NFD and Soltuna set good template for future fishing projects

It is important to recognize the significance of tuna fishing, processing and distribution because it is a global industry which creates a situation where all different sources of supply are competing for the markets and Solomon Islands in this case is a price-taker accounting only for less than one percent of the global catch.

Speaking on the integrated operations of National Fisheries Development (NFD) and SolTuna to Consultants in the Policy Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Unit (PIMEU) in the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet recently, General Manager of National Fisheries Development Limited, Frank Wickham, revealed that NFD catch can be alternatively sold to other markets, apart from SolTuna, with potentially good returns.

He explained that a good example to reflect upon is that the whole round tuna when sold to Thailand can be canned at a much lower-cost and re-exported back to Solomon Islands but NFD had opted to process its catch locally with SolTuna.

Wickham revealed that despite incurring costs of processing NFD’s tuna catch at SolTuna, what matters the most is that this arrangement has brought significant benefits to the country through the creation of direct employment, indirect employment, foreign exchange, government revenue, export earnings, skills development, infrastructure development, improved fishery management and food security.

Accordingly, Wickham stressed it is just as important to identify the right investor for any big project such as NFD and SolTuna have established with TriMarine Global Group of Companies, a globally renowned leader in the fishing industry.

“It is important to identify a reputable investor in the fishing industry because as we have experienced with NFD and SolTuna our investment partnership with TriMarine, who has already been recognized globally as a leader in fishing, processing and distributing of high quality tuna products to global markets, is an advantageous investment partnership”, Wickham explained.

He added that it is not easy for our small fishing industry to influence the bigger global players in the fishing industry citing that with TriMarine; both NFD and SolTuna have the convenience in market transactions and importantly in the fishing industry utilities is very costly and fiscal incentives is needed in this industry but our investor is very supportive towards its corporate responsibility.

The NFD General Manager pointed out to the consultants of PIMEU that substantial commitment in terms of infrastructures, on the ground, is the only way forward to attracting potential investors to invest in the country.

He pointed out that building of onshore infrastructures are the key to attracting potential investors because it is very clear with investors that they normally would hesitate to invest in the initial phases of a whole new major project such as roads and wharfs.

“As you may have seen with us when we moved down to Noro from Tulagi we had for those initial years of operation benefited immensely from an existing old copra wharf and partially some important infrastructures had already been in existence at Noro”, Wickham added.

He stated it is also crucial to build a good airstrip close to any big project establishment for ease of movement not only of workers but you need the prompt acquisition and transportation of machinery spare parts and other essential services vital to the operations of companies especially out in the provinces.

Besides, for the success of the project to materialize, it is important to forge good relationships with communities in the surrounding areas close to the project site, provide sustained budgetary support to the project and undertake a multi-sectorial integration approach.

Wickham has acknowledged that on the part of the government the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, and Ministry of Health and Medical Services which is the competent authority that looks after the European Union (EU) standards are all very helpful towards the operations of NFD and SolTuna.

“The only thing that is left as I have experienced down at Noro and I have to be frank with it is efficiency”, Wickham pointed out.

And as he emphatically stressed: “Efficiency counts for business citing that when Long Line vessels arrive at Noro on a Sunday they must be cleared on that same day as well because it costs about SBD 50,000.00 a day to keep a vessel tied up at the wharf doing nothing, and we have to foot huge costs on numerous occasions just because responsible clearance officers were just not attentive on weekends sometimes when they should have been on standby.

However, Wickham said the service is good and he expressed his satisfaction on the multi-sectorial collaboration between government authorities and the two fishing industries.

“Now the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources has deployed full staff complement at Noro which has been very helpful to our operations at NFD and SolTuna and for that I am very grateful”, he added.

Given the complex operations of these two major fishing industries in the country, Wickham stated that it has not been easy finding the right technical people locally to man highly technical positions inside NFD and SolTuna.

“In terms of local manpower needs as had been experienced by NFD and SolTuna we still need more qualified technical people such as technicians, electronic engineers, refrigeration technicians, electrical engineers, trades technicians; and to recruit on-board our ships more Class 4 Mariners in compliance with requirements of the vessels, thus, it is in these important areas that we are trying to get support from the government because if the country were to have another cannery, it is very likely that we would have to compete for the current small pool of technical manpower we have available in the country”, Wickham explained.

He further added that in order to alleviate this manpower challenges the National Training Unit of the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development would have to plan well for the manpower resource needs of the country especially in key technical areas.

Meanwhile, National Consultant of the Reform Sector in the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Mr. Bernard Bataanisia, who is also the initiator of these weekly ‘presentation seminars’ by the private sector with the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has recommended that these interactions are very important because it allows for an opportunity where the government and other stakeholders openly share ideas, make policy review analyses on key issues, give recommendations and experiences, and provide up-to-date information on  key activities of the private sector and their  overarching reliance on government support and services.

Ultimately, as Bataanisia explained: “At the end of all these ‘presentation seminars’ government would be in a better position to drive forward its work on re-direction of its policies to remain abreast in its effort to mitigate the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the country’s economy.