Fisheries' sustainability challenge
PNG has the Pacific's most productive fishing zone and has made great advances in onshore processing in recent years. Sustainability remains a challenge, however.
The largest sector within Papua New Guinea’s fishing industry is the catching and processing of tuna, although inland river fisheries, aquaculture and reef fisheries are also significant.
Between 10% and 20% of the world’s tuna catch is caught in PNG waters, with catches of up to 580,000 tonnes per year. The PNG fisheries zone of 2.4 million square kilometres is the largest in the South Pacific.
The Pacific Tuna Forum estimates that the value of the annual tuna catch in PNG is about US$1.3 billion, which could double to US$2.7 billion if the industry explored more valueadded activities.
There has already been significant investment in the onshore processing of tuna in PNG, creating thousands of new jobs. There are now six tuna canneries in PNG, mostly in Lae, the biggest of which is Majestic Union, run by the Thailand fishing company, Thai Union.
R D Tuna Canners was the country’s first integrated tuna fishing and tuna cannery company, based in Madang, and employs about 3500 workers. Managing Director Pete Celso, who is also Chairman of the PNG Fishing Industries Association, says exports make up 63% of company sales.
Driving much of the expansion of onshore processing is the European Union (EU), which has an Interim Economic Partnership Agreement with PNG that allows for tariff-free imports.
However, in June 2014 the EU issued what it calls a ‘yellow card’ to PNG because it is failing to ensure the sustainability of tuna fishing in its waters, after more than 720,000 tonnes was caught in 2012, well above the maximum sustainable yield of 500,000 tonnes estimated by PNG’S National Fisheries Authority.
Monitoring the activities of foreign fleets is extremely difficult and the government has increased surveillance.
The industry is also concerned that illegal fishing and new controls will cause over-fishing and therefore stock depletion.
The Parties to the Nauru Agreement, which governs the exploitation of region’s fishing grounds, have introduced the Vessel Day Scheme, which limits the number of fishing days, which are then allocated by country and sold to the highest bidder.
Pete Celso says the scheme has been somewhat counterproductive. He says the increase in fees has meant boats are catching twice a day, and the average size of the fish is getting smaller and smaller.
Professor Glenn Hurry, the outgoing executive director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, says stocks of yellowfin, bigeye and bluefin tuna have all been reduced.
Celso suggests that fishing in a country’s economic zone be allowed only by companies that operate canneries, thus adding socio-economic value to fishing nations, such as Papua New Guinea.
Celso is also concerned at the ‘dumping’ of canned tuna, caught in PNG waters, by Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Chinese cannery companies.