Solomon Islands tuna production rises despite COVID

Tuna production in the Solomon Islands increased this year despite a significantly smaller fish catch.

The latest Central Bank of Solomon Islands (CBSI) quarterly report shows that the total catch dropped by 22% due to COVID lockdowns and unfavorable weather conditions.

However, both canned tuna production and tuna loin production rose by 4% in the first quarter.

Canned tuna production for the quarter was 1,458 tons and tuna loin production, 7,039 tons.

Fish meal production surged by 22% to 593 tons.

Canned tuna is produced for export and domestic consumption while tuna loins are primarily for export.

The CBSI report shows that the average fish price has increased by 12% to US$1,520 per ton during the quarter owing to lower supply associated with the poor fishing season around the world.

“Its good sign for Soltuna and Solomon Islands in terms of expanding the markets,” said Solomon Islands Trade Commissioner, Barrett Salato.

Two months ago, Chairman of Soltuna Adrian Wickham said the company produces 130 metric tons of tuna per day, five days a week – a production rate he described as very satisfactory to the company given the challenges brought in by COVID-19.

He said the National Fisheries Developments (NDF) catches 25 tons of tuna on average per year.

In terms of infrastructure, Wickham said the Noro International Seaport has also provided substantial support towards the tuna industry.

Noro International Seaport has installed a container yard with a cooling system to store tuna catches ready for export.

Recently, Soltuna has secured markets in Australia and New Zealand.

The breakthrough was made possible, thanks to the PACER Plus Agreement – a regional trade agreement designed to support Pacific Island countries to become more active partners in, and benefit from, regional and global trade.

Commissioner Salato said Soltuna is enjoying the opportunity to export under the PACER Plus Agreement.

Sallato said Soltuna now exports its products to Australian and New Zealand Markets with duty free privilege – an achievement he wants other local commodities to follow.

Fisheries was an important focus of this year’s budget, delivered in April. Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Nestor Giro said the allocation will encourage investments, build infrastructure and create jobs and address issues that resonate with the everyday struggle of our people.

The budget allocated SBD$15 million (USD$1.9 million) to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources

A total of SBD$7 million (USD$860,906) will be spent on community livelihood programs. These include:

  • the Progress GIFT Tilapia aquaculture program,
  • reef trials of hatchery reared juvenile sea cucumbers under the sea cucumber fishery management program,
  • expand seaweed farming to new sites in selected provinces and;
  • support the implementation of Community Based Resources Management (CBRM) activities in provinces to support communities manage and develop their fisheries resources.

SBD$4 million (USD$ 491,966) was allocated to the fish export infrastructure and fisheries centers program. It includes the Russell Islands Fisheries programme, the Fataleka Fisheries Constituency Centre, the Lata and Niola fisheries centers, an expanded Fish Aggregating Devices (FAD) Programme and improvements to ministry facilities in Gizo.

Another SB$4 million (USD$ 491,966) is allocated toward Tuna Onshore development and processing programme which covers:

  • Progressing the Tuna Onshore Processing Plant in Bina, Malaita Province,
  • Progressing the development of electronic fish accounting system at Noro port and;
  • Enhance and expand the electronic monitoring and reporting systems for longline fishery.

The budget aims to improve the country’s fisheries industry.

Giro said its initiatives “included the provision of opportunities for rural fishers and communities through promotion of on-shore fisheries and to increase contribution of commercial and large-scale tuna fisheries to the national revenue.”

Budget initiatives will also “improve and strengthen the contribution of small-scale fisheries for food security and socio-economic benefits of fishing communities, support indigenous resource owners in marine resource business management plans and to strengthen Provincial and National Fisheries Governance,” Giro said.

Funding from the World Bank will give an additional boost Solomon Islands fisheries industry.

The $13.5 million Pacific Islands Regional Oceanscape Program – Second Phase for Economic Resilience (PROPER) in Solomon Islands aims to strengthen regional fisheries management to ensure oceanic fish stocks are better protected from illegal fishing.

The project will also support coastal fisheries through activities to ensure Pacific fishers, their families, and their communities see lasting benefits from the seafood sector into the future.

According to spokesperson of Tuna Industry Association Solomon Islands (TIASI), Russell Dunham, Solomon Islands tuna industry has continued to flourish due to close collaborations between main fisheries organisations in the region and local industry.

He said Solomon Islands is very fortunate that all four tuna species are present in its waters with huge potential to source major revenue for the country.

“Solomon Islands is also very fortunate that we have all three major commercial ways of catching tuna: the purse seine, longline, and pole-and-line fishing. There are not so many Pacific Island countries that are fortunate to have access to these,” Durham said.

While he acknowledged the potential of Solomon Islands tuna industry, Durham also cautioned that sustainability of the resources is paramount. Durham said sustainable management of tuna resources is important not only for the country but for the industry in the region.