The tuna fisheries of the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) are in better shape than those of other oceans, a report just published by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) shows.
The report summarises the state of health of the world’s tuna fisheries. It covers 23 tuna stocks: 6 albacore, 4 bigeye, 4 bluefin, 5 skipjack, and 4 yellowfin stocks. All but bluefin are commercially important in the WCPO.
The report is compiled from official reports of the 5 regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs), including the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), which manages the tuna fisheries of the WCPO.
It backs up research by the Pacific Community that compares the status of tuna populations in the western Pacific, eastern Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. The WCPO is the only area of ocean in which all four tuna are abundant and are not overfished.
Although the ISSF report shows that tuna are abundant enough in the WCPO to be able to withstand fishing at current levels, it points out that there is “no potential” to increase fishing for yellowfin because it is “fully exploited”.
ISSF rated each of the 23 global stocks using 3 factors: abundance, fishing mortality, and environment. Each factor is colour-coded green (good, sustainable), yellow (warning, borderline) or orange (unsustainable or insufficient management).
Abundance relates to not just to populations numbers, but also looks at whether fish have been allowed to grow and reproduce at their most productive level.
Mortality is a measure of how intense the fishing effort is, and is a way of understanding whether a population is being overfished.
Environment refers mostly to action to minimise bycatch, species such as sharks, turtles and seabirds, as well as juvenile tuna, that aren’t targeted for fishing but end up in the catch. Some species face extinction, partly as a result of commercial fishing. Bycatch is usually noted accurately when it the catch is monitored independently.
Need to improve harvest controls and monitoring of longline fishing
The report shows that all RFMOs need to manage stocks better, even where tuna are abundant.
ISSF’s particular focus was harvest controls. Although there are no binding target reference points (TRPs) or harvest controls in the WCPO yet, it notes that a few conservation and management measures (CMMs) include interim targets. CMM 2014-06 calls for harvest strategies for each kind of tuna and lists the elements that should be included. CMM 2015-06 sets an interim TRP for skipjack tuna.
CMM 2020-01 contains bridging rules for bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin that include benchmark numbers (expressed as spawning biomass) to be maintained. However, ISSF said that this CMM was too complex because it included “many ‘either/or’ choices, exemptions or exclusions” and that decisions were yet to be made about some measure. These made it “impossible to predict the outcomes in terms of actual future catch and effort levels”.
WCPFC is not alone: there are few TRPs and harvest controls operating in other oceans either.
The other major concern noted in the report is the lack of independent monitoring of longline fleets, which ISSF labelled as “deficient” in all oceans and among nearly all fisheries where longline fishing occurs. Without monitoring, it is impossible to know how much wildlife becomes bycatch. Longline fleets are notoriously difficult to monitor.
Strengths of WCPFC management also noted
The report notes that the interim arrangements to control the tuna harvest in the WCPO are “robust” and “ensure the sustainability of bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tuna stocks”. They include:
banning the use of fish-aggregating devices (FADs) from 1 July to 30 September each year, between the latitudes of 20 °N and 20 °S, in both exclusive economic zones and high seas
imposing an additional FAD closure of 2 months
requiring that all FADs prevent the entanglement of sharks, turtles and other species
limiting the number of drifting FADs, fishing days and, for some vessels, freezing capacity
requiring that all fish caught be retained, even if they have no market value or haven’t been targeted for fishing
requiring that all purse seine vessels have an independent observer on board.
ISSF reports that the global catch of albacore, bigeye, bluefin, skipjack and yellowfin in 2019 was 5.3 million tonnes. It said that 65% of stocks of tuna were at healthy levels of abundance, 13% were overfished, and 22% were in between.
Worldwide, 87.6% of the catch was from healthily abundant stocks.
About 52% of the world’s production of tuna was from the WCPO.
Having had nation-wide consultations in 2018 and 2019, the Tonga Ocean 7 team had hoped to finalise the plan in 2020.
But COVID-19 forced the delay as the Tongan government focused on keeping the kingdom free of the virus.
Environment Chief Executive Officer Paula Ma’u said the delay had given the team more time to review the plan and ensure everything was in place before it was submitted to cabinet.
Working with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Waitt Institute and the Italian Ministry of Environment, the Tonga Ocean 7 team has been able to finalise finer details of the plan.
These include different maps showing zones that have been marked for specific activities such as the special management areas (SMAs), marine protected areas (MPAs) and no-take zones.
Included in the zoning as well are areas marked for tuna fisheries, tourism activities and special marine parks.
“These are important parts of the plan, which will become the ocean management plan once that is approved and then gazetted,” Mr Ma’u said.
Plan critical for protecting marine resources
The plan is critical for Tonga, especially in the face of losing marine resources for various reasons, including over-use and climate change.
Mr Ma’u is one of the three government chief executive officers who chair the Tonga Ocean 7 management committee.
The others are Dr Tu’ikolongahau Halafihi, of the Fisheries Ministry, and Ms Rosamond Bing, of the Ministry of Lands, Survey and Natural Resources.
A challenge to manage the fisheries for all
Dr Halafihi said his ministry had been in the forefront of finding solutions to Tonga’s fisheries problems, which included tuna fisheries.
