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Customary marine tenure in Solomon islands: a shifting paradigm for management of sea cucumbers in artisanal fisheries

Christain Ramofafia, Idris Lane and Cletus Oengpepa

WorldFish Center, Honiara, Solomon Islands

Note from the Editors:

Due to a series of logistical problems the lead author of this paper was unable to attend the ASCAM workshop in Dalian, China, and to submit the final paper for inclusion in these technical proceedings. The abstract of the paper and its Chinese translation are nevertheless included to update the interested community at large on the status of the sea cucumber fishery in Solomon Islands (Pacific) and plans for a new framework for management of the resource. As in numerous other countries across the globe, national export data from Solomon Islands show decreased landings of sea cucumbers. The author proposes to spearhead a project that would promote an improved management approach, by involving the participation of the fishing communities in order to create a feeling of ownership. Customary Marine Tenure is seen as a suitable model to manage the fishery resource along with the enforcement of specific regulations derived from sound and available scientific information. The author has informed the organizers that he will prepare the paper and submit it to the SPC Beche-de-mer Bulletin some time later in the year.


With limited success of western models to manage fisheries resources, Customary Marine Tenure (CMT) could be a more effective vehicle for forming and imposing sustainable management of sea cucumber resources in Solomon Islands. Analysis of national export data from 1991 to 2001 shows a decreased landing of sea cucumbers from a record level of 622 tonnes (dried) in 1991 to 240 tonnes (dried) in 2001, with > 75 % of the 2001 landings derived from species of medium- and low-commercial value. The resources appear to be over-exploited because the falls in landings contrast sharply with the increase in both the exploitation of non-traditional fishing areas and participation of fishers in the fishery in the last 10 years.

The recent years of civil war (1998-2000) and resulting economic hardship in the country have left the sea cucumber resources extremely vulnerable to unsustainable and destructive exploitation. This vulnerability has been complicated by a marked weakness in the Government’s capacity to formulate and implement the necessary policies to protect these resources. Regulations such as size limits, bag limits, gear restrictions and seasonal closures [which are ad hoc in nature] have failed to achieve the desired aims, due in part to the limited human, financial and technical resources. Given the failure of centralised management of the fishery, the CMT system is likely to be a better tool for managing the sea cucumber resources. Because the CMT system is community-based and the inshore marine resources fall under this jurisdiction, active participation of fishing communities and resource owners in forming and implementing management strategies at the community level is fundamental within this context. Management of these resources should be transferred to communities and should entail the enforcement of regulations such as bag limits, gear restriction and seasonal closures, species rotation and area restriction. These should be implemented in accordance with the local system of CMT. This shift in the management mode will give a feeling of ownership and control within the communities, providing and empowering them to determine plans, activities and methods of implementation, fitting to local circumstances and needs. In contrast, the national government would undertake a supportive and coordinating role, developing policy and regulatory frameworks. The shift to customary management of sea cucumbers should reduce or halt the current overfishing and reveal an alternative approach for artisanal communities in the Pacific.

Keywords: Beche-de-mer, Community-based Management, Resources, Overfishing, Exploitation, Conservation

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