Back in Papua New Guinea at a time of substantial changes / by Francisco Blaha

Back to work in Papua New Guinea (PNG) at a really interesting time in the fisheries management and politics of the country. PNG is the “big pella” of tuna fisheries in the Pacific, (I wrote about them before here) and a couple of weeks ago NFA (the National Fisheries Authority) communicated trough a Public Notice in the main newspapers there a change in their stands in regards Tuna Industry development policy and their foreign access conditions. The Notice cover various issues, but is motivated by something I wrote about before (here), mainly is seeing little domestic return on contributing fishing days to the foreign fleets.

As most fisheries issues isn’t simple… PNG is part of the FSMA (Micronesia Arrangement for Regional Fisheries Access) Agreement, wich was put in place to fulfill socio-economic objectives prior to the VDS (Vessel Day Scheme). This resulted in a “new class” of fishing licenses, requiring vessels to undertake economic activities in the PNA region, such as offloading, provisioning, infrastructure investments and employment, in exchange for access to all eight PNA countries' waters. The FSMA is highly attractive to purse seiners since it allows vessel owners to use the fishing days in the zones which are most attractive to fish within the entire PNA, throughout the year.

PNG contributes fishing days to the FSMA to fulfill the social and economic objectives, but the nations does not seems to get the expected results, as many PNG domestic and LBFV (locally based foreign fishing vessels) have had FSMA endorsement to fish/source tuna regionally. However, the NFA (PNG fisheries authority) has not seen a single fish transshipped outside PNG being returned for processing in PNG-based plants. 

Most of it is seen moving to canneries in Thailand and Philippines where processing is cheaper… however is a egg or chicken dilemma… are PNG high production cost not caused by the fact that processing companies with generous fishing concessions are simply not landing fish in the country? Instead, they are offloading in other destinations, and creating a shortage in PNG plants, lessening efficiencies of the operators, and driving local costs of production up further. Hence NFA hopes that a cut in generous concessions will change the current situation, and increase the volume of raw material being processed domestically.

NFA plans for 2015 a drastic shake up of the division of tuna fishing days in PNG waters. Starting next year, it would work on the removal of unassociated (not associated with a PNG-based tuna processing plant) foreign effort, access to Archipelagic Waters (AW -aka the Bismarck Sea) reducing effort from 9,000 to 5,500 days and Domestic industry will also have priority over fishing days in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) waters.

For the vessels linked to onshore processors, the 5,500 days shall be allocated based upon actual processing tonnage that is being achieved, or cans or loins processed, This will be a considerable change from the current system, where it notes that days are "merely allocated based on declared proposed processing capacity or the number of associated boats". And warns that "Where domestic AW and EEZ catches are not reflected in increased tuna processed in 2015, the concessional days afforded to the domestic vessels under each processing ventures will be reviewed".

 most PNG coastal citizens version of a "fishing day"

most PNG coastal citizens version of a "fishing day"

Foreing companies, which have been fishing in PNG waters, can no longer count on automatic renewal of usual privileges. The abolishment of these concessions by the NFA is because "all foreign access agreements had been required to land 10% of their catch for processing onshore, yet not one fish has even been landed for processing."

Consequently NFA will require that each foreign company or foreign flagged vessel that has had access in 2013 shall receive only 20 % of what it had in 2013 individual usage and this will be at the regionally agreed benchmark price of USD 8,000 a day for next year's licensing period. Previously, fishing days had been awarded at very low prices or even for free.

Now the NFA says it will invite those fishing companies to tender for up to 70 % of their previous years usage. Risks for those vessel owners bidding too low is that they will not be able to secure any additional days and only remain with the base of 20 %. With more than 40 new seiners coming into the global tuna fisheries, the competition between fleets to secure these days is expected to become fiercer. 

NFA said that, "each player in the fishery can make a conscious decision on the value to them, to get additional days to fish and have a day's 'right' to use during the year, to fish whenever they want it, with no race to fish," which is usually the case when a maximum quota is applied and closed upon exhaustion.

And while this all sounds good, is to be seen if will conduct to a stabilization of effort and catches (last year was the biggest catch ever), beyond better economic returns for PNG and the region.

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What would I be doing?

Thankfully my job is much simpler that answering working ion the political side of these decisions!.  But rather deal with the basics... Any change in policy needs to be “controlled” during operations under a structure called MCS (Monitoring, Control and Surveillance) and I will be training people on some specific aspects of that and in regards the Catch Certification that provides the official guarantees that all these MCS elements have been complied with prior the fish entering the world market.