SOLOMONS MINISTER DEFENDS DOLPHIN ENTERPRISE

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By Robert L. Iroga

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, June 14) – A Solomon Islands government minister is at the centre of a row over controversial remarks in an email about catching dolphins.

Minister of Fisheries Nollan Leni accused a marine scientist who opposes the capture of dolphins of being jealous and lacking facts to back her argument.

His now widely-circulated email has triggered an international outcry from environmental groups.

Mr Leni was defending the Government after new international pressure on them to stop dolphin captures.

This follows the catching of 20 dolphins for the privately-run Solomon Islands Marine Mammal Education Centre at Gavutu, Central Province.

Dolphin exports were banned after earlier international protests over the centre’s export of Bottlenose Dolphins to an aquatic park in Mexico.

In his email, [to Naomi Rose, Marine Mammal Scientist, Treaty Law, Oceans and Wildlife Protection, Humane Society International] Mr Leni said: "If you are jealous about Mr Porter’s business venture then my humble advice is you have an attitude problem."

Canadian Chris Porter operates the Gavutu centre.

[PIR editor’s note: Gavutu is among the Florida islands, known to Solomon Islanders as Gela, just off the northwestern coast of Guadalcanal.]

Mr Leni said that for centuries people in Solomon Islands caught and killed dolphins for food and will continue because it’s culture.

"We decided to improve our earning capacity by selling our live dolphins," he said. "Lest you forget the U.S. Congress confirms that US kills about 65,000 dolphins a year according to the report we hold. Why don’t you fix this problem first and come to us with just 100 dolphins not killed but exported for tourism? In case you don’t know Solomon Islands has about 300,000 to 800,000 dolphins in Solomon Islands waters and if we harvest even a thousand dolphins per year we will not have problems."

Dr Rose responded: "In my 14 years as a marine mammal protection advocate, I have never received such an unprofessional communication from someone at your level. I am uncertain where you got the impression I was jealous … I have no interest in commercial businesses in the South Pacific."

She said she never said anything about the dolphin population in the Solomons being near extinction.

"I said the captures were unsustainable - and this is not because there have been any measurable declines but because there is no scientific estimate for the population size and no information whatsoever on the trend in population (it is unknown whether the populations are stable, increasing, or decreasing)."

A politician and environmentalist, Lawrence Makili, expressed disappointment at the minister’s comments.

Mr Makili said the statements were shocking and unprofessional.

He said: "I was expecting a professional response from you and your ministry’s technical staff. It is shameful to understand that the very issues that you are using as a shield to defend Chris Porter are issues that you should have prioritised in terms of policies, develop a strategic mechanism/plan based on scientific research."

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said his Government views the local capture of dolphins for tourism purposes as legal.

He told a press conference yesterday that he was not convinced by the argument of the environmental groups abroad.

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