Tuna fishing within the Tongan exclusive economic zone (EEZ) has been dominated by longlining since the 1950s.
He said tuna in the Tonga EEZ were fished mainly by the distant-water longline fleets of Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Before 2004, the longline fleet consisted of around 15–25 local and locally based foreign vessels. Following a moratorium on foreign fishing in 2004, the size of the fleet declined, and by the end of 2011 consisted of only 3 vessels.
Dr Halafihi said foreign tuna longliners had been allowed to fish in Tongan waters since 2011 as part of Tonga’s program to increase tuna fisheries production.
In 2014, 19 foreign-flagged longline vessels had valid licences to fish in Tongan waters. The vessels were from Chinese Taipei (14 longliners), China (3), and Fiji (2). Thirteen of those vessels were less than 100 gross registered tonnes (GRT), with one being larger than 200 GRT.
In the same year, the catch for the Tongan longline fleet was about 61% yellowfin, 8% albacore, and 7% bigeye. In previous years, albacore was targeted but the focus switched to the higher-value yellowfin and bigeye tuna for fresh fish export markets. Dolphin was presently the most common non-target species.
With this scenario in place, the Fisheries Ministry had worked tirelessly with the Tonga Ocean 7 team to ensure that the Ocean Plan was finalised and gazetted for use.
“This is going to be a comprehensive management plan,” Dr Halafihi said.
While the tuna fisheries are a major focus, communities around Tonga have also raised their concerns on what they believe is best for the country.
Some have asked that special areas be marked off so that they can fish and earn income from their own fisheries activities.
Others have voiced concern that “others” from outside their communities are accessing their fishing areas.
“So there has been a lot of give and take to make sure that everyone is on the same page,” Dr Halafihi said.
Policing the Ocean Plan the biggest challenge
Once the plan is gazetted and in use, the bigger challenge would be policing the legislation.
“That is going to be a major challenge,” Mr Ma’u said.
Part of the work so far has been looking at the legal aspects of the draft plan and getting experts also to work on how it will be monitored and policed.
That is why the Tonga Ocean 7 has worked with communities, civil societies, the private sector, government departments and the fisheries industry across the country.
“We will need everyone working on this together if it is going to be successful,” Mr Ma’u said.
The plan is expected to go to cabinet by mid-year and to be in place by the end of 2021.
HONIARA – High market fees imposed on tuna vendors at the Gizo Fish Market, in the Western Province of Solomon Islands, are forcing more tuna fishers to revisit the coastal fishing grounds, and have led to unsustainable fishing.
Gizo Fish Market is normally restocked with fish every day, as people from communities around the provincial capital take turns to sell their fish. This usually makes it easy to control the price of fish at the market. But now a problem has arisen over the fees charged to sell fish.
Tuna vendors want answers from authorities on why they have to pay $SBD20 to sell their catches at the Gizo market. People selling reef fish are charged SBD$5.
Tuna vendors are concerned because they spend more money and risk their lives to travel out in the open waters to fish.
This has raised a feud among the tuna fish sellers in recent times.
Ms Namu Avo is from the Babanga community, outside Gizo Island. She is a frequent vendor at the Gizo market and one of those who has questioned the fee differences.
“I felt disappointed with how the authorities are charging the fees for fish vendors at the market,” Ms Avo said.
“Looking at the difference of SBD$15, it is very expensive for us tuna vendors, having put more effort, time and also more money to fish for tuna.
“Sometimes we return with very few tuna, maybe less than 20, and really need to sell them out to repay all the expenses incurred on the fishing trip. They will still charge us the same amount of fee. This is really unfair to us tuna vendors.”
Ms Avo and other tuna vendors at the Gizo market said authorities needed to consider the challenges and expenses that they endured to bring fresh tuna to the market.
Costly fishing trips and high competition at Gizo market
The tuna fishers’ toil is dangerous and difficult. They have to wake as early as 2 am to prepare before heading out to various fish-aggregating devices (FADs) to fish.
According to Wesley Misu, a fisherman and vendor from the Titiana Community, outside Gizo, the trip to reach the FADs can take up to 5 hours.
“Travelling out into the open seas in search of various FAD devices is very difficult and dangerous. At the same time, it is also expensive,” Mr Misu said.
“The weather, too, can be unpredictable. Therefore, we have to also take extra precaution, especially when the sea is rough and the destination is too far to reach.”
Fishers sometimes have to cancel their fishing trips when there is no fuel or when the weather is severe.
Ms Avo also said that fishing was a challenge for tuna fishers.
“To make it worse, when we came back exhausted to the market, we are told to pay the high market fee without being certain that our catches will be completely sold,” she said.
“This is a real challenge for me as a tuna vendor, while the reef fish sellers only take advantage of the reefs and doesn’t spend a lot of money to go fishing for tuna and just exploit the nearby reefs.”
The Gizo Fish Market was supposed to make selling fair to all, so that communities near Gizo could sell their fish each day. Each market day allowed vendors from two communities, including Titiana, Nusa Baruku, Babanga, and Saeragi.
