This came about following a request from Malaita Outer Island’s task force to develop a Management Plan for their people on Luangiua and Ontong Java Islands.
Unsustainable harvesting of sea cucumber (bech-de-mere) gave rise to the need to come up with a management plan to ensure this resource is managed properly.
On Monday this week a team from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources led by the Director of Fisheries Mr Edward Honiwala, conducted a consultation meeting at the Lord Howe settlement in Honiara which was attended by elders from the community those who are involved in the beche-de-mere trade.
Speaking on the occasion Mr Honiwala said this consultation meeting is an important step towards developing a sea cucumber management Plan which was requested by the MOI Task Force Committee in a meeting with MFMR last year.
He said Lord Howe Islands has very small land mass and depends on its coastal marine resources for livelihood but with increasing population it has put pressure on the resources.
“With increasing population, impacts of climate change and sea level rise, it affects the people in the Islands. On that note, the Ministry has seen that Lord Howe people are strong to face the realities they have and it is important we work collaboratively to address the issues faced," he told those who attended the meeting.
He said the Ministry of Fisheries through the Community Based Resource Management (CBRM) Section within the Inshore Fisheries Division has worked with interested communities to develop community based fisheries management plans.
“We hope to gather reliable and truthful information to begin with a Lord Howe Sea cucumber/bech-de-mere management plan that is aligned to the Fisheries Management Act 2015, National bech-de-mere management plan, the national fisheries regulations and the Malaita Fisheries Ordinance at the end of this consultation meeting,” Mr Honiwala said.
The Fisheries Director also used the occasion to explain to the participants the reason(s) why the ban on harvesting and export of beche-de-mere is still in force.
He said export data and the stock assessments have indicated the beche-de-mere fishery is highly exploited and overfished.
“Beche-de-mer export data from MFMR licensing records from the four open seasons from years 2013, 2015, 2017 – early 2018 and late 2018 – 2019 has shown a general decline in the export quantity, he added.
Stock assessment surveys undertaken by fisheries officers have shown a decline in the volume of exports over four open seasons since 2013.
“Total volume exported decreased by 4% from 325 tonnes in 2013, to 311 tonnes in 2017-2018. Similarly, total value of the beche-de-mer exported over the same period has reduced by approximately 50% from SBD 35 million in 2013, to SBD 19 million in 2017 – 2018 harvest period.
“Total quantity exported for 2018-2019 was 123,752Kg and value of export was $9,672,386.50,” he said.
The Fisheries Director also pointed out that data collected have shown that low value beche-de-mer species accounted for the largest quantity of beche-de-mer export for all the four harvest periods.
“National stock status surveys have also shown very low densities in reefs,” he said.
He stressed that these are strong indicators that the fishery is heavily fished and this is why the national ban is still in place.
“The national ban is important to ensure the fishery recovers again so that it will continue to contribute to the socio-economic needs of all Solomon Islanders,” Mr Honiwala said.