How important is our fishing industry?

Fisheries and the marine environment support the livelihood and aspirations of communities and national economies in the Pacific Islands.

The Solomon Islands is among the islands countries so rich with marine resources, and in particular fish.

Fishing is an important activity at 3 different levels of the community: subsistence production, small-scale cash fishing, and the large-scale offshore fishing industry.

photo by Raphael Bick

Small-scale cash fishing is most successful near urban markets, especially Honiara.

Since the early 1980s, 31 fishery centers providing refrigeration and marketing services have been established throughout the country.

In the late 1990s, some centers were being renovated amidst attempts to facilitate the marketing of fish to Honiara and overseas.

This has not been successful, partly maybe due to isolation from market in the capital.

In a comparatively larger scale, there are two major local fishing companies in 1999: Soltai Fishing and Processing Company limited (SFPCL) and National Fisheries Development.

Soltai has a large cannery at Noro in Western Province which produced nearly a million cartons of canned tuna in 1999, about one-quarter of which was sold domestically and the rest exported.

The Solomon Islands fisheries sector recorded a 20 per cent rise in total catch to 25, 378 tonnes in 2008, a rebound from the previous year.

Photo by Rippert

The Central Bank of Solomon Islands (CBSI) said this buoyant performance was driven in particular by increased catch by one of the two major fishing companies National Fisheries Development Limited (NFD), due mainly to better fishing conditions and high prices during the year.

Soltai Fishing and Processing Limited (SFPL) on the other hand, recorded poor catch attributed mainly to the financial problems faced by the company during the year.

As a result of the low catch, SFPL purchased raw materials from NFD to sustain its cannery operations.

The average international fish price rose by 31 per cent to US $1,683 per tonne in 2008 from an average of US$1,289 per tonne in 2007.

Towards the end of 2008, fish prices fell but many forecasters predicated prices to slowly recover in 2009.

Meanwhile, in one of its monthly bulletins, the Central Bank said fish production for the month of April in 2010 has bounced back to record a 41% increase than the previous month.

The Bank said catch activities rebounded to 1,350 tonnes in April reversing the 48% fall in the previous month.

Year to date catch reached 6,890 tonnes compared to 5,239 tonnes in April 2009, the bank stated in the report.

The bank said the positive out turn is accredited to good fishing conditions by all vessels in the fishing fleet during the month.

Forum Fisheries Agency

Solomon Islands is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency which was established by the South Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency Convention in 1979.

It was established to help countries in the Pacific Islands region to sustainably manage their fishery resources within their 200 mile exclusive economic zones.

Illegal Fishing

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activity continues to be a concern for all Pacific Island States.

It deprives Pacific Island States from benefiting from resources within their waters.

Caught fishing illegally at the FSM

photo by Iki_yap

Illegal fishing continues to be a concern in the Solomon Islands, and those familiar with the industry say that it is time the country does more to curb it.

Recent media reports in the country say that the fishing industry is not deterred because the disincentives to illegal fishing are not that great.

Vessels that have been caught fishing illegally in Solomon Islands water have been released with just a fine.

This has prompted calls for a change in laws to ensure that fines reflect the current situation in the fishing industry.

There is a general feeling that profits made by illegal fishing vessels are huge, making fines imposed on them look “very cheap” and does not act as a deterrence.

There are also concerns over what appears to be political interference and lack of action against illegal seafood exporters.

The Solomon Times Online recently quoted watchdog body, Transparency International, as calling for action by the police.

And acting Police boss says if people have information about political interference, they should tell the police, who will treat it in the normal investigation process and dealt with under the law.

Traditional Fishing

Concerns have recently been raised over the export of live dolphins from the Solomon Islands.

Some communities in the Solomon Islands have traditional ways of catching dolphins for food and for its teeth which they used for traditional currency.

Over the past ten or so years, dolphins from Solomon Islands have been in the headlines after exports of more than 20 live dolphins.

Photo by Raphael Bick

Animal activists and conservation organizations were unhappy when it was discovered that some of the dolphins died on the way to their final destination in Mexico.

Although, the Solomon Islands courts have re-approved the export of live dolphins for profit, some local communities are reluctant to work with dolphin exporters because of the traditional value to their cultures.

There were also concerns that conservation organizations would use the issue of live dolphin exports to stop countries from trading fish and canned fish products with the Solomon Islands.

Impacts of fishing on stock

Member countries of the Forum Fisheries Agency say there were unfinished business at the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) last December.

They say these must be addressed this year.

Although FFA members made progress on some technical issues, they were not able to decide on the critical issues of overfishing of bigeye and yellowfin tuna, catch of whales and dolphins, and adequate severity of punishment for illegal fishing.

A statement from FFA say Pacific Island countries are the custodians of the last remaining healthy tuna stocks in the world and manage a marine area of 30 million square kilometres, supported with technical advice and services from the Agency.

FFA says much of the debate last December around overfishing of bigeye tuna centred on proposals that would freeze the number of foreign boats that come and fish in the Pacific Islands.

But it says FFA members pushed for measures that would cut the level of fishing of bigeye tuna, while preserving their rights as small island developing states to develop their fisheries.

FFA says the Conservation and Management Measure on bigeye and yellowfin tuna needs to be renegotiated at the next WCPFC meeting, December 2011.

The agency says its members are committed to delivering a package of measures in 2011 that would maintain the critical tuna stocks at sustainable levels.

Policy Change

Solomon Islands, like other Pacific Island countries need policy change to increase local industry development to create economic growth.

Currently the local fishing industry has low numbers of jobs, poor earnings from employment and a low impact on poverty alleviation and food security.

For example, Pacific Islands countries catch just $200 million worth of tuna from its fisheries while foreign nations fishing in the same waters catch over $1 billion worth.

The European Union is therefore funding a regional project on the Development of Tuna Fisheries in the Pacific ACP Countries Project, which encourages governments to make policy changes that can make it easier for a local Pacific fishing industries to grow and profit.

Activities to achieve this goal include analysis, consultation and training at the regional level on shared and common aspects of tuna development.

Treaties & Agreements

The Forum Fisheries Agency administers and provides support for negotiations and meetings regarding several fishing treaties and agreements.

These include the FSM Arrangement, Palau Arrangement, Nauru Agreement, Niue Treaty and US Treaty.

Conclusion

In summary, it is important to note that the importance of fisheries to the livelihood of Pacific Islanders should not be under-estimated.

Fish and marine life for that matter remains part of their daily life.

Everybody must work together at all levels to make sure this precious commodity is also enjoyed by our future generations.

The Forum Fisheries Agency is working at its regional level.

Local governments and people must also do their part at the national level for this noble course.

Everyone must work hard to make sure we minimize and end illegal catch and over exploitation of our fish resource.

Sources:            (FFA) http://www.ffa.int/

(SPC) http://www.spc.int/oceanfish/

About Solo boy
Works for the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, in Honiara, Solomon islands. Attending training on reporting on economic issues of communities. Training at APJC, Melbourne from April 18th - May 20th 2011.

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