“Therefore, as a community, we have to take turns to sell our catches at the market. This is an arrangement that a lot of vendors here at the Gizo market are very unsupportive of,” Ms Avo said.
She said she had found out that fish vendors at the Noro market were charged SBD$5 regardless of being a reef fish or a tuna vendor.
However, at Noro Market competition was not high as it was at Gizo. It was lessened because the National Fisheries Development unloaded most of its catch to the SolTuna cannery there.
Ms Avo said that at Babanga there were a lot of boats and that nearly all families on the island went out to fish, as it was their only means of survival.
“For us at the Babanga community, the competition at the Gizo market at times can be high. Some of us normally sell little quantity, but when other fishers or vendors comes with high fish quantity and started dropping their prices, we have no other options but just follow suit. So, there is no understanding between all tuna vendors at the market,” Ms Avo said.
“Such a situation will force fish prices to drop to as little as $10, and it will not meet the expenses we incurred to travel out to fish in the open seas,” Ms Avo said.
Turning to reefs as a substitute for tuna fishing
According to Ms Avo and Mr Misu, the misunderstanding between the tuna vendors had forced many fishers to resort to fishing in the nearby reefs. Too much fish was being harvested, so that unsustainable overfishing was occurring in the reefs outside Gizo.
“We are faced with a lot of challenges every day, from meeting the needs in our own homes and of our customers and clients at the market,” Mr Misu said.
“Fishing is the only means for us to earn money, since there is no land available for us to do gardening. The money we get from each fishing trip is used to pay for food, children’s school fees, and other basic necessities. Therefore, we have to try as much as possible to meet our daily targets.
“We even have customers and clients on standby to pay from us, either at the market area or their residential homes. When we are not able to fish for tuna in the open seas, we have to revisit the local reefs to help sustain our families.”
Ms Avo said her husband had had to forego tuna fishing trips.
“My husband is a tuna fisher, but at times when we do not have enough finance to set out on fishing trips, he had to forego the trips and opt to fish in the nearby reefs. This is not only us that normally face such issues; it is a concern for a lot of families in the Babanga community,” she said.
“I believe such practice is the reason there are limited fish stocks in our reefs. There are also no sustainable management plans being put in place for us to follow.”
Vendors call on authorities to set policies to make fishing sustainable fishing
Due to the rise in unsustainable fishing practices, tuna fishers and vendors at the Gizo market have called on local authorities to reconsider the fees charged at the market, so that they, too, can preserve their reefs for future generations.
Gizo Town Council clerk Charles Kelly said the local council was not responsible for collecting fees from vendors at the market.
“If there is anything to do with the Gizo market and the fees that are charged to vendors, Gizo Town Council is not part of it,” Mr Kelly said. Vendors needed to negotiate with the Gizo market master.
But he said the council was alarmed at the level of overfishing outside Gizo.
Gizo Market Master Moffat Maeta said his office was fully aware of the matter, and that his officers would try and sort out the situation so it was fair to all. He said the fee collectors were often lenient with reef fish vendors, which resulted in the low fees charged instead of the unstable fees.
“Normally, the fish market fees are charged at SBD$20 across the board for all fish vendors. This is clearly stated in the Western Provincial Government Market Ordinance.
“My office is aware of the fee differences as it’s been reported,” Mr Maeta added.
There were plans to review the market ordinance and the fish market fees.
Mr Maeta said that, because of the rise of overfishing in the province, especially around Gizo, the provincial government needed to review the fees charged at the Gizo Fish Market. One idea being considered was to reduce the fees charged to tuna vendors, and increase the fees for reef fish vendors, as a way of making fishing on local reefs less viable.
By imposing high market fees on local fishers who contributed to unsustainable fishing in the nearby reefs, it was projected that they would have no other option but to travel into the open seas to fish. This practice would allow local reefs as common fishing grounds to recover from overfishing.
“I will have a dialogue with my officers of the Market’s fish section and those from the provincial market steering committee,” Mr Maeta said.
HONIARA – The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has revealed that some fish species will likely vanish as a result of overfishing in waters near Gizo, the capital of Western Province of Solomon Islands.
Gizo has faced many life-threatening challenges and now it faces a bigger challenge in the fishing industry – an industry that was once rich in marine resources.
WWF Gizo officers carried out a study in 2020, looking at the top 10 species fishers target.
Their results show that some fish species decreased in a matter of weeks. Dafisha Aleziru, a fisheries officer for WWF, said this was a serious concern for the province and the fishing communities that relied on selling fish for survival.
“The study was done by measuring the maturity size, the spawning size of fish, and the minimum size limit of fish that are eligible to be caught,” Ms Aleziru said.
“The results we compiled have depicted that there are some species which need immediate attention. We have advised fishermen in and around Gizo to refrain from harvesting them in their hotspots.”
The researchers discovered that fishing has changed the size of fish all year round, because people rely every day on the sea for their daily needs. This means that fishing is changing the size of fish in terms of population, growth and environmental changes.
