Fish stocks slump in spite of scheme, says Papua New Guinea tuna industry


Papua New Guinea’s tuna industry leaders are calling for reform of the regional Vessel Day Scheme, saying it is counterproductive, speeding up stock depletion, with the size of catches getting smaller.

R D Tuna Canners' Pete Celso

R D Tuna Canners’ Pete Celso

The Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) has been operating since 2005, designed to ‘constrain and reduce catches of target tuna species, and increase the rate of return from fishing activities’ by a complex system of fees paid to member countries of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA).

The scheme limits the number of fishing days, which are then allocated by country and sold to the highest bidder.

Fisheries Minister Mao Zeming announced last week 309 licences had been issued to fishing companies mainly from the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and China for 2015, with access to Archipelagic Waters reduced from 9000 to 5500 days.


PNG Fishing Industries Association President Pete Celso says the scheme has been counterproductive, despite the good intention, because of the recent hike in fees.

The latest PNA agreement saw fees rise to US$10,000 per day, providing an estimated US$300 million(K792 million) for participating Pacific nations.

‘The increase in fees has meant boats are staying out longer, catching or setting nets twice or even more a day, and the average size of the fish (is) getting smaller and smaller,’ he told Business Advantage PNG.

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According to researcher Matthew Dornan at the Australian National University in Canberra, access fees or their equivalent were an estimated US$218 million in 2013 and US$91 million in 2009, after the Vessel Day Scheme was introduced, compared with figures of below US$70 million in the years before the scheme was introduced.

While scheme has been successful in improving economic returns for Pacific nations, it has failed to stop the decline in fish stocks.

‘The increase in fees has meant boats are staying out longer, catching or setting nets twice or even more a day, with the average size of the fish (is) getting smaller and smaller.’

Professor Glenn Hurry, the outgoing Executive Director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), says stocks of yellowfin, bigeye and bluefin tuna have all been reduced. Stocks of bigeye are now down to 16 per cent of their original numbers.

More than 60 per cent of the world’s tuna is caught in the Pacific by vessels from distant water fishing nations such as China, Japan, Taiwan South Korea, Spain, North and South America. The PNG fisheries zone of 2.4 million square kilometres is the largest in the South Pacific, and between 10% and 20% of the world’s tuna catch is caught in PNG waters.

A purse seiner offloads in Majuro. Courtesy: Giff Johnson.

A purse seiner offloads in Majuro. Courtesy: Giff Johnson.

Annual catches are up to 580,000 tonnes per year. The Pacific Tuna Forum estimates that the value of the annual tuna catch in PNG is about US$1.3 billion (K3.43 billion), which could double to US$2.7 billion (K7.1 billion) if the industry explored more value-added activities.

To achieve this, Celso (who is also Managing Director of R D Tuna Canners) has suggested PNG authorities provide incentives to the fishing companies and/or on-shore processors that are off-loading fish and/or processing fish on-shore.

‘This would help us achieve our goal of processing in-country 100% of the tuna catch from within our exclusive economic zone,’ he says.

‘This would help us increase the volume of production on-shore using a natural incentive scheme.’

EU market

Driving much of the expansion of onshore processing is the European Union, which has an Interim Economic Partnership Agreement with PNG that allows for tariff-free imports of tuna.

Celso suggests incentives to the fishing companies and/or on-shore processors that are off-loading fish and/or processing fish on-shore: ‘This would help us achieve our goal of processing in-country 100% of the tuna catch from within our EEZ.’

However, in June 2014 the EU issued what it calls a ‘yellow card’ to PNG because it is failing to ensure the sustainability of tuna fishing in its waters, after more than 720,000 tonnes was caught in 2012, well above the maximum sustainable yield of 500,000 tonnes estimated by PNG’s National Fisheries Authority.

A EU report stated the country loses approximately K65 million annually due to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in their waters.

Late last year, the PNG Government gazetted a new tuna management plan and has proposed amendments to the Fisheries Management Act to forestall a possible EU import ban.


  1. Albert Kopeap says

    Stanis Hulahau, I fully agree with your comments and the issues you have raised precisely above.

  2. Stanis Hulahau says

    In PNG, I see efforts been made by the National Fisheries Authority (NFA) to regulate, manage and extract one particular marine resource and that is tuna while not giving enough attention to the other potential marine resources. PNG has the biggest tuna stock, of approximately 15% of the world size but it’s fast depleting due to overfishing and illegal fishing. Most of those foreign companies involved in fishing our tuna are from China, Philippines, South Korea etc..and obviously may not have regard to the regulated practice of sustainable fisheries in our waters, by adhering to sustainable tuna fishing laws and policies. Their ultimate goal will be profit oriented at the expenses of our tuna stocks. The current status quo presents a real challenge for NFA and it’s stakeholders to manage. As a citizen, I would like to point out two issues that I believe is worth considering and have huge untapped potential, for generating economic benefits for the country and our people. Firstly, I believe equal attention should be given to the production and commercialisation of other marine resources in a regulated and sustainable manner by wholly involving Papua New Guineans to participate. I am referring to reef fishing, beche-de-mer, sea weed farming, prawns, lobster, crab farming to name a few and also the inland fisheries (aquaculture) of Tilapia farming, Barramundi, mud crabs and whole range of other marine resources to generate economic returns. My second point is that, NFA is more focussed on the macroeconomics of exporting tuna to foreign markets and is neglecting the growing demand of not only tuna but other marine products domestically and how that demand can be satisfied. In the absence of an established mechanism to coordinate quality, reliable and constant supply of marine products to meet the increasing demand, service providers in PNG are forced to venture into overseas fisheries markets to import marine products to meet their consumers’ demand. Take for instance our mining industries’ demand for fish and other marine products on a weekly basis to feed their mine workers, catering companies, retail supermarkets, hotels and the general population’s weekly demand. How are those demands met? Does NFA has statistics on those issues and has there been any economic cost benefit analysis done so far? I believe NFA must do more and tap into the untapped potential of fisheries in this country rather than concentrating on tuna alone. But before we can talk about exporting fisheries products, let us look at how we can feed our people (meet the domestic demand). I think the Microeconomics of fisheries in PNG also holds vast potential with our population size (market) to generate considerable revenue streams for the country.

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