Commodity balance (1999):
The Solomon Islands lie in the southwest Pacific, to the east and south of Papua New Guinea. The country consists of two roughly parallel island chains with six major high island groups. In total there are some 992 islands distributed over 1,340,000 sq km of sea. The Solomon Islands is the third largest archipelago in the South Pacific. The main islands vary in length from 140 to 200 km and in width from 30 to 50 km, and in types from high islands to raised atolls and low lying islands, sand cays and rock outcrops. Guadalcanal is the largest island (5,340 sq km), while the others scale down from that to a size of less that 1 ha. The Solomon Islands, being in the west of the Pacific Islands region, has relatively high biological diversity. The most distinguishing feature of the coastal area of the Solomon Islands as compared to most other countries in the Pacific Islands region is the size of its major islands. The larger islands tend to have a greater rainfall, more rivers/streams, and consequently more nutrient run-off.
The islands are divided administratively into eight provinces, which have considerable autonomy in matters of self-government, including in relation to fisheries.
Recent civil disturbances have had a major effect on the fisheries situation in the country. Severe ethnic tensions have occurred, mainly between the original inhabitants of Guadalcanal people and people from Malaita Island who have re-settled on Guadalcanal. In 1999 the situation degenerated into sporadic violence. In 2000 many fishing enterprises closed, air service to the country was suspended, institutions were plundered, and fishery exports declined substantially.
The fisheries situation of the country is characterized by:
About 90% of the Solomon Islands population is living in rural areas, so subsistence and artisanal fishing activities are widespread and of great importance. These fisheries are concentrated on coastal and nearshore reefs and lagoons. The target resources are reef associated finfish, beche de mer, trochus, giant clam, lobster, and turbo. About 180 species of reef finfish fish, from 30 families, are caught by the small-scale rural fisheries. The catch is comprised, mostly, of Lutjanids (snappers), Serranids (groupers and rock cods), Lethrinids (emperors), Scombrids (mackerels) and Carangids (trevallies).
The small-scale commercial fisheries are mainly located near the main urban area of Honiara, and to a much lesser extent, around the towns of Auki on Malaita Island and Gizo in the west. These fisheries are oriented to providing primarily finfish to wage-earning residents. The other common form of small-scale commercial fishing is that for non-perishable fishery products for export. The most important of these items are trochus shells, beche-de-mer, and shark fins. These commodities are an important source of cash for Solomon Islanders, especially in the isolated villages since the demise of the copra industry. With an average production of about 400 t per year of trochus, the Solomon Islands is the largest producer in the Pacific Islands region.
Numerous programmes have been carried out by government to promote the improvement and commercialization of rural fisheries, most often with the assistance of external donors. Under these programmes fisheries centres, generally equipped with ice-making and/ or cold storage plants, were established in a number of rural areas in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The centres were intended to serve as market outlets for fish caught by rural fishermen, sell fishing gear and provide training in new fishing techniques and improved catch handling. Although about 25 of these centers were established, by mid-2001 less than a dozen were functioning. This is thought to be due to the unfavourable economics of commercial fisheries in rural areas and the civil unrest which has plagued the country since the late 1990s.
A significant small-scale fishery targeting deep water bottom fish for domestic and export marketing has years developed in recent. This fishery has been promoted by the EU-sponsored Rural Fishing Enterprises Project, which supports rural fishers in both production and marketing. The project has fostered the establishment of fishing groups based at new or existing fisheries centres, some of which it has rehabilitated and re-equipped, and has provided training in catch handling and specialised fishing skills, as well as marketing assistance. As a result of project activities, deep-bottom fish landings have risen from negligible quantities in the late 1980s to over 170 mt in 1996 and 1997. As with many other aspects of fisheries in the Solomon Islands, the civil unrest negatively affected this fishery and landings decreased sharply in the period 1999 to 2001.
Since 1994 various companies have operated in the Solomon Islands collecting live reef food fish. Although the fishery is relatively small in size, it has attracted much local and overseas attention due to concern over issues related to sustainability. The important target species in Solomon Islands are the square-tailed coral trout (Plectropomus areolatus), camouflage grouper (Epinephelus polyphekadion) and the flowery grouper (E. fuscoguttatus). Some aquarium fish collecting is also undertaken, with one company active in mid-2001.
