Due to rising demand for fisheries commodities in Papua New Guinea, many fisherfolks are under increasing pressure to overharvest local species. In response, from 15-18 November 2022, ATSEA-2 team travelled to South Fly District to advocate for sustainable approaches to fisheries management among the local people.

Together with South Fly District Fisheries and with support from the National Fisheries Authority (NFA), the ATSEA-2 project team visited coastal communities in South Fly District to meet with local fisherfolks and discussed how they can fish more sustainably. Part of this process included socialising the common goals shared by ATS countries, along with the various targets and areas of focus related to the ATSEA -2 Project.

First and foremost, the main aim is to conserve marine resources. For fishers, this can be achieved through the use of appropriate fishing gear, as this is proven to reduce bycatch and thereby help protect ecosystems and endangered species. This is one quick solution that is being advocated in the ATS by ATSEA-2 teams throughout the region.

Secondly, harvesting fish maw for commercial purposes is taking a heavy toll on marine resources. Fish maw is a fish product that’s relatively new to South Fly, but already there are several different fish species that are being targeted and harvested in this way. To better understand the situation at the local level, ATSEA-2 started collecting information and data relating to harvesting processes and the equipment being used.

Kenneth Yhuanje, The ATSEA-2 National Project Coordinator of Papua New Guinea provide guidance for local fishers to use appropriate fishing gear

During these investigations, local fisherfolks were keen to discuss fishing-related data and information. Many confirmed that demand for fish maw has increased. In response to the rise in demand, new and unregulated fish gear have begun to appear in fishing communities. Many of this equipment have been found to be detrimental to marine habitats, endangering fishery resources and forcing them to migrate elsewhere.

Another indirect consequence of the growth in demand for fish maw is juvenile fish harvest, which has become more commonplace in recent times. Local fisherfolks are under increasing pressure to overharvest certain fish species for trade between countries in the ATS region, as revealed by data collected while conducting a baseline survey on the fish maw harvest. During this visit, the ATSEA-2 team focused its efforts on minimising the overharvesting of juveniles in fisheries. To that end, we provided useful guidance to fishers on the types of fishing gear permitted by the National Fisheries Act. For instance, gill nets or beach seine nets with mesh size more than 6 inches are prohibited.

The visit to South Fly was an opportunity to disseminate awareness on the Artisanal Fisheries Management Plan that has been developed for the South Fly District’s Fore Coast villages (or Treaty villages). The management plan will provide guidance for fishers and allow them to retain control over their fishing grounds and marine resources. During several discussions with local stakeholders, the ATSEA-2 team noticed that several villages already have bylaws in place, designed to protect fishing grounds and habitats; for instance, fishing is permitted in certain areas within an allotted period of time.

The community response to the management plan developed by NFA and the ATSEA-2 Project, was generally positive. Many local people have noticed a depletion in certain fish species in recent times, due to exploitation of marine resources and destruction of habitats. ATSEA-2 was able to present sustainable fisheries approaches as solutions to these problems; fisherfolks were encouraged to consider future generations of fishers that will rely on fisheries, then adjust their practices to ensure long-term sustainability of resources – thereby securing a reliable source of income for themselves and their descendants.

ATSEA-2 team visited fishers from four villages in South Fly District, with whom the program team advocated a sustainable fisheries management approach and socialised the main components of the artisanal fisheries management plan. Stakeholders demonstrated a clear understanding of the issues raised and a willingness to work alongside ATSEA-2 Project and the NFA to improve fishing practices and resolve the issues affecting their communities.

The fisherfolks themselves face a number of challenges, especially in terms of managing their marine resources. Some of these challenges relate to evolving settlements in Daru Island, who disregard customary fishing boundaries and harvest fish in an unregulated way. Invariably, local buyers will then purchase fish products at an unregulated price.

Now, however, with the drafted artisanal fisheries management plan in place to address key challenges, local people in South Fly have a framework for improvement and an alternative to offer as a solution to such problems. With continued support from the ATSEA-2 team and the NFA, these fishers are looking forward to a more sustainable future.

(By Joe Kiningi)