“Overfishing can be fatal to all fish types and stocks. When fish is overharvested, the wider food web will also be affected. On healthy reefs, algae are usually low from the grazing of some herbivores such the surgeonfish and the parrot fish, but when these fish disappear there will be no proper balance in the coral reef ecosystem, and seaweed-like algae (called macroalgae) can grow free, eventually suffocating reefs,” Ms Aleziru said.
“This is what’s happening now is Gizo and the surrounding islands.”
She said they had found that two of the popular fish species would disappear soon.
“The data collected shows that species like Acanthurus lineatus, [a surgeonfish] known locally as bebera, seki, berava or quere, and the Lethrinus olivaccus, which is locally known as long nose, misu, mihu or miu mola, are under huge threat locally,” she said.
According to the research findings, these two types of fish no longer reach maturity before they are harvested. The bebera begins to spawn at a length of about 17.5 cm, and is allowed be harvested once it reaches 20 cm. The long nose begins to spawn at about 46 cm and may be caught once it is 50 cm long.
She said the results showed clearly that the area had been heavily overfished over the years, with indiscriminate fishing methods used. The rising impacts of climate change were also contributing to the loss of fish. The scientific data they had collected proved that these species were in great danger.
“The destruction of the marine ecosystem has heavily contributed to the low fish population and, even worse, people tend to dive for fish, which has directly affected the growth of the fish population,” Ms Aleziru added.
Piokera Holland, a conservation officer for WWF Gizo, said: “The size of maturity for these fish to be harvested is 20 cm or 50 cm, but now you will find that most of the fish at the market are less than the actual maturity size.”
He said that the Gizo area would lose the species “very soon” from lack of conservation knowledge in the local communities.
Based on the findings of the scientific study, most of the communities had no knowledge of conservation management. Therefore, the WWF has begun to work closely with four communities in Saeragi, Simbo and Kolombangara to provide support through community-based resource management, in the hope that the two species can be saved and others protected from threat.
Apart from the WWF assistance, help may also come from the Western Province Network for Sustainable Environment (WPNSE), a network of non-government organisations operating in the province along with the provincial government’s fisheries office, to monitor the flow of a sustainable environment both Inland and Ocean.
In response to the outcome of the WWF study, WPNSE said it “will collaborate to address the issue in due time. The association will try as much as possible to not replicate the work of our members, but will meet to let each other know what they doing on a particular area.”
In light of the worrying findings from the study, the association is urging the provincial government’s fisheries office to take the lead before it is too late for the endangered species.
“We will be requesting the provincial government to put an action to the issue which the people and the marine ecosystem of Gizo are now facing,” a WPNSE statement said.
The study is also judging how well vessel operators are complying with the main rule to control marine pollution in the WCPO. This is the Western and Central Pacific Fishing Commission (WCPFC) conservation and management measure (CMM) 2017-04. The rule, which came into effect on 1 January 2019, prohibits the dumping of any plastics into the ocean.
The study into the disposal of plastic waste has been commissioned by the Oceanic Fisheries Management Project (OFMP2) of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). It is preliminary to FFA member considering possible ways of strengthening CMM 2017-04.
FFA has noted that, despite WCPFC’s “excellent step towards curbing drastic levels” of plastic marine pollution, “the reality of current plastic disposal methods is in stark contrast to the intention of the measure”.
The Chief Technical Officer of the OFMP2 for FFA, Hugh Walton, said that, although the passing of CMM 2017-04 was a “landmark win” for FFA members, it had not necessarily equated to a decrease in the amount of waste dumped at sea. Countries had had more than a year from the adoption of the CMM in 2017 to consider the means needed once it came into force.
Clause 2 of the CMM states that: “CCMs shall prohibit their fishing vessels operating in the WCPFC Convention Area from discharging any plastic (including plastic packaging, items containing plastic and polystyrene) but not including fishing gear.”
Mr Walton said most of the other clauses did not prohibit actions, but merely encouraged signatories to prohibit their vessels from dumping waste at sea. And there was no mechanism to enforce clause 2.
“We hope this study will point to ways we can align the intention and the reality of waste disposal,” Mr Walton said.
One of the three consultants doing the study is fisheries adviser Francisco Blaha, who worked on commercial fishing vessels for many years. He has teamed up with Robert Lee, who also has a lot of experience on fishing vessels, and Alice Leney, a hands-on expert in waste disposal in the WCPO.
“We all come from operational experience,” Mr Blaha said.
“We believe it is important that we understand what it is like working in the industry. This is partly because we can’t go onto the vessels at the moment so we have to do a desktop study only.
“But also because there is this whole belief that fishers dump waste at sea by pure malice. We know what it’s like on the boats and we know that’s not true.
“People do things because there are incentives to do it that way, or because they don’t know a better way. Space is always a problem on fishing boats, so we need to consider what the main sources of plastic waste other than fishing gear, how much plastic waste is produced, and what is currently done with it in different fleets and jurisdictions. Then we can think about better ways to deal with plastics. How can people be incentivised, with the limited options of surveillance that exist at the moment? That, in a nutshell, is what we are investigating.”
“We already have quite a lot of problems with rubbish. If we’re going to take fishing vessel waste back to land, this will have a big impact on the rubbish on the islands. Other than Suva, all the other dumps are saturated: there is no more room. The highest point of Marshall Islands is the rubbish dump.”
