Of all the resources that Papua New Guinea has on offer, those in the sea can be considered to be the most elusive. Compared to countries to the north and south, PNG is not a commercial fishing nation. Fishing amounts to less than 1% of Gross Domestic Product. However, almost 80% of its people do some fishing. PN G is an artisanal fishing country where people do their fishing in their own traditional grounds using largely traditional methods. That could be about to change.
We have got one of the richest fishing grounds in the world,” said the Minister for Fisheries and Marine Resources, Titus Philemon, in July 1995. “PNG is one of the biggest contributors, in terms of catch, to the world market, even to the canneries that make up tinned fish, but as a nation we have missed out on the benefits of all this activity. Recently we have tried to uphold the of PNG as a maritime nation endowed with a bounty of commercially exploitable marine resources. We have been developing policies conducive to private sector investment. I must admit that it has not been easy trying to create the appropriate investment climate. However a lot of opportunities exist.”
The Ministry of Fisheries is working closely with the Department of Environment to develop the resource in a sustainable way. The Department of Commerce and Industry is working to encourage commercial and investment opportunities. Finance and Planning and Industrial Relations ministries are also involved. Fisheries Minister Philemon said, “I am determined to wake the sleeping giant and to exploit the resources of the millions of hectares of sea which surround the PNG archipelago.”
Following the declaration of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in 1978, PNG has the third largest marine jurisdictional zone (2.3m sq Km) among the Pacific Island countries. The inland waters of PNG are extensive but, in general, the river systems do not have a rich bio-diversity of fish. There have been attempts to fish farm and to stock rivers but this sector is very much underdeveloped. The present fish production from the trout farm in Eastern Highlands and a carp hatchery at Aiyura is less than 100 tonnes per year. There is potential for expansion but it is the coastal and marine resources which present the biggest prospect for investment.
PNG has one of the most productive tuna fishing grounds in the Western Pacific. In the past much of PNG’s tuna has been caught in purse seine nets by distant water fishing vessels from countries like Japan, the United States, South Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan. In 1993 there were about 130 purse seine vessels under license to fish. There are no PNG boats. Only in the last two years have there been access agreements which demand certain conditions of the foreign vessels. Access to archipelagic waters will only be allowed to those fleets that have invested in onshore developments such as the construction of wharves, cold storage and/or processing facilities. They must call into port at least once a year to transfer stocks on shore, to provision and refuel. It is one way of checking catch reports and log books. Tougher penalties are being introduced for breaches of agreement.
The other popular form of tuna fishing is long-line – a very long line with thousands of hooks. Access to territorial seas outside of 3 miles is limited to Papua New Guinean owned and registered long-liners, fishing sashimigrade tuna. This industry requires better access to international air services to Japan or feeder routes to Japan to facilitate marketing. The response of the private sector to the restrictions on external long-liners has been good, creating jobs and bringing confidence to this sector.
PNG has approximately 17,000 kilometres of coastline. The annual subsistence consumption of inshore marine and inland fisheries resources is about 20,000-25,000 metric tonnes. There are many small scale commercial ventures. Some 8,000-10,000 tonnes of reef, lagoon and coastal pelagic fish are traded each year in coastal populations such as Port Moresby, Lae, A lotau, Wewak and Daru. In addition, about 2,500 tonnes of highvalue sedentary and inshore species such as prawns, lobster, beche-demer, shells, barramundi and other finfish, as well as and dry marine resources, are harvested for export by commercially-oriented artisan fishermen who work together mostly with small-scale private sector processing and marketing businesses.
It is in this context that the current Minister is formulating his policies. For some years the stress has been on the ‘biological’ aspects of managing the resources of the sea. The time has come, he feels, to concentrate more on the ‘economic’ aspects. The needs of private investors must be served. The government will stop trying to play developer and instead will play the role of facilitator. Well established private entrepreneurs who have experience in the industry will be targeted to assist them with expert advice in areas such as marketing, business advice, credit access and so on.
All plans for the next ten years focus on the growth of the domestic fishing industry. The Asian Development Bank is assisting with an investment project in the private sector, especially commercialising the artisan fisheries. T he Government will provide venture capital, credit access, necessary infrastructure such as port facilities and other roles necessary to facilitate development. The aim is to increase the contribution of fisheries from around 1% of GNP to over 5% by the year 2005. One specific objective is to increase employment in the fisheries sector from around 400 sea-going jobs to 2,600 sea-going and 400 on-shore jobs by the year 2001. The goal is K80 million of new investment in the domestic fisheries sector and to increase the domestic commercial catch from 8,000 to 30,000 tonnes per year.
Administration is under control but where inter-agency implementation of projects is concerned there still remains a degree of doubt as to whether the concerned agencies can work effectively together and whether they have the manpower to be able to perform their part of the project.