Solomon Islands coastal and offshore waters are rich tuna grounds and have traditionally been exploited by distant-water fishing fleets. Japanese longliners have fished in the zone since at least 1962 and annual catches have ranged up to 9,500 t (1978), but have been around 3,000 - 4,000 t in the late 1990s. Catches are dominated by yellowfin tuna (typically 60%) with albacore and bigeye making up the balance. Effort is directed to more northern and western areas where the proportion of bigeye in the catch is higher. Catch rates have shown no clear trend over the period, other than an increase in bigeye catch rates in recent years.
Domestically-based fishing operations commenced in 1971 with the formation of Solomon Taiyo Ltd. (STL), a joint venture between the Solomon Islands Government (SIG) and the Taiyo Gyogio Fishing Company of Japan. STL has since established a new fishing base and cannery in Noro, Western Province. A second tuna fishing company, National Fisheries Development Limited (NFD) was later established in a joint-venture arrangement between the Government and STL. After accumulating substantial losses, NFD was sold to a Canadian company, BC Packers, in 1990. About a decade later the company was again sold, this time to Trimarine Corporation.
The domestic pole-and-line fleet has operated since 1971 with catches approaching 40,000 t in 1986, a peak year. Effort is concentrated around the Main Group Archipelago where baitfish supplies are most readily available. The fishery shows strong cyclical variation, with peaks every three or four years, a feature which seems to be linked to El Niño events.
Initially the domestic tuna fishery was primarily a pole-and-line fishery, but group seining was commenced by STL in 1984 and later single-seining was undertaken by both STL and NFD using two government-owned vessels as well as vessels chartered from Australia, Taiwan and Japan. In the late 1990s the purse seine fishery was basically comprised three domestic vessels which caught around 11,000 t per year. Operations are concentrated around the Main Group Archipelago.
Other vessels have been licensed in recent years, but little information on their activities is available. US purse seine vessels also have access to a small part of the zone under the Multi-lateral Treaty, but in recent years the US fleet has fished to the east of the Solomon Island zone.
Since 1995 several joint-venture tuna longlining enterprises have operated from shore-bases in the Solomon Islands. Foreign longliners chartered to five local fishing companies began operating in 1995. Over 30 vessels were nominally operational in the following year, a mix of ice vessels and larger conventional freezer longliners which together caught 5,540 t. Catches are either air freighted to sashimi markets in fresh-chilled form or frozen and shipped by sea.
The total catch of tunas in the Solomon Islands EEZ in 1999 was 73,493 t. The local industrial tuna fleet in that year consisted of 20 longliners, 5 purse seiners, and 30 pole/line boats. The catches by country in the Solomon zone in 1999 were:
Units: metric tonnes, Source: SPC Catch and Effort Logsheet Database with adjustments
Since 1999 the tuna fishing situation has deteriorate due to the social unrest. Solomon Taiyo's Japanese joint venture partner formally severed ties to the company in February 2001. In mid-2001 Solomon Taiyo's fleet consisted of 10 operating pole/line vessels. Tuna catches in 2000 have been estimated to be less than half of the 1999 level.
Despite the presence of numerous rivers and streams in Solomon Islands, inland waters contribute little to fisheries production. Some occasional sale of wild-caught freshwater prawns (Macrobrachium lar) and eels occurs (Angillua sp.) occurs. Otherwise the small amounts of freshwater production are used for subsistence purposes.
Aquaculture currently contributes little to fisheries production in Solomon Islands. A private project attempting to culture freshwater prawns (Macrobrachium rosenbergii) commenced in 1984 but achieved production of only 500 kg/year before it was terminated in 1987.
Subsequently, a single Penaeus monodon shrimp farming operation was established in 1987 by a private operator. Production has increased steadily, reaching 12.6 t in 1994, but the farm closed during 2000 during the civil unrest.
The Coastal Aquaculture Centre (CAC), was a joint project between SIG and the International Centre for Living Aquatic Resource Management (ICLARM) and promoted mainly the culture of juvenile giant clams for the live aquarium trade. The clams were grown out by small-scale farmers who then sell their production to exporters. Survival rates and ex-farm prices (US$ 3.00-4.50 per shell) have been favorable to date. In the late 1990s efforts were made to explore giant clam sashimi markets in Taiwan and Hong Kong. CAC also initiated a black-lipped pearl oyster collection programme with a view to investigating pearl culture, experimental culture of sea cucumbers (beche-de-mer), and a project to investigate green snail and trochus resources, the latter with Japanese assistance. CAC ceased operation in early 2000 due to violence associated with the civil unrest.
In 2001 aquaculture operations in the Solomon Islands were limited to an experimental pearl farm near Gizo and a limited amount of seaweed farming in Malaita and in the Western Province.
