The region's leading tuna management control authority in the Pacific believes the latest move by the Solomon Islands to give priority to fishing companies that invest in the country would influence investment and offer more employment for locals.

Director of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement Secretariat Dr Transform Aqorau lauded the Solomon Islands' new longline licensing policy.

With the new policy, an extra 500 jobs will be created in Noro as the licences will enable Soltai to increase its production of tuna products.

Terms of the licences require that fish caught in the Solomon Islands' EEZ should be unloaded and processed in Solomon Islands, thereby increasing employment through processing and handling of the fish.

Fish landed in Solomon Islands will be exported thereby substantially increasing the country's foreign exchange earnings and improving its balance of payments.

The new licensing policy also allows for boats to unload their Solomon Islands catch outside of Solomon Islands in 2012, subject to payment by the fishing boat of a penalty.
Not only will this fish not be available for processing in Solomon Islands, it will not be available for inspection by officials from Solomon Islands Ministry of Fishing and Marine Resources who are responsible for surveillance of the fishery and control of the catch.

Part of the rationale for the change in policy was to increase the effectiveness of Solomon Islands control of their fisheries.

It is expected that boats which maximise their Solomon Islands landings will have priority in future licensing periods.

Tri Marine's National Fisheries Developments Limited has been granted 50 longline licenses in support of Soltai's processing requirements.

Soltai and NFD currently employ over 1,000 Solomon Islanders. The new licensing policy will allow Soltai to add a second shift to its processing operations, resulting in approximately 500 new jobs, and a significant increase in its exports of processed fish.
Joe Hamby, Tri Marine's Group Managing Director, welcomed the policy change saying: "We should congratulate the Government of Solomon Islands for this policy change in support of creating new jobs for Solomon Islanders and promoting domestic economic growth.

"The government's move will not only provide new jobs, but will also stimulate the creation of new businesses that will cater to the fishing boats and their crews that will now be calling at Solomon Islands ports to buy food, supplies, fuel, bait, make repairs, and enjoy Solomon Islands hospitality."

PNA on policy
Aqorau said: "There has been a lot of discussions of late about how Solomon Islands can develop its tuna resources in a way that lands real economic benefits to Solomon Islanders," he said.

"These benefits must permeate in the way of jobs both offshore on vessels as general deckhand, engineers, first officers, navigators, fishing master and captain, to employment opportunities onshore in processing plants from sorting, cleaning, scraping, packing, weighing, labelling, and marketing.

He said majority of Solomon Islands tuna caught by foreign vessels are processed in Thailand, providing jobs for Thai men and women.

"Consequently, the same tuna is sold back to Solomon Islands as Waioku tuna!

"Most people think it is PNG tuna because it is imported through PNG under the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) preferential trade terms; but it is not, it is actually and most likely tuna from Solomon Islands and other Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) countries (Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu) processed and packed in Thailand and sold back to us!

He said a check of the labels would probably have "Product of Thailand" written on it.
"The more Solomon Islands and PNA countries send their fish to destinations like Thailand, the less they support their efforts to build their tuna industry and create wealth from their own natural resources," Aqorau said.

Thailand remains the PNA countries' biggest competitor and threat in terms of the development of their processing interests because of Thailand's massive processing capacity."

Aqorau said this new policy would would ensure that the wealth from Solomon Islands tuna resources is translated into fortnightly wages on a scale that doubles, even triple, the current work force in the industry.

While tuna sustainability is an important aspect in the industry today-the current move by the Solomons could serve as a beacon of light for governments wishing to promote employment over meager licensing fees.

For only then can the fishing partnerships become more meaningful and valuable.