Looking at trends in the Solomon Islands tuna industry and regional developments.
In the early part of 1999 tuna lost its number one position as a foreign revenue earner in the Solomon Islands to commercial logging, but it began to make a comeback as log prices almost collapsed in Asian markets.
The Solomon Islands has the largest domestic based tuna industry in the central and western Pacific region, with some of the most productive tuna fisheries inside the Solomon’s’ exclusive economic zone and the industry one of the main sources of export income.
For one that has followed Solomon’s tuna industry closely for many years, I was rather disturbed a few days ago when I read a news bulletin relayed by Radio New Zealand which claimed revenue from tuna caught in the Pacific’s EEZs are expected to decline due to climate change.
The news report in full said:
“Revenue from tuna caught within the Economic Exclusive Zones of Pacific Island Countries is expected to decline by 2050.
“This is the view of Conservation International's Johann Bell.
“The PACNEWS agency reported climate change will affect revenue generated from the industry.
“Mr Bell said their recent modelling has looked at how the biomass of tuna might change around the island countries and how it might change on the high seas.
“He said it showed that by 2050 there is likely to be a 15 percent movement of the amount of tuna in the EEZ onto the high seas.
“Bell said climate change will continue to increase the surface temperature of the ocean and this will cause skipjack and yellow fin tuna species to shift significantly to the East.
“He said a promising way to cushion Pacific island economies against a loss of license revenue would be to explore how best to add value to tuna...”
The rather disturbing news seems to have had little impact in the Marshall Islands where the Marshall Islands fisheries department is pushing two initiatives that could transform the country's engagement in the tuna industry and gain access to the lucrative European Union market.
Gaining access to Europe would require the establishment of the first "Competent Authority" in the Marshall Islands (RMI) and, once in place, could facilitate fish exports to the European Union, the world's largest seafood market.
In June this year, the Pacific Islands Forum fisheries ministers met in the Federated States of Micronesia to tackle a broad range of issues around the protection and security of the region's valuable tuna resources.
The FFA director general, Manu Tupou-Roosen, said then that ministers had to recognise they must ensure the major offshore resource - tuna - is not only managed sustainably, but that there are increased social and economic benefits for Pacific people.
The ministers promised to look at the impact of climate change on tuna fisheries, finalise a new regional long-line strategy, address human rights abuses and labour conditions for crew on fishing vessels
There were also calls for them to consider the diminishing coastal fisheries, which are source of much of the food consumed by Pacific Islanders.
In a follow-up meeting held later in June Pacific fisheries ministers made their strongest commitment to ending slavery and poor working conditions on boats operating in the region.
The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement want fishing vessel labour standards adopted by the commission.
They have written a draft resolution which the FFA said was in line with its goal of enhancing economic benefits for Small Island Developing States from employment on board fishing vessels licensed to fish in their exclusive economic zones.
FFA director general, Manu Tupou- Roosen, said the agency wanted better employment opportunities for its members but had to ensure the vessels provided safe working conditions with fair employment conditions.
A 'fisheries roadmap' adopted by Pacific leaders has set a target for Pacific Islanders to attain 33,000 jobs in the fishing industry by 2023.
Currently is thought there are about 23,000 Pacific Island employees across the sector, with 15,000 of these jobs in tuna processing, the vast majority being women.
When it comes to the surveillance of commercial tuna fishing in the region, Australia is playing an important role in its expanding surveillance programme.
Two King Air planes provide 1,400 hours of aerial fisheries surveillance to the 15 Forum Fisheries Agency island members. The planes are funded by Australia as part of stepped up surveillance and monitoring in the region.
Pacific island nations cover millions of square miles of ocean with only a handful of patrol boats to enforce fisheries rules and consequently an ongoing and significant level of illegal fishing that is estimated to cost the islands hundreds of millions of dollars a year in lost revenue, hence the air surveillance operations.
News sources: Radio New Zealand.