Utilization of the catch
Of the 73,493 mt of tuna landed in 1999, the vast majority was exported. According the Central Bank of the Solomon Islands, about 71% was exported frozen, 22% canned, 5% chilled, and 2% smoked (arabushi). Thailand received most of the frozen tuna, the UK took the majority of the canned product, the chilled fish was sent by air freight to Australia for forwarding to mainly Japan, and all of the smoked tuna was for Japan.
In 2001 the tuna marketing situation was very different from that of the 1990s due to the social unrest. Because of the reduced amount of fishing, most of the production was for local processing (canning and smoking), with much less frozen exports. Chilled exports suffered from additional problems associated with air freighting.
In the mid-1990s landings from the deep slope fishery gradually increased to over 170 t, of which 25-30% was exported. Due to the social unrest, the exports of deep bottom fish were almost negligible in 1999 and 2000.
It is estimated that 16,200 t of reef and lagoon fish are taken annually by subsistence and artisanal fisheries and that around 80% of this catch (13,000 t) is used for subsistence consumption. Some 75% of the fresh fish marketed in Honiara is reported to be provided by small-scale fishers in Isabel and Malaita Provinces.
Although there are no reliable statistics collected on the landings of the small-scale fisheries in the Solomon Islands, there have been several attempts to estimate per capita fish consumption. During the last two decades most of these estimates indicated an annual per capita consumption of between 32 and 40 kg for the entire country. However a 1992 survey of household consumption which was restricted to the Honiara area reported an estimated annual per capita consumption of seafood of 45.5 kg, of which 36.7% was fresh fish, 31.0% frozen fish, and 32.3% canned fish. The survey found that 31% of households consumed fish daily and 82% of meals containing animal protein were based on fish.
STATUS OF THE FISHING INDUSTRY
A recent study by the Asian Development Bank showed that the contribution of the fishing sector to GDP in the Solomon Islands was about 12.8% in 1999.
The Solomon Islands labor market survey of 1998 contains information on fisheries-related employment. It shows that 1,412 people were employed in fishing out of a total of 34,061 people formally employed. Another study focused on the country’s tuna industry indicated the following types of jobs and numbers of people employed: Local pole/line vessels: 750; Local purse seine vessels: 135; Local longliners: 240; Cannery: 1450; Sashimi handling/processing: 40; Artisanal fishing vessels: 100; Crew on foreign fishing vessels: 138. It was stated that these 2853 people employed in activities related to tuna represent about 10.8% of all employed people in the Solomon Islands.
It has been estimated that the annual value of the production from the fisheries in the Solomon Islands was about US$80 million in the late 1990s. This is comprised of subsistence fishing (US$8 million), coastal commercial fishing (US$2 million), locally-based offshore fishing (US$69 million), and foreign based offshore fishing (US$1 million).
There are multiple estimates of the value of fishery exports from the Solomon Islands. According to the Central Bank of the Solomon Islands, in 1997 fishery exports were worth US$35.5 million, which is about 20% of the value of all exports from the country.
More than 90% of marine product exports have usually comprised tuna and tuna-related products, primarily in frozen or canned form. Non-tuna exports have been dominated by beche-de-mer, trochus products (including semi-processed buttons), black-lipped pearl oyster and shark fins.
Solomon Islands has derived significant national revenue through the licensing of foreign fishing vessels to fish in its EEZ. In the early 1990s over a hundred vessels were licensed to fish in the zone, which resulted in some US$2 million in fees per year. At the end of the decade the number of foreign vessels fishing was reduced due to various reasons, including more local basing and (for purse seiners) a shift to the east in the fishing grounds. In 1999 the Solomon Islands received about US$ 273,000 in access fees. This amount represents about .1% of the GDP of the Solomon Islands.
Since June 1993 there has been a ban on tuna transshipments at sea by all vessels operating under licensed fishing access agreements with South Pacific Forum member countries. Solomon Islands has benefited from this arrangement through taxes on transshipments made at the ports it has designated for this purpose, i.e. Honiara, Tulagi and Noro, and through additional commercial activity. A recent study showed that a purse seine vessels purse seine port call results in payments of about US$3,000 to $4,000 for government services and government levies. In addition, payments to the private sector during transshipment port calls are around $4,000 per visit. Honiara is one of the more popular ports in the Pacific Islands for transshipping, with between 65 and 120 purse seine calls per year in the late 1990s. The civil unrest after 1999 had a large negative effect on the number of transshipments.
