Beche-de-mer tax hits locals

Editorial

SEA cucumber (beche-de-mer) is not the kind of cucumber you would have as a fruit.
It is a slimy-looking sea creature that finds its way to the Asian dinner plate.
Sold at pricey restaurants as a delicacy, the dried product is often rehydrated to be used in rice salads and/or soups.
Sea cucumbers are marine animals with a rubbery skin and a stretched body containing a single, branched gonad.
Sea cucumbers are found on the sea floor worldwide.
Sea cucumbers are sought to treat various health issues and are increasingly in demand in China and Southeast Asian countries.
Harvesting sea cucumbers is permitted in Papua New Guinea and many parts of the world, but with limited quantities and only during high season.
In 2009, the Government introduced a moratorium on the sea cucumber fishing industry, in an attempt to replenish stocks.
On April 1, 2017, the nationwide moratorium on sea cucumber fishing and the beche-de-mer trade was lifted, seven-and-a-half years after it was introduced.
The National Fisheries Authority (NFA) had revised the National Beche-de-mer Fishery Management Plan (the Plan) prior to the fishery opening.
It allocated provincial total allowable catch (TAC) quotas based on estimated fishable stocks of sea cucumber in each maritime province.
While it was good news for the local fishermen, illegal trade increased and it was lucrative.
Illegal harvesting undermines quotas designed to protect the resource and keep the supply healthy for our children and generations to come.
Harvesting these lucrative but unappealing animals is becoming more difficult as stocks decline, prompting claims that overfishing is causing environmental damage and that divers’ lives are being put at risk.
The NFA has been monitoring recovery of the sea cucumber population through provincial annual stock assessments.
The country earns about K50 million from beche-de-mer exports and about 500,000 people from coastal and island communities are involved in this enterprise.
Whole families, especially women, have been the main beneficiaries with disadvantaged and isolated island communities in the coastal provinces earning a very high income from beche-de-mer.
Communities along the coast have also enjoyed huge benefits from beche-de-mer, a much sought-after luxury food item in the Asian market.
The Government has announced a K15/kg tax on exports of beche-de-mer from next year, citing resource rent and over harvesting as being the reasons for this tax.
The new tax is expected to assist NFA curb overharvesting and ensure sustainable sea cucumber fishing.
According to the 2019 Budget, the tax is expected to raise K10 million next year.
This new tax, industry experts say, will cause investors to cover costs and expenses by greatly reducing their buying price and thus local fishermen will be affected greatly.
The sea cucumber has more than 20 species which are being traded.
Prices range from K5-K350/kg when processed.
Not many areas of PNG have high-value species.
So obviously, for the lower value species, if the K15/kg is taxed, then obviously buyers and exporters cannot and won’t be buying the lower-value species most which are priced from K5/kg to K60/kg.
While we support concerned authorities concern on overharvesting and ensuring sustainability, the K15/kg tax is a slap in the face for the local island communities who earn their income from the seasonal catch.

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