The study team will look to quantify how much plastic waste is generated in the exclusive economic zones of FFA members and in the nearby high seas, and group it by sources such as vessel size, gear used (longline or purse seine) and the number of crew members. They will look at estimate volumes produced, disposed of overboard and brought ashore. They will investigate the impact in the ports that attract a great deal of fishing traffic of disposing of waste there.
Then they will summarise the mechanisms for disposal that could be applied, and recommend strategies and practices that will lead to better application of the present regulatory frameworks.
“If we look by type of vessel, the area where we have the biggest volumes is longlining, as there are numerous fleets. But also purse-seine is quite remarkable,” Mr Blaha said.
“There is only 5% observer coverage on longliners, but from what we know, about 60% of what goes into the water is plastic. On purse-seiners, with 100% observer coverage, it’s 37%.
“We have identified that the main source of plastic waste for longliners is the liners in the bait boxes, and for purse-seiners, it’s the salt bags.” (Salt is used to make a brine that is used in freezing the fish.)
He said it was difficult to estimate the volume of these items, because there were so many variables to take into account.
“Let’s look at longlining. How many hooks get soaked into the ocean? There were over 800 million of them in the WCPO in 2019. Then we work out bait size and weight, and adjust for the type of tuna being caught. For tropical tunas, you may be baiting 100 hooks per box, but for albacore it may be 150 hooks, so the number of boxes used varies,” Mr Blaha said.
“With the salt bags in the purse-seine fleet, it is complicated by cultural variations in the ways people operate, for example in how the brine is prepared or how much you reuse the brine, or if you flood wells for unloading.
“With crew waste, we look at crew-generated plastics: food wraps, cups, water bottles. The totals depend on the number of crew, not just on the gear on the vessels,” he said.
Volumes were less difficult to calculate when vessels came into ports than if they stayed on the high seas, although there were still many variables to consider.
“It’s way more complex that we ever thought it would be – and we knew it would be complex,” Mr Blaha said.
“This study is the first step. This is an area that is only going to grow. It needs to be fine-tuned in the future. But for this step, we wanted to make sure that whoever reads this knows we considered as much as we can for the estimates, that this is not a back-of-the-envelope estimate.
“How any recommendations can be enforced is always the big question in anything related to fisheries.”
One way to verify compliance with CMM 2017-04 might be to strengthen the capture of marine pollution data using the electronic monitoring cameras on board that are increasingly being used on fishing vessels to help monitor compliance with other fishing rules.
The team was also exploring an idea that visitors to national parks in countries such as New Zealand and Australia are familiar with: that you take out with you what you brought in.
“If the carriers bring the bait, bring the salt bags, they can take them away again, as carriers may have incinerators on board, or at least more space. We are also exploring the idea of bonds: they get their bond money back when they show that the rubbish has gone back with them,” Mr Blaha said.
HONIARA – In recent times, communities in the Western Province of Solomon Islands have seen a drastic decrease in fish numbers in their common fishing grounds.
Two coastal communities that rely on the ocean for survival are Nusa Baruku, on Gizo Island, and Babanga, which is located on a beautiful, small, sand-banked island that lies 2 km east of the provincial capital, Gizo.
Unlike the overpopulated Nusa Baruku community, Babanga has a population of no more than a thousand people. Initially predominantly I-Kiribati, this community is gradually become a melting pot of race and culture in peaceful coexistence.
Increasing demand fuels overfishing of reefs
Just like every other Pacific island state, fish and other marine resources are an important commodity for people, who rely on them for income generation.
In Nusa Baruku, where fish is harvested every day, and this and an growing population and marine pollution mean the resources are on the edge of overexploitation. These three things threaten the coral reefs and their biodiversity, and now people have to go out far to fish for food and income.
According to Ms Eva, a fish vendor and fisher from Nusa Baruku village, the consistent use of unselective fishing methods has damaged the reefs. Eva has sold fish at the Gizo Market for more than 20 years. Over this time, she has seen the changes that are happening to the marine resources of her village.
“Growing up in the Baruku area, I saw the changes that are happening which resulted in the depletion of our marine resources. From time to time, these changes become challenges, as we no longer experience fishing like before, when it was easy and plentiful,” Ms Eva said.
Due to improper management of the resources they have, Eva said that, sometimes, they had to travel outside the islands to fish.
“Nowadays, it is not easy for us to fish in our familiar fishing grounds because of overfishing with the growing population in our community. Besides, marine pollution is contributing to the scarcity of our marine resources, not only the fish but also other seafood we normally consume,” she said.
Eva said she has been fishing for most of her life on the nearby reefs and had seen the changes happening over time in the ecosystem.
Pollution is playing a significant role in the damage of the ecosystem. The main sources are run-off from rivers; the spilling of hazardous substances such as oil and petroleum from vessels and small boats with outboard motors; and also human waste such as plastics, ghost traps, and lost nets, monofilament and lines. Once damaged, the coral reefs can take a very long time to recover.
