The recent surge in Covid cases in Samoa over the past two months has strained national government resources to provide Covid test kits to all personnel. The Samoa Health Department identified the Apia Fish Market and the International Wharf at Matautu as areas of high risk; two key areas where fisheries data are collected by Samoa Fisheries field staff.
The Fish Market is managed by the Fisheries Division and is an area frequented by the Inshore and Offshore Compliance team who enforce provisions of the Fisheries Management Act. The Matautu Wharf is also frequented by the Offshore and Compliance team for the purpose of boarding and inspecting foreign fishing vessels. There is considerable concern that these staff might contract Covid in these higher risk locations and bring it back to the office, thereby placing all Fisheries staff at risk.
There was a clear and urgent need for frequent COVID tests to enable this critical work to continue, and Samoa turned to the Pacific Community (SPC) for assistance.
The Port sampling work
There are around 40 - 60 foreign fishing vessels that call into Samoan ports multiple times a year. Monitoring of these vessels being offloaded can take between 6 to 30 hours depending on a vessel’s catch, and might be spread over a number of days. An authorised fisheries officer is required to be there at all times to monitor offloading.
In this role, they collect valuable data that include size measurements, catch volumes, and economic indicators. Staff must also spend considerable time monitoring catch against size limit regulations and conducting enforcement work. At the international wharf at Matautu, boardings and inspections, along with transshipment monitoring by the Offshore Compliance team, are done to deter IUU (Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported) activities.
Last month, a Samoan fisheries officer who previously worked at SPC as a Pacific Islands Fisheries Professional, contacted the organizations Fisheries Division to ask if they could assist in obtaining Covid test kits. The National Science team, who work directly with SPC-member Fisheries Ministries, contacted SPC’s Public Health Division. Thus was set into motion a process that resulted in the purchase of Covid Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) for Samoa Fisheries. The RATs were picked up at a Pharmacy in Apia and their deployment started a couple days later.
The entire Fisheries department were thrilled to receive these kits. As a result, the critical work of collecting valuable fisheries data in support of both Coastal and Oceanic Fisheries can continue, with their 52 staff being tested regularly (some daily, some weekly), hopefully past the end of the current Covid surge.