Downstream projects bode well for Papua New Guinea’s fisheries industry

A wave of new fish processing facilities is galvanising downstream activity across Papua New Guinea (PNG), paving the way for the $408m fisheries sector to transform itself into a billion-dollar industry.

PNG’s 3.1m-sq-km fishing zone is the second-largest in the South Pacific, yielding up to 20% of the global annual tuna catch. However, until recently, the country was losing an estimated two-thirds of its potential downstream and value-added business due to a lack of domestic processing facilities.

A major policy change giving PNG greater control over the fleets operating in its waters has proved to be a key driver of industry growth.

Previously, operations were dominated by several bi-lateral annual access arrangements, which granted the fleets of signatory nations open access to PNG’s fisheries zone. Under the newly introduced “vessel day” scheme, which was rolled out by the National Fisheries Authority (NFA), PNG can prioritise vessels opting to have their catch processed on its shores when distributing its fishing licences.

The reform has triggered a wave of new investment, which is boosting downstream and value-added activities. Exports rose 26% to reach 91,267 tonnes last year, up from 72,114 tonnes in 2010. The industry’s domestic processing capacities are expected to more than double by 2015.

Expansion gains pace

PNG is already home to four commercial tuna canneries, which have a combined maximum daily processing capacity of 640 tonnes. One new plant recently opened its doors, with two additional facilities set to begin operating before the end of 2014.

Philippine firms, Frabelle and Century Canning, have joined Thailand’s Thai Union at the $30m Majestic Seafoods development near Lae, which launched in early October and is the region’s largest fish processing plant, with a capacity of 350 tonnes per day (t/d).

It will soon be joined by the $15m Nambawan Seafoods cannery, a joint venture between Trans Pacific Journey Fishing Corporation and TSP Marine Industries, both of the Philippines, which will be capable of processing 150 t/d.

Meanwhile, the $27m, 200-t/d Niugini Tuna project, which is under construction, will be one of the first plants to open in PNG’s Pacific Marine Industrial Zone (PMIZ) in Madang.

New investors

Firms from the Philippines, which have been active in PNG’s tuna industry since 1995, are now looking to further develop their interests in the country. Tuna accounts for 93% of PNG’s fish exports.

Cencon Packaging has begun constructing a can-making plant to supply tuna canneries, while Rell & Renn Fishing Corp plans to establish a katsuobushi (dried tuna) plant and a fresh fish operation on Manus Island.

Investors from elsewhere are looking to join the Philippines and Thailand by acquiring a share of PNG’s expanding fisheries market. The NFA is considering four applications for foreign direct investment projects in the tuna industry. Korea’s Dongwon Industries and Halisheng, a Chinese firm, are each seeking permission to construct a 200-t/d processing plant, while the French SAPMER Group hopes to roll out a $500m processing plant, a 300-metre wharf, cold storage plant and ship repair yard in the PMIZ.

Looking long term

The government sees PNG’s fisheries industry as key to its plans for developing sustainable economic activity long term.

“Unlike copper, gas or oil, fisheries are sustainable when well managed, and we need to ensure we pursue downstream processes, add value and create wealth for Papua New Guineans,” Mao Zeming, the minister for fisheries and marine resources, told OBG.

According to Sylvester Pokajam, the NFA’s managing director, new facilities are expected to pave the way for PNG to become the world’s second-largest exporter of tinned fish, ahead of both the Philippines and Ecuador. Further expansion is also expected to create more than 22,000 jobs, he told OBG in an interview.

Despite high levels of international interest, investors face several challenges to doing business in PNG, led by infrastructure shortfalls, which can translate into high capital costs.

Weaknesses in PNG’s surveillance capabilities are also a pressing concern for investors. The World Bank estimates that poaching of PNG’s marine resources costs the industry $860m per year.

Offshore, the Department of Defence has been granted funding to improve its maritime surveillance capabilities. Other initiatives include a new $34.8m National Surveillance Centre in Port Moresby and the purchase of three additional patrol boats from the Philippines this year.

The NFA’s National Tuna Fishery Management Plan, together with upgrades to tracking and safety requirements on all vessels shipping in PNG’s waters, will also increase maritime security. Collectively, PNG’s efforts to step up security in its fishing zone should dovetail well with onshore reforms, as the country continues its drive to build new industry growth.

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