Fisheries must rise to the challenge

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday May 20th, 2015

 PAPUA New Guinea’s fisheries sector has been riding a huge wave of success in the past several years.

Business has never been better with a boom of investment from international companies looking to process fish onshore.

The tuna industry is the fisheries golden egg.

Around 18 per cent of the world’s total tuna stock is found in PNG’s 2.5 million square kilometre Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). 

The fisheries sector has grown from a dependency on access fees in the early 1980s to a more diversified sector, with significant downstream processing today.

Annually, about three-quarters of a million tonnes of tuna are caught in PNG waters. Most of these are landed in other countries for further processing.  

The Pacific Tuna Forum estimates the raw value of PNG’s annual catch at about US$1.5 billion per annum and says this figure could more than double if more value-added activities were implemented. PNG has a long-term goal of processing in-country 100 per cent of the tuna catch from within its EEZ.

The surge in investment has been motivated in part by the advantages of bringing the canning process clo­ser to the Pacific’s fishing grounds. The increased emphasis on the fisheries industry reflects National Government priorities. 

The country’s Vision 2050 strategy makes frequent reference to the fisheries sector as an area of the economy requiring more development if PNG is to diversify beyond its oil and gas revenue base. 

The European Union, which is the main market for PNG’s tuna exports, estimates that by 2016 some 53,000 jobs will be created in the PNG tuna industry if planned projects go ahead.

However, there is a downside which has been of grave concern to the EU. 

PNG faces losing its multi-million kina fish export to the EU if it fails to control illegal fishing.

The country, which last year recorded K346.8 million fish export to Europe, is one of two nations that were given a “yellow card” by the EU last year. The other is the Philippines.

The EU had warned that it will impose a complete trade ban if PNG and the Philippines continued to ignore the warning to control illegal fishing.

Illegal fishing is estimated to account for 15 per cent of the world catch annually, with the EU importing about 65 per cent of its seafood.

Tuna may be a renewable resource but its stocks can quickly dwindle due to overfishing. 

It is a renewable resource that can easily be severely affected by overfishing and or natural phenomena. 

The National Fisheries Authority (NFA) had been aware of the EU’s concern on illegal fishing for the past few years but failed to take necessary corrective measures.

The lack of resources was hampering their efforts to carry out patrols to prevent illegal fishing by foreign fishing vessels. Fisheries Minister Mao Zeming said recently the NFA was reviewing its fisheries plans and policies as well as the overriding Fisheries Act.

Zeming needs get on top of this issue and ensure that the NFA toes the EU line.

The revenue earned by the fisheries sector is more than enough to enhance the NFA’s capabilities to stop illegal fishing.

The revenue earned by the fisheries sector is more than enough to enhance the NFA’s capabilities to stop illegal fishing.

Zeming should ensure the NFA is well-resourced and assisted by relevant government departments and agencies, such as PNG Customs Office, Defence Force and police, to carry out its work.

Failure to adhere to the EU’s warning will be costly for the country.

On a positive note, more on shore processing of tuna will be possible with the opening of new factories in Lae and Madang.

There are four tuna processing plants operating in the country’s industrial hub. They include the International Food Corporation (IFC), which initially canned mackerel under the Besta brand but is now producing tuna products. The others are Frabelle, Nambawan Seafood and Majestic Seafood.

Besides these, RD Tuna Canners in Madang and South Seas Tuna loining factory in Wewak account for the annual catching, processing and sale of fish products, be it in cans, tuna loins or fish meal. They all account for the harvesting of a large volume of fish stocks to make fisheries a most lucrative industry in PNG.