At the Babanga community, a similar concern has been raised. Fishing has been regarded as one of the main income-generating activities on the island. There is limited arable land and water for growing root crops and vegetables, and they rely heavily on sea resources to meet daily basic needs.
In comparison, on large islands, copra and cocoa are the top seeds and contribute to incomes.
Babanga islanders expressed concerns over the lack of sustainable income-generating projects to support the rapidly increasing population.
”It is a cause for concern, given multiple challenges imposed on family livelihoods and community incapacity to contain associated socio-economic issues,” the islanders said.
Communities call for sustainable fishing project
With the increasing problems of reef exploitation in both communities, village fishers are calling on authorities to provide project support so they can make the harvest of marine resources, especially depleting fish stocks, sustainable.
A group of fishers from Babanga said one option was to ask the provincial and national government through the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) to step in and provide much-needed support in conservation management.
“Our only means of survival is to continue fishing, as there are no other income-generating activities available that one can make fast money just as how fish trading does,” one fisher said.
“If the provincial government and national fisheries ministry have available funding to assist us, we are willing to cooperate to save our decreasing fish stocks.”
The people of Nusa Baruku are pleading for conservation support to help them manage their resources before it is too late. As time passes, the increase of population makes it more difficult to manage their resources, because people go out to fish every day.
According to fisher and vendor Eva, one reef is normally be fished over five times a day.
“Now, it worries me to know that there will be no good place to fish in the near future, and it will be more difficult for the generation to come,” she stated.
Other villagers also raised concerns about the need for the whole community to understand their marine ecosystem so everyone could help protect it. However, in order for this to happen, they needed support from the fisheries and other NGOs to help them tackle these issues.
Lack of provincial government support clarified
In an exclusive interview, a fisheries officer working for the Western Provincial Government revealed that there were ongoing problems in the provincial government and that these had contributed to the failure of some proposed fisheries projects.
“Lately, we haven’t been able to fulfill some of the projects we planned,” said the officer, who wishes to speak in anonymity.
“Most of those projects were supposed to be funded by the provincial government under the provincial financial budget. MFMR is also helping us with infrastructure support such as building provincial fisheries centres, storages and other project assistances.”
The officer said that, although his office understood that local fishers wanted project support, it was reluctant because support had been used wrongly in the past.
“For example, recently, there was a program from the Ministry of Fisheries where people could apply for assistance like outboard motors, ice-cooler freezers and other fisheries aspects of support.
“We later found out that some of these people were taking such an opportunity for granted. They ended up selling their property to other people,” he said.
As a result, the MFMR had shut down project assistance. The ministry had transferred the assistance scheme to the Constituency offices to take care of.
“The new arrangement now allows rural fishermen to apply for fishing projects through their Constituency offices instead of requesting assistance from the provincial fisheries office. So, it is clear that all the funding for all fisheries programs and projects are directly received by their constituency,” the officer said.
The officer urged the people of Babanga and Nusa Baruku to seek help to their from their Member of Parliament.
WWF support takes pressure off reefs
The provincial fisheries office is now receiving support from non-government organisations that operate in the Western Province. One of these is the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The Gizo WWF fisheries officer, Ms Dafisha Aleziru, said the organisation was providing support to communities through micro-finance for women and conservation management with the construction and deployment of FADs.
WWF has already been working with four communities in the province in the micro-finance and marine resources management support. The communities are Saeragi in west Gizo, Varu and Nusa Tuva in Kolombangara Islands, and at Riguru in Simbo.
Ms Aleziru said, “The micro-finance initiative is to help women in these communities to look at other income-generating opportunities, rather than stressing the reefs with fishing activities. Similar to the micro-finance support, the idea to deploy FADs is to ensure that the management of all sea resources is under control.”
With the growing demand of financial and conservation management support from coastal villages, the organisation is looking to also support communities in Vela la Vella and Rannonga this year. But there is a process for communities to follow, in order to qualify for any assistance from WWF, though the office is open for the public and is on standby to help anyone who is interested.
“The first step is to write an application letter to the office and we will arrange a time to meet with the community. At the same time, upon receiving the letter, we will be doing an assessment at the community along with the proposed site,” Ms Aleziru said.
WWF conservation officer Mr Piokera Holland said, “Conservation is not an overnight job, as it takes patience and hard work before we can experience its benefits. People really need to understand how important conservation is and why it is vital for our marine resources and biodiversity.”
He said WWF had faced some challenges in setting up support. The main one was, when working with communities, ensuring the rights over and ownership of the proposed area.
”This is common in all the communities WWF has worked with. Sometimes the management plan was already given, but then some people will come forward and claim that the same area is also theirs,” Mr Holland explained.
He said WWF had not received any requests for help from Babanga or Nusa Baruku. However, the organisation was open for a dialogue, should the communities need assistance to conserve their marine resources for future generations.
Quantification is difficult to do but shows how to improve MCS
The quantification is complex work. To estimate volume and value of IUU fishing, the researchers must first differentiate between various types of IUU fishing. These may be as diverse as unlicenced fishing, misreporting by licenced fishers, a “whole range” of types of non-compliance with licence conditions, and post-harvest problems such as illegal transhipping.
