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Donnelly, R 2009, 'Managing for sustainability : the live reef food-fish trade in Solomon Islands', MSc thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright R Donnelly 2009


This thesis presents the results of a project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, which was devised in response to claims from the Solomon Islands government that the Live Reef Food-Fish Trade (LRFFT) in that country was conducted in a manner considered highly unsustainable. The project sought to establish a plan of management that would enable the fishery to be conducted on a sustainable basis. The population in Solomon Islands is overwhelmingly rural with largely subsistence economies at the village level. However, urban migration and cash dependence are growing phenomena. Unsustainable conduct of the LRFFT was considered a threat to the social and cultural fabric of the majority of the population, one that threatened food security and, in light of high population growth, the tenability of village life.

The aim of the thesis is to assemble the information necessary to establish management of the LRFFT in Solomon Islands on a sustainable basis. The primary focus entailed a socioeconomic evaluation of village life prior to, and in the presence of, a live fishery in order to gauge the impact of the live fish trade. It also examined the biological and ecological consequences of the adopted fishing practice; and the legislative and customary frameworks upon which the trade might be managed in a sustainable manner.

Interactions between fisheries development, coral reef ecosystems and demography determine that the study of fishing, especially subsistence fishing, requires the integration of research on the ecology of the reefs and their resources with research on coastal economies and societies. This has consequences for development and management programs and the evaluation of their impact on village communities. The demographic and food issues associated with fishing are at the focal point of fisheries dynamics. Consequently, this thesis examines the various components of the LRFFT and focuses on the social dynamics and development opportunities in Solomon Islands.

The study found that the rate of participation, and the fishing effort exerted, in the LRFFT differed in each of the three regions within Solomon Islands that hosted the trade. The difference was related to proximity to markets and alternative sources of income. The common aspect among these regions was that participation accompanied intensive fishing in seasonal and highly predictable spawning aggregations of the targeted species. Such fishing practice elsewhere has led to the collapse of fish aggregations and subsequent failure to reform. These species do not feature as a staple in the diet of villagers but do form a component. Fishers were paid marginally more for live fish than they received periodically for dead fish. During the three-month spawning period, villagers earned an apparently large amount, yet over the duration of one year, the returns were unremarkable. The disturbance to village life during this fishing period, the threat to future food security and the ecological consequences of the mass removal of top end reef predators, however, are the important consequences of the LRFFT conducted in a previously unregulated manner.

Observance of the Customary Marine Tenure system in Solomon Islands is strong. There is a strict hierarchical decision-making structure within the villages and clan groups. Defence of fishing access entitlements for a commercial purpose is vigilant and Custom Law is exercised for all but the most serious breaches. The government Fisheries Division is poorly resourced and, consequently, has a limited enforcement capacity. The scope for community-based comanagement is very good. Solomon Islands has modern Fisheries legislation that emphasises sustainable utilisation of marine resources. In accordance with this legislation, this project devised a plan of management that places customary reef owners central to the issue of LRFFT licenses and the conditions outlined therein. Intending operators must meet the conditions of a three-tiered approval process. Overriding all negotiated conditions is that fishing is prohibited in areas that are declared fish aggregation sites for three ten-day spawning periods per year, as is the export of Napoleon Wrasse.

Fisheries Officers were trained in aspects of live fish husbandry in a format designed for community extension. A stock monitoring program has been established, using Underwater Visual Census, which will form the basis of feedback between reef owners and Fisheries Officers, thereby cultivating an advocative relationship.