Papua New Guinea to tighten net on illegal fishing

Efforts are being stepped up to ensure the sustainability of Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) fisheries industry as illegal fishing threatens its long-term future. At the same time, the country is seeking to raise quality control to encourage more investment in onshore processing.

Officials are moving quickly in response to an EU warning on June 10 that PNG, along with the Philippines, is not doing enough to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. As such, PNG had been put on the EU’s “yellow list”, one level short of being assessed as a country that is non-cooperative in the fight against IUU.

A statement by Maria Damanaki, the EU fisheries commissioner, said PNG needed to do more to develop a system of sanctions to deter IUU activities and improve monitoring, control and surveillance of fishing operations.

Port Moresby has been given six months to show that concrete measures have been taken to rein in illegal fishing activities, or else face the possibility of having the door to lucrative EU markets closed. In the past the EU has banned tuna imports from countries such as Guinea, Belize and Cambodia, after they failed to meet its standards.

The EU’s concern is that unlicensed fishing in waters covered by the Nauru Agreement, which sets out terms of control and operation for tuna fishing in the Oceania sub-region, will deplete tuna stocks.  

Important partners

With tuna catches averaging 580,000 tonnes over the past seven years, PNG accounts for more than half the tuna production from the catchment area covered by the Nauru Agreement and roughly 15% of the global take, much of which finds its way onto European tables.

While PNG would probably have little difficulty in finding new markets for its tuna, with demand in China and elsewhere in Asia on the rise, Port Moresby would not want to agitate one of its leading trade partners. The EU is already PNG’s largest client for non-energy or mineral products, with trade likely to strengthen as it reinforces measures against IUU practices.

The government has responded by scaling up interdiction activities to protect against IUU fishing, adding to its fleet of patrol boats and stepping up cooperation with other countries in the region to reduce the size of the illegal catch. Officials have said improved security resources will allow PNG to better manage and protect its marine resources.

However, even with information sharing, more patrol vessels and joint operations, PNG faces a difficult task policing its exclusive economic zone, which covers some 2.5m sq km. It also has to contend with the fact that only 15 of the 259 vessels licensed to operate in PNG waters in 2013 were locally flagged, with another 43 PNG-chartered but foreign-flagged and 201 being foreign vessels fishing under access agreements.  

Downstream investments

The EU has been active in helping PNG develop its tuna industry, and, in particular, bolster opportunities for downstream value-added processing. Through a programme to support fish health and product testing, the EU has provided assistance to the National Fisheries Authority (NFA) to expand the capacity of its laboratories, allowing for improved quality control of fresh and processed tuna.

This enhanced capacity, including the ability to test for histamines – a foodborne toxin – in tuna through a lab upgrade and the granting of certification to carry out such procedures, will not only strengthen the local industry but also save some $100,000 annually in fees to have tuna samples tested overseas.

A fully accredited lab is critical for further development of the sector, according to Philip Polon, the NFA’s acting managing director. “This accreditation is a milestone that will help [the] PNG fishing industry to grow and give confidence to customers that exported fish and fish products to [the EU] market and anywhere else in the world is safe to be eaten by human beings,” Polon said on August 6 at a ceremony to mark the certification of the National Animal Health and Food Testing Laboratory.

Greater quality control should encourage more investment in onshore processing, boosting value-added content to the fisheries industry. As of August, a new cannery was under construction and two more processing facilities were being planned, all of which would build on the existing production base of plants operating at three separate sites and employing some 8000 workers.

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