Interview: John Kasu

How serious is the European Commission’s warning that Papua New Guinea has failed to monitor illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing?

JOHN KASU: PNG is at risk of being identified as a non-cooperative country in the fight against IUU fishing, a practice that is depleting fish stocks worldwide. In this specific incident, however, I consider the warning to be unfair vis-a-vis PNG given all the progress we have made in recent years with revamping our tuna management plan, the National Plan of Action and the Fisheries Management Act. Each of these was designed to facilitate better monitoring of IUU activities in PNG. The incident that prompted the warning was actually related to Filipino-flagged vessels that are licensed to operate in our archipelagic waters and whose harvest feeds into our domestic canneries.

What will be the warning’s effects on the industry, and what is being done to address this issue?

KASU: Improved communication can help us avoid incidents like these in the future. To address this issue, we have nominated a representative from the National Fisheries Authority who will be based permanently in Brussels with the mission of informing the European Commission from time to time of the progress that PNG has made domestically. PNG is a reliable partner in the fight against IUU fishing and in the quest for sustainability, and as an industry we are ready and willing to take all the steps that are necessary to comply with international standards.

Fisheries in PNG are important not solely for their effects on export earnings, but also for job creation and industrial diversification, thanks to the boom in the canning industry that is taking place on the country’s north coast. The growth of these facilities, as well as rural entrepreneurship, relies heavily on the expansion of the European markets.

Considering that the number of foreign vessels fishing in our waters has increased exponentially over the last few years, it would certainly help to flag all the boats in PNG to improve monitoring. What is important for the moment is that the decision does not imply any trade sanctions, and the European Commission has given us several months to rectify our shortcoming in controlling foreign fishing fleets. We feel confident that the situation will soon be resolved.

The EU favours a “total allowable catch” system over the vessel day scheme (VDS) that PNG adopted to control certain species. Is this a concern?

KASU: The eight signatories to the Parties of Nauru Agreement (PNA), which include PNG, control 25-30% of the world’s tuna supply, an industry valued at roughly $7bn a year, so it is normal that there are concerns about the way we manage our resources. We nevertheless believe that, although each system has its weaknesses and can be improved, the VDS is most appropriate to our specific conditions. The number of fishing days for foreign purse seiner (dragnet) fleets, for example, has been reduced regionally by as much as 15% – a rule that will be enforced over the next three years. Domestically, we have increased the tariffs for vessels exceeding 50 metres in length, which now have to pay for three days in order to be granted a licence for one fishing day.

All boats go through a compulsory inspection and audit certification before being allowed to fish, and only uncertified vessels escape this monitoring. Our capacity to control illegal fishing is limited considering the size of the territory and the inadequate equipment available, though the budget for this has increased considerably in 2014.

In general, I believe that with greater cooperation on a regional level we can turn the VDS into a more effective system in the long run. As for the improvement of the sector in general, I believe a range of onshore infrastructure is still needed to support the development of coastal fisheries and market access. The government should continue to support public and private sector initiatives to develop infrastructure.