Dr Jeremy Prince and colleagues began working in February 2014 around Ghizo Island in the western Solomon Islands with WWF Solomon Islands. Initially the project was supported by WWF Australia and Australian Aid and John West, but now is also being partially funded by European Aid and USAID.
Beyond the challenges confronted in every situation, this project faces a particularly diverse mix of communities using a wide range of fishing gears and non-specific names on a particularly diverse reef fish fauna. Rather than develop community-based fish measurers, it has been necessary for the WWF project team to conduct most of the fish measuring, with fishers bring coolers of fish to be measured on their way to market in return for fresh ice and a token payment.
By October 2016 some 5,962 fish (224 species) had been measured on the way to market and nine species assessed and size limits estimated.
During 2017 WWF began working with communities around Nusatuva on the south coast of neighbouring Kolombangara Island, measuring about 1000 fish during the course of the year. Whilst only a couple of hours by outboard powered boat from Ghizo Island, because most people still sail or paddle, it is beyond easy access to the Gizo fish market. Consequently, the state of the Nusatuva food web, being still dominated by large bodied species, is completely different to that around Ghizo, where population fuelled fishing pressure has eroded the food web down to being predominantly small and medium bodied emperor and snapper.
Buy-in by both provincial and national government has been slow to date, but since presentations to a National Environmental Symposium about the project, levels of interest have increased. Negotiations are underway about incorporating the approach into a fisheries course being developed by the Solomon Islands National University.
The Solomon Islands communities we work with have not yet made any decisions about implementing management trials. The issue of fishermen from outside their communities encroaching on their fishing grounds and not complying with agreed management looms larger over all discussions to date. An association of fishers has been formed to foster intercommunity dialogue about change and the provincial government’s management committee is supportive of incorporating agreed measures into regulation, but their capacity for enforcement is weak.
‘WWF calls on communities to improve the management of their reef fisheries before its too late‘, published online at WWFpacific.org, July 6th 2017