Endowed with some of the most bountiful fisheries in the world, PNG’s waters have traditionally supplied abundant amounts of protein- and nutrient-rich food for settlements dotting the country’s 17,000 km of coastline. While seafood remains a key staple for many Papua New Guineans’ diets, the presence of highly sought after catches, such as tuna, prawns, lobster and others, has fuelled a growing commercial industry. Participants operate a diverse array of fisheries across the country in varied marine ecosystems, with small-scale artisanal communities, local small and medium-sized enterprises, and large-scale international purse seine fishing operations. In all, PNG boasts one of the largest fishery zones in the Pacific region, at 3.1m sq km.

State Operation

Six commercial fisheries are currently managed by the National Fisheries Authority (NFA), consisting of the key tuna and prawn industries along with lobster, sedentary, inshore and aquaculture/inland categories. The sedentary fishery includes a number of species, among them sea cucumber, along with gold and black lipped oysters, green snail and trochus shells, which are harvested for their thick interior layer of nacre (mother of pearl). The inshore fishery also includes a wide variety of subcategories ranging from reef fish targeted for the aquarium fish trade to crabs, lobster barramundi and other fish caught for live sale. Lastly, aquaculture and inland fisheries cultivate various species for both domestic consumption and export including prawn, carp, tilapia, carp, rainbow trout, barramundi, seaweed and pearls.

In 2014 the country exported 69,600 tonnes of marine products, up from 46,200 tonnes in 2013 and just off the record shipment of 71,100 tonnes recorded in 2012, according to data from the Bank of PNG. Exports have climbed over the past decade, and averaged 63,600 tonnes annually from 2011-14. Preliminary data from the first quarter of 2015 indicates that the industry is on a record pace for the first three months of the year, with 18,400 tonnes of product shipped. In terms of value, exports achieved a high in 2014 of PGK345.9m ($131m), up from PGK234.4m ($88.7m) the previous year and PGK329.5m ($124.7m) in 2012.


The fisheries sector is managed principally under the aegis of the Fisheries Management Act of 1998 and the Fisheries Regulations of 2000. This legislation empowers the NFA to manage all fisheries and marine resources and regulate all related activities in a sustainable and equitable manner. As part of its domestic duties, the NFA also began developing forward-looking fisheries management plans starting in 1994. These cover a range of fisheries including tuna, beche-de-mer, barramundi, prawn, shark, lobster, aquaculture, aquarium fish and live reef fish. Tools used to implement and enforce these polices include gear restrictions, control of by-catch, control of effort, area closures, and size and species restriction.

The NFA is also required to comply with the conservation and management measures contained in international agreements and partnerships. Two of the most important such agreement deal primarily with managing valuable tuna stocks in the western and central Pacific Ocean – the Parties of Nauru Agreement (PNA) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). Both regional fisheries management organisations are intended to successfully manage wide-ranging businesses across borders and in international waters – a necessity, given the transient nature of tuna schools. Since 1992 the countries of the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, PNG, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau included in the PNA have worked collaboratively to manage tuna stocks within their waters.

The multilateral arrangement under which these countries have worked is the Palau Arrangement for the Management of the Western and Central Pacific Purse Seine Fishery (Palau Arrangement). At its core, the Palau Arrangement essentially governs the operation of purse seine vessels in the national waters of the PNA, primarily by placing limits on the number of vessels operating through the vessel day scheme (VDS).

Another organisation with similar aims is the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), established to help its 17 member countries manage fishery resources that fall within their 200-mile exclusive economic zones. The Niue Treaty signed by all FFA members furthers management cooperation in monitoring, control and surveillance of fishing, and includes provisions on the exchange of information about the position and speed of vessels at sea, unlicenced vessels and procedures for cooperation in monitoring, prosecuting and penalising illegal fishing. Individual members within the FFA have also adopted more strict enforcement laws extending the range of sustainability laws to make it unlawful to import fish that has been taken contrary to the laws of other countries. The first signatory to the clause in 1994, PNG signed onto the cross-border regulations which state that any party whom lands, imports, exports, transports, sells, receives, acquires or purchases any fish taken, transported or sold contrary to the law of another state is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine.

Gone Fishing

The largest contributor to PNG’s fishing industry is the tuna fishery. The NFA estimates PNG controls around 15% of the global tuna trade valued at $4bn-5bn globally each year. This accounts for half the cumulative PNA contribution of about 30% of the world tuna supply, and translates into PGK300m ($113.5m) annually in export revenue for PNG fishermen. In addition to the income derived from tuna sales, the industry is also driving a growing value-added sector of tuna processing across a number of industrial areas and provides the government a substantial cash flow through the sale of fishing rights within its waters. The VDS system, for example, has increased the amount of revenue flowing to the eight PNA members since its inception, from $64m in 2010 to $357m expected for 2015 – more than the total of all export revenue generated from the marine segment in 2014.

Under the VDS management scheme the PNA sets the total number of days that can be fished in their waters combined and the apportionment of the total number of days between each country. These allocations of fishing days are set for 12-month cycles and can be established up to three-years in advance.

Decisions about how many fishing days to allocate are calculated to allow for sustainable levels of commercial activity, using fishing stock assessments on skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna, as well as economic data for maximising economic returns and optimally utilising resources. The PNA set the total allowable effort (number of cumulative days sold by member countries in a given year) at 46,610 VDS days for 2015 and 45,881 VDS days for 2016. The benchmark price set by PNG in 2015 was $8000 per day.

Given the importance of tuna to the fisheries sector as a whole, maintaining stocks for generations to come is crucial for all stakeholders, and effective management and enforcement is now more important ever. In addition to maintaining vigilance for illegitimate fishing practices, the governments of the PNA and WCPFC must balance the cash derived from the lucrative sale of fishing rights and the future viability of the sector.