Wednesday, 18 May 2011 7:39 AM

Solomons Close Tuna Fishery This Month

Solomon Islands are in the process of closing its waters to foreign purse seiners this month. The decision to do so has been described by many in the fishing industry as "bold and decisive."

The Solomon Islands has used up all their tuna fishing days allocated under the Vessel Day Scheme. To follow their commitments to the Vessel Day Scheme the Solomon Islands chose to close their tuna fishery while it seeks to purchase further days from other Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) countries. This is the first time Solomon Islands have applied hard limits and been faced with this decision.

PNA Chair Ludwig Kumoro and PNA Director Dr Transform Aqorau paid a courtesy call on the Prime Minister, Danny Philip, the Minister for Finance Gordon Darcy Lilo and senior fisheries officials to discuss the matter.

The Prime Minister was briefed on this critical situation. The decision was referred to the Solomon Islands Cabinet which decided late Friday to close the fishery to foreign purse seine vessels while they pursue options to purchase further fishing days.

"While the decision facing Solomon Islands is a serious one, it is not without precedent. Last year the PNA was able to assist Nauru to find a solution after it used up its fishing days. This decision also benefited Marshall Islands, which had under-used its allocation of fishing days," said PNA Chair Ludwig Kumoro.

"All the PNA ocean states are committed to their goal of creating the world's largest sustainable tuna purse seine fishery. To do this, sometimes they must face difficult decisions to limit overall fishing effort."

The PNA operates a Vessel Day Scheme for purse seine vessels where a total number of days for fishing are set for the PNA area, and then divided between the eight PNA ocean states which can also trade days between them. Each PNA ocean state has what is referred to as a Party Allowable Effort (PAE) of days - if they use up their days they must close the fishery and purchase fishing days from another country so as to keep overall fishing effort in the PNA area within sustainable limits. In 2010, PNA committed to have hard limits on fishing, beginning in 2011, which should not be exceeded by any Party.

Last year, Nauru was in the same situation that Solomon Islands now face. It used up all its fishing days, closed the fishery and then purchased fishing days from the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) to re-open its fishery and continue licensing foreign purse seine fishing vessels to fish. Papua New Guinea, with its rich fishery, also purchased all fishing days Palau has in 2011 under the PNA Vessel Day Scheme.

The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) includes Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. Collectively, the PNA controls over 25pct of the world's supply of tuna, and 50pct of the all skipjack caught in the world comes from their waters. These Pacific countries cooperate to sustainably manage and develop this key resource.