In Papua New Guinea, a significant legislative milestone has been achieved in the South Fly District of Western Province, marking a transformative moment in fisheries management. The Fore Coast Artisanal Fisheries Management Plan, a groundbreaking community-based multi-species fisheries management initiative, was meticulously developed to address the unique challenges of the region. This initiative culminated in the enactment of a Local-Level Government (LLG) Law, marking a historic first in Papua New Guinea: the establishment of a fisheries management law at the local government level, broadening the focus from commercial fisheries to community-based artisanal fisheries.

Supported by the National Fisheries Authority (NFA) through the Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action Phase II (ATSEA-2) Project, this legislation significantly advances the sustainable management of marine environments and artisanal fisheries. Its enactment represents a monumental achievement for the Fore Coast Kiwai Local-level Government (LLG) in Papua New Guinea’s Western Province. This groundbreaking approach sets a new precedent for environmental governance, offering a model for sustainability that can inspire and be replicated in other regions, illustrating a major step forward in conservation efforts across the region.

Initiated in 2021, the ATSEA-2 Project represents the second phase of the ATSEA Program, which is financed by a GEF grant of US$9.7 million and bolstered by co-financing commitments totaling US$60.2 million from various country partners. Running from 2019 to 2024, this regional initiative includes the participation of the governments of Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, and receives additional support from the Australian Government. The ATSEA Program aims to foster enhanced collaboration and coordination within the Arafura and Timor Seas (ATS) region. It supports the implementation of the endorsed ATS regional Strategic Action Program (SAP) for 2014-2024. The overarching goal of the program is to promote sustainable development and improve the quality of life for the region’s inhabitants by focusing on the restoration, conservation, and sustainable management of marine-coastal ecosystems.

The Path to a Sustainable Future

Members of the Fore Coast Kiwai LLG holding the artisanal fisheries management plan and the law they passed on 9 April 2024

Spanning from Sui Village on the Fly River delta to Bula Village at the Indonesian border, the region confronts several sustainability challenges. The ATSEA-2 Project’s baseline assessment in 2022 identified critical overfishing issues and proposed a community-based Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM). This approach culminated in the development of a comprehensive management plan, which was legally formalised on 9 April 2024, empowering local communities to manage their resources effectively.

The specific challenges faced by the Fore Coast communities, leading to the development of the new law, were primarily related to the inability to gazette the Fore Coast Artisanal Fishery Management Plan (FAFMP) under the Fisheries Management Act 1998. This limitation would have shifted implementation responsibility to the NFA, contrary to the intended community-based approach. Hence, an LLG law was necessary to legalise the FAFMP and ensure local implementation.

Community involvement was integral throughout the drafting and decision-making processes. Communities were consulted extensively before and during the FAFMP development, with management measures derived from the plan adopted into the LLG Law. LLG members, representing the Fore Coast communities, were actively engaged in the drafting and review of the law until its finalisation.

A fisher from South Fly District, Papua New Guinea stands waist-deep in water, drawing in a net with a hopeful catch

The ongoing preparation for the implementation of the law involves various stakeholders, including the NFA, Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA), Western Province Fisheries, South Fly Fisheries, Fore Coast Kiwai LLG members, and Fishing Industries representatives in Daru. These entities constitute the Fore Coast Fisheries Management Committee, which will convene annually to review the effectiveness of FAFMP implementation and its associated law.

While the FAFMP and its law are yet to be fully implemented, their potential impact on the local environment and fishing practices is eagerly anticipated. Once the law is passed, both the plan and the law will undergo a socialisation process before implementation commences, ensuring community readiness and support for the forthcoming changes. This legislative success has garnered acclaim from community leaders, including Hon. Sampson Ma’a Uku from Mabudauan village, who highlighted its importance for sustainable community development.

This initiative aligns with the broader goals of the ATSEA-2 Project, aiming to manage community-based artisanal fisheries and achieve sustainable fisheries objectives. While preliminary feedback from the community following the enactment of the law indicates satisfaction and anticipation for more sustainable fishing practices, further assessments are necessary to gauge its full impact.

Future initiatives planned to support fisheries sustainability in the region include fisheries development outlined in the National Action Plan (NAP), indicating a holistic approach to long-term resource management and community welfare.

The Fore Coast Kiwai LLG’s enactment of this law is a profound testament to the power of collaborative efforts between local governments, communities, and international partners. It underscores a significant shift towards sustainable environmental stewardship and community empowerment in Papua New Guinea.

By Kenneth Yhuanje