Authorities appear to have acted illegally to burn harvested Beche-de-mers
POLICE and the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources appear to have acted illegally by burning an estimated ton of beche de mer on 30th June 2019, almost a year after the Court of Appeal ruled the country no longer has the law to impose ban on beche de mer harvesting.
And the Ontong Java Development Company (ODC) is suing the government for $10 million in compensation for the loss incurred by the people of Ontong Java when their consignment was seized and burned, Ontong Javan Medical Doctor, Reginald Aipia, told Solomon Star yesterday.
“These people know that they no longer had legal standing to confiscate and burn the products owned by the people of Ontong Java. So they have contravened the decision of the Court of Appeal handed down on 12th October 2018.” Dr. Aipia said.
The Court of Appeal decided the matter in a case named Chen Zhen Company Ltd v Iomea. According to Court record, Police Commissioner Mostyn Mangau was a party to the case named CA 13 of 2018.
The Court of Appeal ruled that the power to arrest, seize and charge people harvesting beche de mer during the off season was removed after Section 13A [of the Fisheries Act] was repealed. The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources has failed to replace section 13A.
The record shows parties in the Court of Appeal case were Chen Zhen Company Limited, Zhang Tongzi, Solomon FVC New Process Import & Export Limited, CI Frank Sheng Song, Oceanic international Limited, Xu Qiang v Ricky Iomea, Commissioner of Police.
The ruling was published in the Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute (PACLII) and listed as Chen Zhen Co Ltd v Iomea  SBCA 26; SICOA-CAC 13 of 2018 (12 October 2018).
The appellants – Chen Zhen Company Limited, Zhang Tongzi, Solomon FVC New Process Import & Export Limited, CI Frank Sheng Song, Oceanic international Limited, Xu Qiang – walked free after winning the case brought by Ricky Iomea and Police Commissioner Mangau.
Actions by fisheries compliance officers and police since then appear to be nothing short of knowingly misleading the Attorney General’s Chamber in appealing court ruling relating to on-and- off season for beche de mer harvesting.
“These people knew about the Court of Appeal decision but decided to ignore it for the purpose of misleading and deceiving the public that they still have the legal standing to impose ban on beche de mer harvesting,” an angry Dr. Aipia said.
“The fact of the matter is that section 13A of the Fisheries Act had been repealed and remains so. This means the law on beche de mer harvesting no longer exists. The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources has failed to bring in a new section to restore the power under section 13A.
“They will pay for misleading my people and the public at large. My company, Ontong Java Development Company is taking up the case on behalf of my people. We will sue the government for $10 million in damages,” Dr. Aipia said.
At the time police and fisheries officers seized the beche de mer consignment at the Point Cruz wharf, a spokesman said the “ministry had taken the action in accordance with the relevant fisheries laws of the country.”
“Because of the ban on harvesting bech-de-mer, the ministry and police were obligated to enforce the law. Illegal harvesting of the bech-de-mer is a crime,” said the officer.
The ban was said to have been effective from 31st May 2019 – six months after the Court of Appeal ruling on 12 October 2018.
The ban covers harvesting, possession, and selling of bech-de-mer species, according to the officer.
Director of Fisheries, Eddie Honiwala told the media at the time the decision to burn the bech-de-mer products “was made after the Attorney General’s Chambers has given the green light.”
“The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) is sending out a clear warning that we will not tolerate illegal harvesting of our bech-de-mer.
“The prohibition order made under Section 22 of the Fisheries Management Act 2015 is very clear about this,” Honiwala told journalists at the time.
“Under the Prohibition Order, Fishing or possession of any species of Bech-de-mer from Fisheries waters is prohibited which was effective from 31st May 2019. Further … export of any species of beche de mer (BDM) is prohibited effective from 30th June 2019, according to Mr. Honiwala.
According to published reports the one ton of beche de mer destroyed by burning was valued at half a million Solomon Dollars.
Mr. Honiwala told journalists the 500kg of beche de mer confiscated between 2020-2021 were of different species. They were taken from individuals and companies, he said.
By Alfred Sasako