The Solomon Islands Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources has been precluded from planning appropriate management of offshore fisheries due to a lack of updated laws and a tuna management plan to address regional fisheries resources.

This was according to a report released by the Solomon Islands Auditor General, Edward Ronia in parliament this week.

The report, called "Managing sustainable fisheries (tuna fisheries) in Solomon Islands Fisheries Exclusive Economic Zone," also confirms suspicions regarding the value of licensing fees and undervalued fish catches in the Solomons.

"Licence fees from both domestic and foreign vessels in 2011 provided about SBD 106 million (USD 14.3 million) in government revenue," the report states. "While this is a significant earner for the government, it is only a low percentage of the catch value. Fisheries also provide a major contribution to the Solomon Islands' Gross Domestic Product (GDP)."

Total fisheries export earnings for H1 2011 was SBD 114 million (USD 15.4 million) or 8.6 per cent of total export earnings for the period, Islands Business International reports.

In the report, the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) claims that it is unclear, with the current 1998 Fisheries Act in force, whether the ministry has focused on addressing economic returns to the Solomon Islands from offshore fishing licences and access agreements, and focused on assessing whether they are appropriate to the value of tuna taken by vessels from the Solomon Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) every year.

Over the last year, the ministry has participated in negotiations and discussions meant to boost the revenue to the country from fishing in the Solomon Islands EEZ. Implementing a new Fisheries Act and approval of a new Tuna Management Plan will merge these recent gains and establish national legislative requirements that reflect sub-regional, regional and international responsibilities, the report explains.

"The Ministry does not have a formal fishing licence policy and guidelines," the report states.

In its response, the Ministry argued that since tuna are highly migratory species, effective management requires cooperation with other countries, which entails working with regional organisations such as the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and the Parties to Nauru Agreement (PNA).

"Solomon Islands provides information to these agencies and then works with other countries to make management decisions based on analysis and recommendations from the agencies," the Ministry said, Solomon Star reports.

"Collective decisions are then given effect by the Ministry. Therefore, any audit of the effectiveness of the management of Solomon Islands tuna fisheries must consider the collective nature of management and Solomon Islands' specific responsibilities within the collective approach," the Ministry added.

The Ministry also said that the audit was conducted based on the assumption that the 1999 Solomon Islands National Tuna Management and Development Plan is operational, even though it is not.