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Chiefs want BDM ban lifted for 3 months to address food shortage in MOI

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Chief Viauli (in maroon top) with chiefs from Luaniua and Pelau today
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The House of Chiefs of Luaniua and Pelau in the Malaita Outer Islands (Otong Java, OJ) is urging the government to seriously consider their request for a three-month-window opening of the beche-de-mer ban to address food shortage now faced by the islanders.

Speaking on behalf of the Chiefs today, Hugo Kivans Viauli highlighted that their people are desperate and are facing serious food shortage and appeals to the government to consider their request.

He recalled that since November they had initially met with the Ministry of Fisheries seeking the three months window but they were not never told until the ministry issued a statement this week.

In that public notice issued on Monday, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources reiterated the ongoing prohibition on the harvesting, possession, landing, receiving, buying, selling, or export of any species of Beche-de-mer (BDM). The ban, which has been in effect since 1st September 2022, was published in the Gazette of Prohibited Activities (Fishing and Possession of Beche-de-mer) Order 2021.

The directive applies to all stakeholders, including company holders of Beche-de-mer licenses, buyers, and exporters of Beche-de-mer, as well as local communities, fishermen, fisherwomen, and the general public.

But Viauli said they were surprised to read the statement claiming that the issue was still being discussed by relevant authorities.

Chief Viauli recalled their proposal was a comprehensive one and they were hopeful it would get a positive feedback from the government.

He said upon submitting the proposal they were told by the ministry to raise it with their MP who then should bring it to the cabinet for consideration.

Viauli said according to their understanding, the issue was still in the process of discussion and no decision had been made yet.

However, he reiterated that they were surprised that the ministry had already issued a statement which didn’t go well with them.

Viauli said at the heart of their concern is their people. “Our people are now suffering as the swamp taro we rely on is no longer yielding enough corm,” he said. Furthermore he added with intrusion of the sea, it (swamp taro) now only yield corms once in a year.”

He said this has really affected their food supply resulting in many people going hungry.

Viauli said hunger is now felt throughout the two communities and it is the desire of their people to harvest their resources to survive on during this very difficult time.

The chiefs said with no regular shipping to the islands, their people have to take risky trips to Honiara and some to Buala just to get food to feed the people in the islands.

Even with that, people still struggle to acquire food from the shops in the islands because they don’t have much money to spend.

“This is why we want the three months window opening to help us,” said the chief.

When contacted tonight, Director of Fisheries Eddie Honiwala maintained that they would not be lifting the ban–even for the three months as requested.

He instead calls for understanding by the people of the two communities.

“We must allow the current stock to recover,” he said.

Honiwala said to allow even three months it can cause a lot of impact in the long term.

“I appeal for our good people to work together to properly manage our resources,” the director said.

He said based on data, BDM is over harvested, over exploited and it is on the verge of collapsing.

“If we continue we will deplete the whole stock in the coming years,” said Honiwala.

The director underscores that the ban will remain as it adding the ministry needs to do an assessment before deciding on what to do next but that will not happen anytime soon.

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