Net gains: the new plan for Papua New Guinea’s fishing industry


Better infrastructure and a higher volume of onshore processing are the key tenets of Papua New Guinea’s new Fisheries Strategic Plan, which aims to transform the industry over the coming decade. Business Advantage PNG speaks with National Fisheries Authority Chairman Ango Wangatau to find out more.

A tuna boat in Simpson Harbour, Rabaul, East New Britain Province. Credit: National Fisheries Authority

Ocean fishing contributes half a billion US dollars every year to Pacific countries.

This crucial industry has become even more important as mainstays like tourism have been battered by the global pandemic but, while PNG is the biggest tuna processing country in the region – marine product exports were valued at K325 million* in 2021 – it is still missing a big opportunity.

Ango Wangatau, Chairman of PNG’s National Fisheries Authority tells Business Advantage PNG that the new Fisheries Strategic Plan 2021–2030 will help PNG ‘change from a highland country to a fishing nation’.


The National Fisheries Authority’s Ango Wangatau

While PNG already has tariff-free access to the European Union market and an abundance of tuna to sell, Wangatau notes that it is missing the infrastructure to process its tuna catch onshore. Therefore, much of the processing still heads offshore to the Philippines and Thailand.

In 2020, 70 per cent of tuna was processed offshore, with that figure dropping to 51 per cent in 2021, but there are ways of improving this outcome.

‘If the government puts money into developing the infrastructure, like a dedicated fishing wharf in Madang with cold stores and ten different processing plants, we can lure not only the catches in PNG to process here but the catches all over the Pacific,’ he says.

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‘At the Pacific Islands Leaders Forum, they decided PNG should take the lead in the fishing industry because the other island countries don’t have the land, they don’t have the population. With the right infrastructure, we can control the world tuna price.’

‘The super funds have got money, landowner companies are ready to come in but we have to develop the infrastructure first’

Inside the plan

PNG currently has six onshore fish-processing plants. Modelling for the strategic plan projects the creation of between four and 14 new plants over the coming decade. The construction of new wharves, jetties and slipways would support these new facilities.

The plan establishes 11 priorities, including expanding market access to fisheries products; increasing government presence in the industry; promoting locally-owned small business; and strengthening research development and training in the industry.

The report also recommends encouraging more foreign direct investment, which has largely driven the sector so far.

The right investment

Maurice Brownjohn, Commercial Manager of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, the Pacific-wide organisation that oversees the Pacific’s tuna fishery, says one of the main impediments is not just investment, but the right investment.

‘You need a level playing field, getting in investors that are processors, not fishing companies that are running a processing centre to get concessional fishing rights. This has been the biggest problem to date,’ Brownjohn tells Business Advantage PNG.

‘The investors we’ve had have been fishing companies who build a factory to get concessions for more fishing and then take the fish back [offshore to process].’

Ango Wangatau says that they are ideally seeking local owners, too, ahead of foreign investment.

‘The super funds have got money, landowner companies are ready to come in but we have to develop the infrastructure first,’ he says.

‘One of the reasons why we want to do it our way is that our practice has been that foreign countries have come in and told us what we need. We are saying “no, we’ll tell you what we need”.’

Other problems to consider are the costs of starting up in PNG.

‘Our labour is competitive but we have to deal with other costs like electricity, which is quite expensive in PNG,’ he says.

Wangatau says that it can be tricky to get government buy-in, as infrastructure does not always offer immediate returns. But he believes it will make a big difference to the fishing industry.

‘We have 12,000 to 13,000 people employed in the industry right now. If we can increase that to 30 or 40 thousand, then that in itself is a reason why the government should do it,’ he says.

* Source: Bank of PNG

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