Assisting PNG with the EU's "yellow card" in terms of IUU fishing / by Francisco Blaha

In June the EU (via DG Mare) enacted two decisions (2014/C 185/02 and 03) warning the Philippines and Papua New Guinea that they risk being identified as countries it considers non-cooperative in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The decision highlights that these countries (in the EU view) are not doing enough to fight illegal fishing. It identifies concrete shortcomings, such as lack of system of sanctions to deter IUU activities or lack of actions to address deficiencies in monitoring, controlling and surveillance of fisheries.

The decision does not, at this stage, entail any measures affecting trade. Both countries are being given a 'yellow card' warning and a reasonable time to respond and take measures to rectify the situation. The Commission has also proposed an action plan for each country to address the shortcomings. Should the situation not improve within six months, the EU could take further steps, which could entail trade sanctions on fisheries imports, as was done recently with Guinea, Belize and Cambodia (IP/14/304).

The decisions follow a long period of informal discussions with the countries in question since 2012. A formal procedure of dialogue with these countries to resolve the identified issues and implement the necessary action plans will now take place.

And as it happens in these cases there is a bigger and longer history behind… PNG and the Philippines have been “fishing bedfellows” for a while now, hence both had to be in the spotlight even if Philippines carries a much bigger “fault” on this than PNG, said so… they have been quite complacent too.

PNG has a big EEZ and the northern waters are very good tuna fishing grounds, Purse seining is by far the most significant fishery accounting for 98% of the total tuna catch (over 700,000 tons). Not surprisingly, PNG has an established onshore tuna processing industry with four companies in three locations, these plants collectively employ more than 8,000 workers as well as generating further upstream and downstream benefits.

PNG is an ACP (Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific) country, and as such has tariff free access to the EU market under the Cotonou Agreement. Duty free access to the EU market, coupled with the recent Rules of Origin relaxation under global sourcing provisions, enables PNG to compete against lower cost sites of production for exports to the EU.

Picture by my brother Hugh Walton (actually!)

Picture by my brother Hugh Walton (actually!)

Philippine companies were clever and over 12 years ago took an early advantage of this opportunity, and diverted much of its processing capacity and fleet to PNG. And it paid off… (but they took a big gamble, PNG is not an easy place).

In parallel, during 1998/99 (my fist time there under a ADB programme), PNG itself came up with a new operating model for its fisheries authority, instead of the usual ministry/department that get its (normally pathetic) operating funds from the Ministry of Finance/Treasury, PNG created a independent National Fisheries Authority, who directly collects all fisheries related revenues, covers it budget and then passes the surplus funds to treasury (a brilliant move). This reform was lead by  through a team of mainly national experts including PNG's own Blaise Kuemlangan at FAO, led by then Secretary for Fisheries Joseph Gabut, who reviewed the outdated 1978 Fisheries Law in 1992/93 and legislatively incorporated the NFA through the Fisheries Management Act of 1994.  The 1994 Act was later reviewed, repealed and replaced by the 1998 Fisheries Management Act.  The latter Act did give additional powers to NFA but most of what you see in the Fisheries Management Act of 1998 was already there in the Fisheries Management Act of 1994.

Fisheries related income exploded, and as a consequence NFA has been the best funded Fisheries Authority I ever worked with… but as we seen before (not only in fisheries) economical expansion and growth need to be accompanied by a parallel development on controls and transparency… and that has not been the case.

In 2013, of the 259 purse-seine vessels authorised to fish and land in PNG, only 15 were PNG-flagged, 43 were PNG-chartered (domestic-based mostly Philippine flagged vessels) and 201 were foreign vessels fishing under access agreements. Imagine the difficulties arising of managing and controlling such a fishery… particularly when you have various different access agreements and the pressures that DWFN (with not regards for transparency) can exert.

At the same Spanish based tuna industry did not like much all this tuna catching and processing explosion, because they rely on foreign caught whole tuna that they could process there and make add value, hence having that tuna caught and process by the competitors in other places that allowed them enter duty free their market wasn't part of the idea. They have been on each other case for years now.

With the introduction of the EU IUU regulation and Catch Certification Scheme the EU closed its market to fish that cannot be proven to come legal origins, and that is exclusive responsibility is from the “Flag State” for validate the certificates saying that fish was legally caught… so from that perspective PNG only should deal with the landings of its “own” 15 vessels, but at the same time deal with tons of certificates provided by other countries and deal with “processing and non processing statements” over these Catch certs.

But the EU points that “The PNG authorities confirmed their awareness that information on catch certificates issued by flag States for fish directly landed in PNG for processing are regularly incorrect. This incorrect information in catch certificates is mainly due to the fact that PNG authorities do not share data available to them, in particular Vessel Monitoring Scheme (VMS) and landing declarations, with the flag State, and not even in cases where irregularities are established. Consequently, the flag State authority has to base its catch certificates on the information available to it, which may be incomplete, incorrect and not verifiable. PNG authorities however sign processing statements in full awareness that the catch certificates issued for the catch processed in PNG are incorrect.”

Now this has a few readings: on one side, if the other nations do not have the “the information available to it, which may be incomplete, incorrect and not verifiable” how come they validate their certificates?  They should just not do it until they get the necessary Information. Furthermore, under which authority does PNG becomes a “police man” type role where it becomes its responsibility to question the “legality” of these other countries certificates.

Now this does not exonerates PNG of responsibilities under Port State Measures and is very clear as well that they have not lived up to their own required standards in terms MCS and licensing arrangements, where lack of transparency and clarity leads to a confusing situation particularly with their bilateral arrangements as ‘special conditions’ are applicable to approximately 80 % of PNG fishing licenses.

So my job here is to support capacity building of the NFA personal that way strengthen its role to satisfy their international obligations and the EU objections

this is reality here, not a show for turists

this is reality here, not a show for turists

Further Context 

In parallel to all this, PNG is going trough a resources explosion bonanza… gas, oil, mining, and so on are fuelling the economy to an incredible pace, and with that the issues of transparency and the dripping down effect of wealth are major… add that the country pretty much went from a completely fragmented tribal structure to a full independent nationhood in a period of less that 100 years. Politics are quite complex here (a year ago the country had 2 parallel governments at once!). Infrastructure is very basic on one side and completely out there on the other (I have seen here the biggest helicopters ever!)

And you don’t have to dig deep to find that clan structure and traditional believes to still very present, almost in your face, (if you are a good observer) along the latest mobile phones, late model Land Cruisers, fully fenced compounds, great smiles and full on in your face violence and danger.

I’m not even mention the untouched beauty of some of the places and the difficulties of making a nation with over 700 distinctive languages.

I never worked anywhere as challenging and fascinating as PNG, and after so many years I come to work with friends. Yes they have many issues, but they are doing what they can with the same right to make mistakes the rest of the world had over 1000 years without punishing scrutiny. 


 The EU made a game changer with IUU Catch Certificate and the IUU regulation, with all it intrinsic failures it requires countries to upgrade their fisheries control systems and that is a good thing, we just need to make the system better and more fair. Furthermore, while the EU put the rules (beyond how good they are) they also put the assistance to the countries. I'm here  via funds from the NZ government and a EU funded programme.