Interview: John Kasu
How would you assess the potential of the fisheries sector in Papua New Guinea?
JOHN KASU: Well the numbers speak for themselves, if you consider that the PNG fisheries zone is 2.4m sq km and is the largest in the South Pacific. This includes an extended reef system, numerous islands and an extensive coastline, creating huge opportunities but also enormous challenges when it comes to monitoring and controlling. The total market value of the PNG catch is estimated to be around PGK350m-400m ($119.5m-136.5m), although information on the true value of artisanal fisheries is difficult to obtain, and cyclical factors and commodity price movements, especially tuna, cause huge yearly value swings.
PNG has a valuable fisheries sector because of its variety, ranging from inland river fisheries, aquaculture, coastal bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber) and reef fisheries, to prawn trawls and large-scale deepwater tuna fisheries. There is significant potential to increase the economic value and returns of these fisheries through better management and development programmes, as well as furthering biological and socio-economic studies for the establishment of sound management practices.
What would you say are the greatest challenges in the management of fisheries in PNG?
KASU: The common challenge for any large administration is human resources, as sometimes the lack of volume or specialty in staff slows down processes. However, there are many ongoing training programmes and there is great potential for an increase in efficiency in relation to our sector. Progress in this area can provide better tools at our disposal in achieving sustainable fisheries through dynamic, innovative and consultative fisheries management. In terms of policies and regulations, the brief EU “yellow card” period in 2015 sparked a series of structural and operational adjustments within the fisheries sector. The contentious issues were related to the labelling of canned tuna, as the Philippines and Indonesian fishing operators have taken advantage of the trade corridor to the EU, and tried to channel their products through PNG canneries. A recent directive from the Ministry of Health has extended the monitoring competence for canned products to the NFA as well.
To what extent is regional competition affecting the fishing industry in PNG, and how is the sector diversifying its export markets?
KASU: The Philippines have been granted the same free trade agreement status as PNG, and inevitably we see this as a threat, especially because the cost of doing business, as well as labour costs, are much lower there. For this reason PNG is looking at ways to reduce production and operational costs while remaining confident in its position in the market, as it accounts for 14% of the global tuna catch. The biggest advantage of operating in PNG is the exceptional volume of our fish stocks, which are unmatched in the region. For this reason, as a precautionary measure, the government is looking to reach new markets in China, Russia, the Middle East and the US. I would say that the priority for us will be to access the US market, specifically by negotiating preferential terms for a long-term collaboration, while a general outreach and assessment is under way for Asian markets.
Undoubtedly, export earnings are important to sustain our economy, but the socio-economic implications of fisheries for the people of PNG are even greater. Access fees from deepwater fishing nations form the bulk of the revenues received and managed by the NFA, which are offered at a daily rate of $8000, while the days are tendered by the NFA. Preference is given to onshore processing tenders, as they generate the most jobs. Other sources include licence fees, assistance from donors and penalties arising from prosecutions under the Fisheries Management Act.
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