Solomon Islands may have to close off fishing grounds as part of a regional effort to control fish stocks within the western and central Pacific basin.

A limit on fishing days has been set for 2013 by the eight-member Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), which controls the open waters where 70 per cent of the Pacific Ocean’s skipjack tuna is caught. The reason behind the fishing limit is to ensure the fishery is managed sustainably and to keep the price of tuna stable on the world market.

PNA has established a limit of about 50,000 days for fishing this year.

"PNA will likely be out of fishing days by October. Some parties will have to close their EEZs (exclusive economic zones)," Marshall Islands Fisheries Director Glen Joseph predicted based on the fishing intensity so far this year.

Since PNA manages the skipjack industry through a "vessel day scheme," which divides the days among the members, when one country reaches its limit, it must either close its fishing grounds or trade for extra days from another PNA member country, the latter of which would allow the country in question to reopen its waters for fishing, Marianas Variety reports.

This relatively new scheme worked in 2011 for the Solomon Islands, with several PNA members trading days to keep the limit set on fishing days. However, in 2012, Kiribati sold days beyond its limit, for which it merely received a slap on the wrist at PNA’s annual meeting in April 2013, where all the members inked a deal recommitting themselves to respect the fishing limits.

This year, the pressure from US, Asian and European fleets for tuna fishing days will be heavy.

However, if commercial fishers use up their allotted days in the first six-to-eight months of 2013, there may be no fishing days left at all and the fishery will be closed, Joseph said.

"It is the nature of the situation," he commented. "We’ve agreed to apply limits and we have to maintain these limits — not only for the integrity of the VDS, but also for the compliance that is expected of us in the region and by the international community."

The Solomon Islands Ministry of Fisheries says they are aware of the situation and are monitoring it closely.

“We hope it does not come to that, but if it does than we will have to close off our waters, and hopefully negotiate with other PNA members who may have not used up all their fishing days,” stated one senior official.

“Such regional effort is always good for the industry, we just continue to encourage PNA members to respect the limit we have set, Solomon Islands certainly does, which we demonstrated clearly when we closed off our waters in 2011.”

The PNA consists of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu.


With FIS Media