PROFILE: Masters Of Their Domain

How Solomon Islanders Are Taking Charge 
By Anouk Ride of - August, 2011

Mr. George Yeo, Minister for Trade and Industry
Solomon Islanders – The management, staff and families of National Fisheries Developments, Tri Marine's fishing company in the Solomon Island.

FEATURE: New interest for old-fashioned fishing

Stepping aboard any purse seine tuna boat in the Pacific is usually like stepping into a home of a foreigner—captained by Koreans, Spanish, Taiwanese and other foreign citizens, you will likely hear a foreign language, see foreign food being dished up and foreign movies on the television.

People from outside the Pacific Islands have dominated the jobs in charge of these massive fishing vessels for many years.

But in one corner of the Pacific, there is an exception—a rising number of Solomon Islanders managing operations offshore and onboard tuna fishing vessels. At the National Fisheries Developments Limited (NFD) at the port of Noro in the Western Province of Solomon Islands, since its privatisation in 1990 (it is now owned by Tri Marine International and run locally), there has been a concerted effort to train local people in key professional positions.

Petaia Delaiverata, known as “Junior”, is one of those that have used NFD’s opportunities, a lot of hard work and his love of the sea to become Solomon Islands’ first fishing master.

Captaining a tuna purse seine fishing vessel that provides tuna to popular local brands “Chilli Taiyo” and “Solomon Blue” as well as international buyers, Junior works as an equal to his peers from all over the world.

Junior’s normal day begins at 4am and can end around 8.30pm as the vessel searches for fish, sets and hauls nets.

As fishing master, Junior manages a crew of  about 20 people. “It’s very challenging,” he said.

“There are five boats and you are working, not in competition, but you are working against the company’s record of each fishing vessel about whether you are doing OK or not OK. I was working with fishing masters that have been working 35-40 years. So, I had to prove to the company that, yes, I can do the job.”

“One of the best things is that, most of the fishing masters are very supportive, everyone is keen to see I can do the job, so when I get into problems they are all there to support me. That’s what got me,” said Junior, adding with a laugh: “And I prayed every day too.”

When Junior started as a fishing master, he attracted some attention from the other foreign fishing masters, he said: “At that time I was working with a Peruvian, a Mexican and two South African fishing masters. Some people were quite proud.

“For example, Captain Kim, a Korean skipper, radioed the boat and asked, “Who’s the fishing master?” And they told him: “Oh it’s Junior”. “Who’s Junior?” “A Solomon Islander”. And he was proud: ‘Oh that’s very good to hear that somebody from here is doing the job.’”

Born in the Solomon Islands, Junior’s fondness for the sea led him to work on boats: “I love the ocean, I love the sea. Since I was small, I used to think about going to sea to work and after high school I made up my mind.”

Hearing about NFD’s new ship in 1997, Junior applied for a job as a cadet and was successful.He quickly learnt more and more about running a purse seine fishing vessel and working as a navigator.

“NFD looked after me well, sent me on courses up until masters level,” said Junior who did courses overseas then returned to Solomon Islands with new knowledge and new opportunities. At the end of 2007, he became a fishing master.

Like Junior, Frank Papabatu, had also always thought about working at sea: “I come from Choiseul, one of the larger islands in the Solomon Islands that shares a border with Papua New Guinea. Most of my relatives work on boats. I was eighteen and I started working on boats, pole and line boats.”

As Chief Engineer aboard an NFD purse seine fishing vessel, Frank is now responsible for all the mechanical equipment aboard vessels worth US$5 million.

Sometimes this is routine checks and maintenance but Frank said the work is mentally demanding and filled with new challenges every day: “A difficult situation is if a machine breaks down and I have to get it running so the boat is operational.

“We do not rest until the job is done. Sometimes the fishing masters are pushing, they want to get back to sea to fish right now, so you have to make sure the work is done and done right.”

Like Junior, Frank started at the bottom of the ranks, working in the engine room as a greaser.

Then, after a scholarship to Australia to study refrigeration, he did air conditioning and refrigeration work around Honiara.

“But my drive to go back to sea was stronger,” said Frank.

“I joined NFD again in 1999. At that time the company was putting trainees to the Solomon Islands College of Higher Education and I did 4 years on and off, I did marine engineering and graduated in 2005. It took me longer to do the course because of the armed conflict in Honiara.“When I went back to sea, I never turned back,” said Frank. “I’ve worked for NFD for more than 10 years now. In the Solomons, the purse seine boats are the largest size of ship in the country, so, being a chief engineer on one of those boats, to me, is an achievement.”

Junior and Frank encourage other locals to strive for professional positions in the fishing industry.

As Junior commented: “What we are trying to do is just open the door to the industry for the future generations of this country.

“The first time I worked here I thought the senior roles were only for foreigners, but then I sat down and thought, “if that man can do it, so can I” and with the help of Adrian [Wickham, General Manager of NFD] because he has trust in us, we did it. I’m just happy that the next generation can do the job, and that jobs are becoming localised.

“Thinking back, I want to thank NFD and Tri Marine, they gave us the chance to prove ourselves.”

Background on NFD AND Tri Marine

National Fisheries Developments is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Tri Marine Group of Companies.  Tri Marine’s business includes fishing, procurement, processing and trading of tuna and other seafood products. Headquartered in Bellevue, Washington, Tri Marine has offices in 15 countries with 12 processing plants located strategically around the world.   Its owned fleet of 17 tuna purse seiners operates mostly in the Western Pacific.   Tri Marine was founded in Singapore in 1971. Since then it has grown to be one of the largest tuna supply companies in the world and it provides an efficient, cost effective and flexible supply chain solution for its customers. Tri Marine serves famous brands, processing plants and fishing companies.