Frabelle plans expansion beyond tuna processing


Lae-based Frabelle Fishing Corporation is one of the major partners behind the Majestic Seafood venture, which opened earlier this year. But, as Frabelle’s James Johnston tells Business Advantage PNG, the company has big expansion plans of its own too.

Some of Frabelle's consumer products.

Some of Frabelle’s consumer products.

Frabelle is one of three joint venture partners in Majestic Seafoods, the new tuna processing plant which was opened in Malahang, near Lae, earlier this year.

While tuna from the joint venture cannery will be sold by Majestic, primarily to the European Union, Frabelle itself will concentrate on selling to the local PNG market, through local wholesaler, Seeto Kui.

At the same time, Frabelle has a program of investment that will see six of its 20 PNG-flagged catcher boats replaced over the next two years and the construction of a new wharf.

‘This means we are much more efficient with unloading our catch, missing out a few steps,’ Johnston tells Business Advantage PNG. ‘The second wharf will commence construction in the new year.’

New equipment

Boosting tuna output will also require replacing old equipment.

‘We’re doing major improvements in the factory,’ says Johnston of his facility in Lae.

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‘In every area, we’re changing something to make it more viable—conveyor systems, new packing systems, new labelling systems. Because the processing plant is seven years old, it’s time for an upgrade.

‘We put in a new blast freezer that’s going to double our output of frozen lines. There’s a new 500-tonne cold room being finished off now. That’s at minus 35 [degrees Celsius], not at minus 25, because the colder you can keep yellow fin the better the yellow fin stays.’

Frabelle also now has a 300-tonne storage area for all its sunflower, olive and soya bean oils.

New products for export

The next stage will be to build a second 3,000 tonne freezer. It will store ‘rawpacks’: single-cooked fish which customers can put on salads or eat straight away.

‘That’s a separate market,’ explains Johnston. ‘It only goes to France and Germany at this time.’

Frabelle is the only plant in PNG that currently does this. It also exports stockfeed and chickenfeed to the region.


Diversification is the name of Frabelle’s game. As well as the involvement with Majestic Seafoods, Johnston has also been talking to local governments around the country to set up co-operatives to bring coral and reef fish from places like Kavieng or Manus to Lae for on-selling.

The company is also looking beyond fish processing: it is one of the tenderers for the new power station in Lae and has installed a biomass boiler in Lae for which it will be buying coconut shell for fuel.

All this is done without much fanfare, which is the way Johnston likes it.

‘We’re quiet achievers. We’re like BHP and that’s the way we’d like to stay.’

Fisheries in Papua New Guinea: the challenges

‘Our biggest issues are power and water as well as the cost of importing raw materials and exporting our products,’ says Frabelle’s James Johnston.

‘There’s not enough power in the region for everyone to do what they want to do. We’re down something like 140 megawatts.’

Other issues include  the small size of the domestic market (‘there’s a lot of competition’) and the lack of a tariff on imports, which means competing with cheaper imported tuna from Asia.

Lae’s congested port is also a problem for Frabelle, as it is for many Lae businesses.

‘We had in some areas a 20% increase in port fees in January. Because the ports are so busy, the shipping companies charge us to sit out there and wait for the containers,’ explains Johnston. ‘It’s not only port fees, there are a lot of fees. Delays due to congestion are also a major issue.’