Pearl farming in Tonga – Photo credit: Poasi Fale
Aquaculture is probably the fastest growing food-producing sector globally, contributing around 50 per cent of the world’s food fish. It is especially important in regions where fish is the main source of animal protein.
Aquaculture production in the Pacific region is currently of little commercial significance, amounting to 3 per cent of total production in the Asia-Pacific region in 2014. The total value of Pacific aquaculture production in 2014 was about 3.6 per cent of the value of all fish production in the region. In contrast, aquaculture in the Philippines accounted for 39 per cent of total fish production in 2014.
Against this backdrop, SPC launched a five-year project in 2016 to improve food security and economic growth through aquaculture development. The project has a component dedicated to aquatic biosecurity, i.e. a set of standardised protocols and measures to minimise possible biological risks in aquatic environments, such as the risk of aquatic diseases, pests and invasive species. Through skill development, mentoring and technology transfer, SPC is building the national capacity of governments, fish farmers and businesses to improve aquatic animal health management and biosecurity and meet international trade standards to ensure food safety, food security and income generation.
Tonga is among 12 PICTs that requested SPC’s technical assistance on aquatic biosecurity in 2017. The Tongan aquaculture sector is fast growing and will become an important commercial activity for local communities. It is seen as a valid income-generating activity as well as contributing to decreasing fishing pressure on wild fish stocks. Tonga has a comprehensive regulatory framework for aquatic biosecurity and general biosecurity. However, an assessment of the status of aquatic biosecurity in Tonga by the Ministry of Fisheries and SPC highlighted major gaps and needs in terms of animal health management, guidelines on import and export requirements, laboratory and quarantine facilities and capacity development.
Following a national stakeholder consultation on the status of aquatic biosecurity, two Tongan National Fisheries Officers were attached to SPC’s aquaculture team in 2017 to facilitate the development of the Tonga National Strategy on Aquatic Biosecurity. The strategy was completed and endorsed by the Ministry of Fisheries in late 2017. It sets out a specific work plan to manage aquatic species health, develop and enforce import and export requirements, improve on-farm biosecurity practices, update the national regulatory framework on aquatic biosecurity, and develop an ‘emergency plan’ for aquatic disease outbreaks.
While it is too early to draw substantive lessons from the project, experience gained by SPC from the work in Tonga will be highly relevant to how SPC undertakes similar work in other member countries. SPC learned that broad consultation with a wide range of government agencies and other stakeholders was important to ensure plan needs and priorities were grounded in reality. SPC also gained a clearer understanding of the priority areas for capacity development to support aquaculture management and development in Tonga and other PICTs.
The assistance provided by SPC to date includes aquatic biosecurity assessments, support for aquatic biosecurity plan development, capacity development (in aquatic biosecurity planning, parasitic diseases, shrimp disease diagnosis, animal health, import risk analysis, quarantine protocols and operations, emergency planning, hapa- based hatcheries, cage culture management, etc.), disease testing, development of production manuals and support for cluster farming. This work has the potential to benefit fisheries officials and fish farmers in Cook Islands, FSM, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Palau, PNG, RMI, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.
Looking ahead, implementation of aquatic biosecurity plans, which are key to meeting international trade standards and improving socio-economic benefits from aquaculture development, will for most participating PICTs require substantial investment in basic laboratory equipment for diagnosis of aquatic diseases, quarantine areas and farming systems. Awareness raising for policy-makers and the public on the importance of aquatic biosecurity will also be required. Implementation of the plans will be technically supported by SPC in some areas but will also require commitment of resources and technical support by PICTs and their development partners.