Much of the Solomon Island’s EEZ is productive for tunas, and productive all-year round for surface fisheries at least, although there is significant year-to-year variation. Although the EEZ is of moderate size by regional comparatives its high productivity means that the Solomon Islands has access to a moderately large national tuna resource which is thought to be able to withstand increased catches. SPC has projected that longline catches could probably be doubled to, say, 12,500 t/ yr. provided that fishing effort is dispersed more widely throughout the EEZ. SPC has also project that if surface catches of skipjack were to be increased from present levels (50,000 t) to 100,000 t, the catch per unit effort would fall by 28%.
These projections of course assume that exploitation levels in neighbouring countries do not also increase. Since the tuna resource is a shared one, fishery development and management needs to take place in a regional context.
The potential for increasing production or revenues from inshore fisheries appears much more limited, with certain exceptions. Many inshore resources, including beche-de-mer and trochus, are thought to be over-exploited and sustainable management should involve a reduction in harvesting levels. Deep bottom fish and reef fish are moderately exploited in some areas and under-exploited in others: there may be some scope to increase production, as well to increase economic returns from value-added processing. Aquaculture may have development potential but is currently only in its early stages in Solomon Islands.
The civil unrest since 1999 is a threat to most development prospects. In addition to the damaging effects of violence, a breakdown in government services and infrastructure has created a very unfavourable environment for economic development, as well as major difficulties for resource management interventions.
The main fisheries law in Solomon Islands is the Fisheries Act of 1998, and the various fishery regulations promulgated under the Act, which establish rules for both domestic and foreign fishing of all kinds. Other relevant legislation includes the Fishery Limits Act (1997) and the Delimitation of Marine Waters Act (1988) under which Solomon Islands lays claim to a 200-mile EEZ and defines the various fishery zones included therein.
The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is responsible for ensuring the sustainable development and management of Solomon Island’s living marine resources. The Ministry is structured in five sections:
The various Provincial Governments also have their own Fisheries Departments or Officers, who are variously engaged in fishery extension, development, research and monitoring work in conjunction with the national Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.
Research and training
Solomon Islands Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources undertakes a range of fishery research projects, often in association with external organisations or donor agencies. In recent years these have included:
Prior to its closure in early 2000, the Coastal Aquaculture Centre (CAC) carried out a number of applied research projects, usually in collaboration with SIFD. These have included:
The Arnarvon Islands located between Isabel and Choisel Islands are host to a number of marine research projects, including that sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, Biodiversity Conservation Network, Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research, International Center for Living Aquatic Resource Management, South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Many of the projects involve biodiversity conservation, turtle protection, and the effects of a marine reserve on species abundance.
Research into green snail and trochus has also been conducted with the assistance of Japan’s Overseas Fisheries Cooperation Foundation, concentrating on areas in the Russell Islands and Central Province.
Vocational training for the fisheries sector is delivered through the Solomon Islands national Marine and Fisheries Training School, which runs various levels of officer and deckhand training for the industrial fishery. The school also provides training for selected rural fishers through courses in practical fishing, catch handling and quality control, basic marketing and fisheries resource management.
Higher-level training related to fisheries is generally sought overseas, primarily at the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji. Through its School of Marine Studies in Honiara, USP maintains a presence in the Solomons.
Other fisheries-related training for Solomon Islanders is carried out through courses and attachments sponsored by the South Pacific Commission and the Forum Fisheries Agency.
The MMN OF Fisheries and Marine Resources maintains direct contact on technical issues with regional and international organizations dealing in fisheries. Policy and other matters are managed in the first instance through designated contact points, most often the Department of Foreign Affairs. Solomon Islands is a member of the South Pacific Commission (SPC), the South Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Solomon Islands is also party to a number of treaties and agreements relating to the management of regional fisheries, including:
Solomon Islands is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.
Fisheries development in Solomon Islands has been heavily dependent on external economic and technical assistance. Virtually all development initiatives have been donor supported, though most have included a SIG contribution.
Bilateral aid for fisheries has been received from Australia, New Zealand, UK, Taiwan, and Japan, while multilateral assistance from FAO, UNDP, EU, ADB, and Japan’s Overseas Fisheries Cooperation Foundation. The regional organisations serving Pacific Island countries, including the Forum Fisheries Agency, the South Pacific Commission, the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, the Forum Secretariat, and the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission, as well as several UN agencies (UNDP, ESCAP) have also been active in supporting Solomon Islands’ fisheries sector.
Because of the civil unrest many of the fisheries-related aid programmes have been suspended. In mid-2001 the EU-sponsored Rural Fishing Enterprises Project was the only major initiative in operation.