The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources said the lifting of ban on beche-de-mere is necessary because of difficulties faced by rural dwellers as result of the COVID 19 pandemic.
This was in response to concerns raised by certain people against the Ministry of Fisheries and the government over its handling of the beche-de-mer opening.
“The main reason for opening the beche-de-mer fishery is due to the economic difficulty that communities are facing at the moment and the impact on the government revenue,”
One of those concerned is the Leader of Independent Group in the National Parliament Hon Dean Kuku last week attacked the government and the Ministry of Fisheries describing their decision to lift the ban on beche-de-mer as ‘rush’ and without due consideration to the conditions required for lifting the ban itself.
The Director of Fisheries explained that the main reason the ban was lifted is because of the economic hardship faced by local Solomon Islanders.
Additionally, by lifting the ban it will also assist the government revenue which is also impacted by the COVID19.
“The main reason for opening the beche-de-mer fishery is due to the economic difficulty that communities are facing at the moment and the impact on the government revenue,” Edward Honiwala, Director of Fisheries stated.
Responding to Hon Kuku’s outburst why no stock assessment of the wild population of beche-de-mer was carried out before the lifting of ban, the Director of Fisheries said that although no assessment was done nation-wide, but selected BDM hotspots were assessed previous years in 2018 and 2019.
“MFMR has not carried out a nation-wide stock assessment as such undertakings are very expensive, however, selected reefs has been surveyed during the 2018/2019 invertebrates assessment by our Research Section. In addition, during the last opening period an intensive survey was done on all export consignments” Mr. Honiwala clarified.
The decision to strictly enforce the strict size limits on the different BDM species is based on these findings the ministry said.
“Currently the Research Section team from the Ministry of Fisheries is in Lord Howe to assess the situation there during this opening season.”
The Parliamentary Independent Group leader also questioned whether the Ministry of fisheries has in place control measures to tighten loopholes on harvesting based on past experience under its management plan to control this kind of fisheries species.
Responding to this, Mr Honiwala explained that the Sea cucumber Management Plan 2014 governed the management of the BDM Fishery in the event that the fishery is open. One important measure in the plan is the size limits sets for all BDM commercial species.
On the question of a likely breach of the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES) in particular the harvest of white and black teatfish the Director of Fisheries explained that these two species are listed under Appendix 2 of CITES. As required by CITES, Solomon Islands need to demonstrate that we are managing these two species well. As such setting the size limit for harvesting and setting the export quota are basic management measures in place. Further to that, in terms of the monitoring, MFMR have inspection procedures in place to ensure proper recording of export quantities of these two species.
The MFMR also have protocols for export in place, which all consignments will be inspected by Compliance Officers before authorisation for export can be made.
The Director also clarified that buying price for beche-de-mere is not a condition for lifting of the ban therefore for Hon Kuku to say that is a condition, is wrong.
It said the bench mark price is determined by the Ministry of Fisheries and not the exporters as claimed by the leader of the Independent Group.
Furthermore, exporters are required to abide by the application checklist when submitting their application for export license.
The Ministry of Fisheries categorically denied allegations by Hon Kuku that the government was merely playing catch-up game on the matter to correct a fast tracked process to please foreign export license holders as mere allegation that holds no water.