needs to be a review of how Tonga has been managing its tuna resources and the general fisheries practices.
“We believe the Tonga Ocean Plan will
help in managing our ocean and its resources,” Dr Halafihi said.
“Records show that we are losing out with our fisheries, and there are possible declines in our fish population generally.
“In the past 15 years or so, we started implementing the Marine Protected Area and Special Management Areas projects, which were aimed at sustaining fisheries and marine resources around our country, in areas that we identified were critical to implementing these in.
“The Tonga Ocean Plan includes all
that has been done and looks at how better we can manage everything, including
income and what we are losing out on financially.”
Dr Halafihi, and the Fisheries Ministry, is a critical partner in the process that is currently being followed.
So critical that he is one of the three chief executive officers who are joint chairs of the Tonga Ocean 7.
The other two are Mr Ma’u of the Ministry of MEIDECC and Ms Rosamond Bing of the Ministry of Lands and Survey.
Mr Ma’ said the importance of the Tonga Ocean Plan cannot be overemphasised.
“The plan is critical for us as we really need to ensure that we are able to manage what we have and sustain that for the future generations,” he said.
Pointing to the tuna industry and the challenges it faces, Mr Ma’u said ensuring that areas where the tuna population thrive need to be protected.
The process to develop the plan
With funding from the Italian
Government, Waitt Institute, Ocean5 plus technical support from the
International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Vava’u
Environment Protection Agency (VEPA), the Tonga Ocean 7 team commissioned a
national consultation in 2018.
That consultation focused on what is currently being done in Tonga’s ocean and sea area, what will happen if we continue with the current trend, what the pros and cons are, what people believe should be done, and the benefits of having the Tonga Ocean Plan.
Starting in Ha’apai in October 2019, the consultation team then visited Vava’u, NIuatoputapu, Niuafo’ou, ‘Eua and then made the round the island consultation on Tongatapu.
Consultation team member and former
Fisheries Director Dr Vailala Matoto said they were surprised with the feedback
and responses from members of the public.
Respondents included men, women and youths from the different villages, tourism operators on the different islands, local fishermen and women, ship operators, and tuna industry players.
“There was general consensus that
there needs to be a change in how we are doing things and managing our
resources,” Dr Vailala said.
“The idea of the Tonga Ocean Plan was
unanimously endorsed at all the consultation meetings held, which was very
“The responses, suggestions and
reports were then given to the legal drafting team, headed by Ms Rosamond Bing,
who were tasked with drafting the legislations.”
The drafting team worked with all
stakeholders, especially members of the government legal fraternity, in
drafting the legislation.
Dr Vailala said that legislation will
now be taken to the communities for the second round of consultation this year.
Tonga intends to implement the ocean plan by the end of this year.
That plan will manage all activities
carried out within Tonga’s EEZ.
And there is optimism in that that there are better days are ahead.
“We are already seeing the results
from the SMAs and MPAs around the country,” MEIDECC’s Mr Ma’u said.
“There is a bright future ahead if we
are serious and act on what is now being planned.”
Dr Halafihi supported that comment and added that Tonga’s tuna fisheries should be in a better shape moving forward.
“We are positive,” he added.
That is the feeling around the kingdom right now as people anticipate the finalisation of the Tonga Ocean Plan and its implementation – aimed at sustaining Tonga’s tuna fisheries and marine resources for years to come!
Tuna canning process.
Photo supplied by Palau’s MRNET.
of Natural Resources, Environment, and Tourism (MNRET) have attracted at least
20 participants in a tuna canning training to take place Sept. 22 to 27.
The training will be hosted by the Bureau of Marine Resources (BMR) and led by FoodStream
Earlier, MNRET has requested the Parties
to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) to provide tuna canning training for small and
medium enterprises (SME) in Palau citing that as the nation gets ready for the
full implementation of a national marine sanctuary by January 1, 2020.
“As we are
preparing for full implementation of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary
(PNMS), a central aspect of our focus is to build capacity and options for a
domestic pelagic fishery. This includes approaches to improve the business
feasibility of small-scale, locally-owned and operated vessels and businesses,”
MNRET Minister Umiich Sengebau said in a June letter to Maurice
BrownjohnCommercial Manager of PNA Office.
Palau is also looking into options to promote “Palau to the tourism market
through its conservation approach to sustainable pelagic fisheries, through
such initiatives as the Choose Pelagics Presidential directive.”
He said Palau is
also exploring the potential promotion of Palau’s FADs-free zone through
Pacifical, and “through unique, locally produced souvenir jars and cans, or
‘Fish With A Story’
He said micro canning will help improve
food security and provide employment and business opportunities for Palauans at
the same time, providing tuna canning training for small and medium
enterprises (SME) in Palau.
“The training is
aimed at individuals who intend to produce canned foods on the micro or small
commercial scale. Participants will learn how to preserve tuna and other
pelagic fish, as well as other seafood, meats, fruits, and vegetables,” MNRET
public announcement said last month.
The 5-day training
will be delivered through lectures, tutorials, group discussions, and practical
sessions. Topics covered include Introduction to Canning; Pre-cooking Tuna in
Commercial Operations; Retort Systems and Container Handling; Packaging Systems
for Processed Foods; Microbiology of Canned Foods; Principles of Thermal
Processing; Retort Operation & Production Records; Water Chlorination and
Canning Sanitation; and Regulations relevant to Thermal Processing.
successfully complete the whole week of training and pass all exams will be
issued a Retort Supervisor’s Certificate.
training is looking for participants who can commit to the full week and pass
written exams and a practical exam. The course requires high school-level Math
and English skills.
company FoodStream has conducted tuna processing training in Fiji and Papua New
Guinea, Marshall Islands Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia.
in the Pacific started four years ago, Brownjohn said. He said there are
volumes of “by-catch,” from tuna fishery although not suitable for large
commercial exports but can still be perfect to eat and can be canned locally.
He said jars could also be utilized to preserve food.
said the training provided by FoodStream is the same qualification as you were
trained in a reputable cannery in Thailand or somewhere else.
said in Palau, small scale canning is also a way to attract tourism.
tuna canning operation, “you are able to produce a shelf-stable product made
in Palau,” Brownjohn said.
is able to offer a jar, a fish, and a story behind it.”