Economic benefits can come in different forms: royalty returns from selling fishing rights to foreign nations, and providing fish for the domestic market at a time when food security is an issue.

The third possibility is jobs in the fishing industry. UN figures show unemployment rates in the Pacific can run as high as 60% in the worst affected countries, with women and youth being the hardest hit.

Dr Tu’ikolongahau Halafihi, Chief Executive Officer at Tonga’s Ministry of Fisheries, outlined a new approach his country is taking, to increase employment by encouraging local operators into longline fishing.

“We need to manage and develop the local industry, and shift our reliance away from foreign vessels,” he said. “Currently we have about 70 locals employed in fisheries. A new approach could boost the employment of marine engineers, crew, fishermen, and observers.”

“There will also be new opportunities for women, in marketing and administration.”

Dr Halafihi (also known as Hau) said that Tonga currently has only one local longline operator and seven foreign vessels, and their new plans provide for 20 licenses, 10 each for foreign vessels and locals.

Dr Tu’ikolongahau Halafihi, Chief Executive Officer at Tonga’s Ministry of Fisheries. Image: Kanivatonga News

Employment is the major benefit, but one side effect of a stronger domestic fishing fleet will be to increase compliance and reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. This is a significant because Tonga does not have the capacity to enforce laws with foreign fleets.

Hau mapped out the steps Tonga will take: controlling of licences, incorporating the new measures in law, increasing the number of local operators using bareboat charters, seeking out donors to provide vessels, and training.

The Solomon Islands are planning a similar approach. Ferral Lasi, Undersecretary Technical at the Ministry of Fisheries & Marine Resources, says the main idea is not to issue licenses to foreign vessels for fishing or export.

“We want to cut foreign longlining. At the moment, we have 91 longliner foreign vessels licensed but no domestic operators,” he says. “We hope to sign an MOU this year to start the 5-year process of changing the face of our fishing industry.”

He expects the benefits will be considerable.

Mr Ferral Lasi, Under Secretary (Technical) Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR). Photo: Ronald Toito’ona

“Local owners will make money, stimulating business. Employment will be boosted on vessels and in processing centres. We are looking at bringing $200-300 million into the economy of the Solomon Islands,” he says.

Ferral puts the current value of longlining at about $900 million, with license fees amounting to $20-40 million.

“It will all be linked to a national fisheries hub. For some fish (like bigeye) the value is higher if we manage the process of export ourselves, so we plan to handle, process, and export fish like this. There will be many people employed in the hub,” he says.

He says training programs are part of the plan, and also jobs for women.

“Our cannery employs a lot of women, and this will happen in the Hub. We are about to finalise a policy about gender and it will relate to all our activities,” he says.

This will be a total change for the Solomon Islands and will need a lot of work involving willing partners.

“We need to develop the concept, and a plan. The whole project will be handled by Solomon Islanders and phased in over a transition period. It involves Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Pacific Community (SPC) and donor partners (including Conservation International). The memorandum of understanding (MOU)  will spell out who will do what,” Ferral says.

Changes are also coming to the Cook Islands, as they move swiftly to adopt a new e-reporting system developed by SPC.

Marino Wichman, Data Manager at the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR), has been tasked with implementing a new electronic reporting system to manage the longline quota management system approved in 2016-17.

“The Ministry works closely with SPC and FFA to ensure our information management systems are at optimal operational standards for both our data technicians and industry operators. E-reporting is of particular interest, as the Ministry has now introduced longline quota for albacore and bigeye tuna.

“It can be quite tricky on the reporting side of things,” he says. “The old system of recording catches and entering fish data into the data bases was cumbersome. Paper sheets got lost, some data had to be re-entered up to seven different times, and delays meant accurate up-to-date information was difficult.”

Marino Wichman, Data Manager at the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR). Image: Toss Gascoigne

Now SPC has made available a new app called Onboard.

Andrew Hunt, of SPC’s Oceanic Fisheries Programme, says Onboard helps captains of longline boats to complete their log sheets.

“Instead of filling out a paper-based form, captains submit the information electronically. Onboard has features like GPS and the camera to improve data quality, and captains can submit new reports while they are still at sea, providing daily updates of their data,” he says.

“It’s on an Android Tablet, and loaded up and given to captains of commercial vessels. Each day they’ll log their fishing activity into the tablet, recording what kind of hooks they’re using, and how many, and the types and weights of fish they catch.”

“And then when they’re finished they submit the data straight into the database.”

MMR has been trialling the system for its Cook Islands flagged vessels operating out of America Samoa and Rarotonga.

Mr Wichman says, “We found that captains liked the concept and took on board the onus of keeping records in a safe place to keep them updated, but they don’t like tablets, and want to use laptops.”

After discussion with MMR earlier in the year, SPC has now provided a PC version of Onboard for use on shipboard laptops and computers, which will enable the app to tie into existing satellite data feeds onboard vessels.

(From left) Captain Thomas Kafoa, Captain Itaaka Atitoa from Ocean Fresh Ltd., Rarotonga, Cook Islands and Malo Hosken from SPC on board FV Zambucca during training for the use of the OnBoard e-reporting application
© SPC–Malo Hosken

MMR Director Offshore Tim Costelloe says: “With the large size of our EEZ and the need to tie e-reporting verifications into weekly and daily reporting for our Quota Management System, we found that an app using a handheld device did not fit the needs and requirements of our legal framework. This latest PC version greatly improves the standard of delivery and will benefit all stakeholders with more timely reporting and better monitoring of catches.”

The Cook Islands licenses 54 longline vessels, of which 26 are Cook Islands flagged. The remainder of the longline fleet are charter vessels flagged to China under access agreements with the Cook Islands Government. MMR is aiming to have 100 per cent e-reporting coverage on all licenced longliners by the end of 2019.

“We still have some way to go, as it is new technology and we need to work out the kinks, but the end result will include up to date info sharing, better monitoring, and greater control of catch limits,” Mr Costelloe says.