Encircled by be an exclusive economic zone totalling 2.4m sq km of ocean, PNG’s fisheries play a key role for domestic artisanal fishermen populating the coastal communities and are an important currency earner within the international fishing industry. The largest fishery zone in the South Pacific, these waters are among some of the most productive and diverse in the world, containing an array of valuable operations ranging from inland river fisheries, aquaculture and coastal bêche-de-mer to the prawn trawling and large-scale deepwater tuna fisheries.
While these assets provide substantial opportunities for local markets and export opportunities, the size of the navigable area also presents an enormous challenge for sustainable management, monitoring and control. Seeking to shore up these fishery management practices and regulations, PNG’s National Fisheries Authority (NFA) has been taking important steps to ensure the viability of these industries in recent years. These improved sustainability and certification measures are critical not only to ensure domestic food stocks and jobs, but also for compliance with international trade laws vital to maintaining access to key export markets.
The most crucial regulations from a trade point of view are those governing the country’s tuna fishery, which is among one of the world’s most productive, accounts for the bulk of seafood exports and is a substantial revenue earner in terms of fishing permit fees. The catch of major tuna species from PNG waters each year is estimated by the NFA at around 500,000 tonnes – about 11% of the global catch, and 20% of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) catch. The vast majority of this is destined for European markets, with which PNG has favourable trade agreements allowing reduced tariffs in exchange for meeting certain certification and sustainability requirements. Access to this critical market became endangered after the EU issued a “yellow card” to PNG in June of 2014 over concerns regarding the country’s contribution to the global fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. A tool employed by the EU to compel other nations to combat damage to the marine environment and maintain the sustainability of fish stocks in their respective countries, the yellow card constitutes an official notification that the offending country could be classified as a “non-cooperating third country”.
With hundreds of millions of annual revenue at stake along with a pipeline of onshore tuna processing investment, the NFA and PNG government began taking steps to address these shortcomings by amending existing legislation to ensure PNG meets its obligations under international law. These changes include improving PNG’s tuna fishery management arrangements and its monitoring, control and surveillance systems – with a particular focus on catch traceability. Throughout 2014 and 2015 the NFA, with input from the EU, implemented a range of policy reforms to improve the legal and administrative capacity to combat IUU fishing. These include reforms and amendments to the Fisheries Management Act 1998, Fisheries Management Regulation 2000 and other legislation; the development of a new tuna management plan; developing a coherent scheme for fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance; a new, more transparent vessel licensing system; and other organisational reforms.
These efforts were rewarded in October 2015 when the EU lifted its yellow card status for PNG, although the country still has its work cut out in terms of applying the updated regulations to real world challenges of IUU fishing.
At the heart of the country’s revamped tuna management plan is adding teeth to existing regulations as well as bolstering the authority’s capacity to enforce them. Currently the primary management of the fishery operates within the parameters of multilateral agreements encompassing the larger tuna fisheries within the WCPO region, most notably the Parties to Nauru Agreement (PNA) which subjects all members of the agreement to a set of umbrella policies and regulations designed to ensure sustainability of the industry for all stakeholders. Along with PNG, other signatories include the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. Together these members have agreed collectively to operate tuna fisheries in a sustainable manner, which includes taking unilateral action to conserve over-fished bigeye tuna. These actions include a variety of management practices including the closures of high seas pockets, seasonal bans on use of fish aggregating devices, satellite tracking of boats, in-port trans-shipment, 100% observer coverage of purse seiners, closed areas for conservation, mesh size regulations, tuna catch retention requirements, prohibitions against targeting whale sharks, shark action plans and hard limits on fishing efforts as mandated by the vessel day scheme (VDS).
At its core, the VDS limits the total number of days fished in the exclusive economic zone per year, as established according to the 2004 base level, in order to limit catchment to sustainable levels. Initiated in PNG in 2007, VDSs are based on a study by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, which arrives at a quota each year that is then divvied up among all signatories to the PNA according to each country’s fishery stocks, recovery rate and other factors. The VDS fishing day quotas for both 2014 and 2015, known cumulatively as the total allowable effort (TAE), were each set at 44,625 days split among member countries. This figure was upped to 44,890 TAE days for 2016 with provisional 2017 and 2018 fishing days projected to decline slightly to 44,605 TAE each year. The NFA is then able to distribute PNG’s allotment of the TAE as it sees fit. In 2015 the NFA contributed PGK50m ($17.1m) to state coffers. For 2016 the minimum benchmark price for a single vessel day was $8000 per fishing day, although demand pushed these prices up to more than $10,000 in 2015. This has resulted in a windfall for PNA members, which have benefitted handsomely from dramatically increased revenue streams – these have grown from $64m in 2010 to an estimated $357m in 2015.
In addition to the direct revenue collected from companies via the VDS, the government is also able to leverage the limited number of days available to foreign competitors by granting priority to companies which have established onshore processing facilities or plan to do so in the future. This aspect has proven particularly important for PNG in terms of helping to establish itself as a downstream processing centre within the region. Tuna processing hubs have sprouted up in the areas of Malahang near Lae and the Pacific Marine Industrial Zone in Madang largely as a result of these policies. Canneries operated by RD Fishing and Canning (located in Madang), Frabelle Fishing Corporation (Lae), South Seas Tuna Corporation (Wewak) and International Food Corporation (Lae) have all taken part in the initial wave of investment, creating 10,000 direct jobs, local spin-off businesses and annual export revenues of $200m, according to the NFA. The facilities, which produce canned tuna and pre-cooked loins for the EU market, are set to be joined by another five plants. The NFA expects a total of PGK350m ($119.5m) in foreign direct investment to flow to the construction of five additional processing plants between 2015 and 2020.
By law all vessels fishing PNG waters must be equipped with vessel monitoring systems (VMSs), which transmit geographic data in real time to the NFA and are also subject to inspection boardings. In spite of these measures, illegal fishing vessels are still known to slip in and out of territorial waters after illegally harvesting fish, while even registered and monitored vessels are sometime found in violation of other codes such as transparency regarding data on catch tonnage, location, offload and other crucial information. Catch traceability is another area in need of particular attention.
The government is hoping to address these shortcomings though the revised regulations governing the sector, including adding more bite to the laws designed to deter potential transgressors. Some of these amendments include extending the powers of fishery officers to undertake inspections beyond PNG’s waters; increasing court-imposed penalties to a maximum of PGK5m ($1.7m) for a first offence and PGK20m ($6.8m) for a repeat offence within 24 months; and providing additional grounds for refusing to issue, cancel or suspend a fishing licence. Traceability measures were put in place based on a new catch-documentation scheme, which ensures improved traceability of fishery products through comprehensive record-keeping, enhanced port inspections, a stronger focus on enforcement and better collaboration with other government agencies.
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