Then the amount of IUU fishing in the various categories must be measured, and this requires using different tools for each kind so that they get useful information. Mr Souter said that in some areas, for example misreporting in logbooks of purse-seine vessels, there was quite good data. But data on some other types of IUU fishing activity was patchy.
Mr Souter said the 2016 study returned some interesting results.
“People conjure up pictures of vast fleets of pirate boats. In fact, unlicenced fishing contributed quite a small amount to volume and value. IUU fishing was dominated by licenced vessels not complying,” Mr Souter said.
“This has important implications: one of the biggest benefits of these sorts of studies is that it gives you a better idea of which kinds of IUU fishing are contributing the most. You can then look at it in a much more targeted way, because each kind of IUU fishing requires a different monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) approach.”
The benefit of having a second study was that FFA would be able to track changes in the kind of activity occurring.
“The study is primarily to inform FFA on their MCS approaches. You can target MCS much better when you know the profile of IUU fishing in the region. You can also track whether previous investments have worked,” Mr Souter said.
Improve data and monitoring to improve compliance
There were other benefits.
“It’s not so much that you need to improve compliance, but that you need to improve data, improve monitoring,” Mr Souter said.
In 2016, different data was collected on each risk. The research team made a best estimate, and came up with a minimum and maximum range of the probability of each risk occurring. Weak data gives a larger range and less confidence in knowledge about that risk.
By getting better data in 2020, Mr Souter said MRAG would be able to narrow the range values, which would give them more accurate estimates. Some ideas about where the worst problems were might change.
Better data and monitoring would allow FFA to identify risks better, and how to deal with them.
“Generally, FFA and their members do quite a good job of regional coordination of MCS. They’ve taken some strong and very coordinated measures that you don’t see in some other ocean basins. They work well together.”
He said that, overall, they had much better data this time round, particularly on illegal transhipping.
“We’ve tried to take apples versus apples approach to the two studies, so you can make direct comparisons,” Mr Souter said.
A draft of the report will be discussed at the annual FFA MCS Woking Group meeting at the end of this month, with the final report to be presented to the annual meeting of the Forum Fisheries Committee in May.
Honiara – As discussions on a new Tropical Tuna Measure (TTM) loom, Pacific island countries need to push more to get the international community to consider the impacts of climate change on the regional tuna fishery. It needs to take account of both high seas and in-zone allocations so that the measure can be more beneficial to the region.
Climate change has been come to be seen as one of the building blocks of the TTM, based on advice from the Scientific Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) that it is likely to result in increasing fish migration between zones to the east and the high seas.
Therefore, it is up to the members of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) member countries to lead the development of new measure – and it is apparent that there will be a lot of push and pull factors coming from some developed countries.
In a media conference to wrap up the 17th Tuna Commission meeting last December, the Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC), Mr Eugene Pangelinan, said, “As we move towards developing a new Tropical Tuna Measure or successor, our experiences in the past will dictate our behaviour in the future.
“The outcomes of what will be a Tropical Tuna Measure for 2022 onwards will be based on a lot of factors. I’m concerned that issues like climate change just might fall down through the cracks as we negotiate that Tropical Tuna Measure.”
A challenge for Pacific small island developing states
According to Mr Pangelinan, the discussions on pushing for the effects of climate change on the tuna fisheries to be part of the TTM was going to be a challenge for the small island developing states (SIDS) of the Pacific.
This is due to the fact that the developed countries will also push for their own priorities to be considered.
“The way we see it, as we prepare for this process in 2021, I think some developed CCMs are starting to take a very strong position on their priorities, such as profits and profits for their vessels and ensuring that their vessels have a place in this fishery to retain what has been very beneficial to them,” Mr Pangelinan said. (CCMs are the members, cooperating non-members and participating territories that make up the WCPFC.)
The FFC chair said FFA had a “totally different” view, and anticipated that these kinds of issues might become watered down as people would be more focused on what members were trying to achieve through the objectives that would be agreed on in early 2021.
“So, it will be quite a challenge to bring in elements of climate change, crew and labour standards, and so forth,” Mr Pangelinan said.
Besides these areas of most concern, he said that considering the impacts of COVID-19 in the discussions, “as we start carving out or drafting new measures, it’s going to be very difficult. I will say, we’re going to just be really ready and prepared as we have these discussions, and keep those in the back of our minds that they’re equally important to our people.”
“It is also important to also have leadership directives, from our highest levels of government that these are priorities as well,” Mr Pangelinan said.
Climate negotiations as everybody’s business
The FFA Director-General, Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen, told regional journalists after WCPFC17 that the fight for getting what’s beneficial to the Pacific island countries out of the new Tropical Tuna Measure was “everybody’s business” and could not be done by the FFA alone.
Dr Tupou-Roosen said it was a positive that Pacific leaders and ministers had highlighted the importance of climate change as the single greatest threat to their people.
“Whilst we’re faced with the immediate challenge and impacts of COVID-19 staying very much in front, on top of mind is what we do in the climate change space,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.
