The abandonment of the tuna cannery in Tulagi
By SAMSON SADE
SOLOMON Taiyo Limited was used to be a premier employment venture that attracted workers from the four corners of the Solomon Islands.
With its cannery at Tulagi in the Central Islands Province, the location couldn’t be far from ideal.
The deeper sheltered waters provided convenience for the many pointed nose catcher boats the company owned for ease of docking, mooring and unloading of catches to the onshore fish processing plant that stretched along the shoreline.
Solomon-Taiyo Ltd. began on 4 November 1972, a joint-venture agreement for the first ten years gave Japanese company Taiyo Gyogyo 75 percent and the British Solomon Islands Protectorate government 25 percent equity ownership.
A new 10-year agreement was signed in 1982 with an equal 50/50 partnership, after which the Solomon Islands government shareholding automatically rose to 51 percent.
The main purpose was to supply tuna for Taiyo Gyogyo and Japanese marketing and distribution, to promote goodwill and further business dealings with Japan, and to generate foreign exchange credits and to provide canned fish for the local market.
About 75 percent of the catch was transhipped frozen to canneries in American Samoa, Fiji and the United States, and 20 percent was thawed and canned at the Solomon’s Tulagi cannery.
The remaining 5 percent was used in the Arabushi Smoke Factory and exported to Japan to make soup stock.
The initial fleet consisted of pole-and-line catcher boats owned by Taiyo, and Okinawan charter boats.
Exclusive fishing rights were negotiated over the fish-rich Niche between the two main island chains, and exports began in 1974.
During its heydays, Solomon Taiyo Limited provided a wide range of employment opportunities for the skilled and unskilled.
Many found employment in the cannery and the catcher boats that braved the high seas months on end.
However, those good old days had long gone when Noro, in New Georgia began to be used as a fishing port.
The transition to Noro marked the end of the rumbling and the rattling of the cannery machines and the beginning of the abandonment of the cannery.
Now crumpled to the ground, the once buzzing and vibrant Tuna factory is an eyesore on the shoreline.
Corroded, rusted and twisted metal are all that is left.
“Large portion of some of these metals were sold to scrap metal dealers in Honiara by opportunists,” Ishmael told Weekend Star during its visit to the Island.
“They made huge money from the sale of these metals but fortunately, the Provincial Government stepped in to stop such sales from continuing,” he adds rather lukewarmly.
He said that the Province’s action has consequently resulted in some of the metals and structures being spared to at least remind us that the site was once hosting a cannery.
Being untouched for years, the ruin has now partially claimed by nature with trees and bushes swarming the site.
Some of these rusted metals are razor-sharp and can poise real danger to anyone especially children who may tread the site unsupervised.
The wharf that once lined with catcher boats had fallen into disrepair and crumbled under nature’s ever unforgiving powers.
Now riddled with holes due to corrosion, the wharf is susceptible to fall and objects with relatively heavy weights could easily trigger such an event to occur.
However, despite the gloomy depiction of the once lively and flamboyant site, the contribution Solomon Taiyo Limited made to individual dreams and especially to the national economy was undeniably a legacy that would forever last – a legacy that is rooted in colonialism with nation building at its core.
Solomon Taiyo’s contributions in the early stages of our independence were paramount to keeping the national economy afloat and competitive against regional and world economies.