“And so we will see that start to play out as well, in the discussions around the Tropical Tuna Measure, in terms of the high seas allocation, given the scientists telling us that there will be substantial amount of fish within our waters that will migrate to the high seas, due to climate change.
“This will be part of the conversation next year  in that context.”
She said climate change was also linked to concerns about maritime boundaries. Discussion about this issue needed the support of all members and the regional community.
“Overall, climate change is a piece of work that cannot be done alone by the FFA and not just the secretariat and the members,” she said.
“But this is a work that needs to be done with our partners within the regional architecture we have the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme as a lead in environmental issues, and as the lead in our preparation before the COP meeting at the end of 2021, and how we ensure that there are entry points into that conversation on our fisheries matters.
“Because we all recognise that we are not the cause of these issues related to climate change and global warming: it is the large gas emitters. The conversation is not happening in our in our fishery space.”.
Dr Tupou-Roosen said that the island states cooperating as a region in debates was important “to ensure that we can influence the debate, ensure that it has flow-on positive benefits and fight for our fisheries work.”
Mechanisms such as compensation could be used to the region’s advantage in the fishing space. However, Dr Tupou-Roosen hoped that the talks would be very successful once the upcoming COP meeting was held face to face.
Their ecosystem approach would encompass the effects of climate change.
FFA and other regional fisheries organisations of the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) have already begun to take an ecosystem-wide approach to managing stocks of tuna and other commercially valuable migratory fish. Coastal fisheries, too, are increasingly being managed in a holistic way that encompasses whole ecosystems.
FFA and its partners are seeking funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to make the approach mainstream so that it becomes integral to national and regional fisheries policies, operations and scientific research.
The Deputy Director-General of FFA, Mr Matt Hooper, said that taking a whole-ecosystem approach to the threat of climate change would help the states of the WCPO to ensure secure supplies of local food and economic wellbeing.
He said an “enormous amount of work” had gone into developing the project.
“It was heartening to see the member countries contributing along with our partners and industry,” Mr Hooper said.
The project would build on the two blocks of work funded by the Pacific Oceanic Fisheries Management Project (OFMP2). This funding will end in June. OFMP2 supports the 14 small island developing states (SIDS) of the WCPO to implement and enforce global, regional and subregional rules and policies that conserve populations of tuna and other commercially important fish.
HONIARA – Malaitan communities have already benefited from the provincial government’s initiative to provide coastal communities with fish-aggregating devices (FADs).
The initiative was launched in May 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is considered to be a sustainable fishing technology that can support the coastal communities of Malaita with their fishing activities.
The program was initiated following the declaration by the national government of a nation-wide state of public emergency as COVID-19 sky-rocketed in March 2020. It was reported that the Malaita Alliance or Rural Advancement (MARA) Government supported the Malaita Provincial Fishery Office with SBD$100,000 as part of its COVID-19 livelihood program through the FAD launches.
During the festive season, the sinking islands of Kwai and Ngongosila in east Malaita reaped their first harvest since the FAD was launched. The Provincial Member for Ward 16, Preston Billy, led the first harvest of fish stocks.
“Fisheries is an important source of income for the coastal communities of Malaita, and also the rest of the Solomon Islands. The pandemic has brought in a lot of challenges for our local fishing communities, thus driving the local government to aid its own people,” Mr Billy said.
“It was a great experience to be giving back to the people of my community, being a fisherman myself before heading into provincial politics. This initiative is the best that the local government can do for its people, especially during this pandemic period.
“I was also part of the first harvest and it’s good to see that the local fishermen and their families are benefiting greatly from it,” Mr Billy said.
The Kwai Island community representative, Victor Suraniu, said they were filled with pride as beneficiaries of the local FAD program.
“Thumbs up to the MARA Government for donating and installing the FADs in the last six months. Indeed, we are very proud of what you have done for the hundreds of people who have directly and indirectly benefited from the fishing project, both from the islands and the shoreline communities from Wards 15 and 16 in East Malaita,” Mr Suraniu said.
“We also wish to show gratitude to our Provincial Member, Preston Billy for taking the lead to ensure that the FAD program reaches our shores.”
However, they are calling on Mr Billy to also try all means possible to upgrade and revive the run-down fisheries centre in the area.
Mr Billy said that plans were already in place to upgrade the old fisheries centre, which is located on the mainland.
Principal fisheries officer Martin Jasper said they had benefited the communities.
“This is a very successful program thus far, however more and more people are requesting for devices to be installed in their waters,” Mr Jasper said.
“For the year 2021, a total of eight FADs will be distributed: six FADs will be for mainland Malaita and two FADs for Malaita Outer Islands. This FAD distribution is a continuation from the 2020 MARA-funded program by Malaita provincial government for its people.”
Mr Jasper said the idea behind the provision of FADs was to shift people’s fishing activities from overharvesting reefs by moving to FAD-based fishing.
He said the provincial government came in to support its people because it realised the importance of this. It could also see that it was an income-generating activity for people.
He said that the FAD assistance program also had wide support from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.
Mr Jasper’s office is also engaged in other programs such as community-based rehabilitation management for fisheries. He said work was also in progress in other fisheries programs such as the Bina Harbour project.