Small-scale Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing continues to cast a shadow over artisanal fisheries and the users of ecosystem services in the South Fly District of Western Province, Papua New Guinea. The exploitation of marine resources in this manner remains an urgent issue, underscoring the need for support to empower local fisherfolk in their quest for sustainable fishing practices. 

The Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action Phase II (ATSEA-2) Project working together with the National Fisheries Authority (NFA) of Papua New Guinea, has taken proactive steps to address small-scale IUU fishing, while simultaneously managing artisanal fisheries through the Fore Coast Artisanal Fishery Management Plan (FAFMP). Moreover, the issue of small-scale IUU fishing has been integrated into the ATSEA-2 National Action Plan (NAP), with a focus on local and regional strategies as part of the broader Strategic Action Program (SAP).

The issue of IUU fishing in South Fly District stems from increased demand for fishery products, which is directly correlated with increased exploitation. Additionally, the unregulated trade of these products has lowered commodity prices, driving fisherfolk to catch more, thereby placing additional stress on natural resources. Illegal traders have exacerbated this problem by encouraging harvesting during closed seasons and providing prohibited fishing gear to fishers.

In response, the NFA, working in partnership with provincial fisheries, conducts regular monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) patrols along border areas, which have resulted in a number of arrests. In addition, various organisations, including the Climate Change & Development Authority and Conservation & Environment Protection Authority, have collaborated closely with provincial authorities to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and its mitigation. 

To manage their fishing activities more sustainably, improved awareness of established fishing regulations is needed among local fisherfolk so they can fully understand the law, the rationale behind it and the importance of compliance. New regulations in response to IUU fishing are also needed to curb exploitation and curtail the unregulated, market-driven demand for fishery products.

The FAFMP has been developed by ATSEA-2 in order to create appropriate management measures and implement a community-based MCS system. This system empowers community members to perform MCS activities. In the event of suspected international IUU fishing, villages can contact the authorities using the provided contacts, while local non-compliance with the management plan can be prosecuted through the village court system.

Various fishing gears laying on the Buzi Bier fishing camp ground

Modern fishing gear, such as gill nets and motorised boats, have both positive and negative impacts on local fisherfolk. While these tools enable fishers to catch more fish and transport them easily to markets, they can also lead to overharvesting, especially when prohibited gear is used on fish breeding stocks.

During a data collection mission in early 2023, the ATSEA-2 team gathered important information for managing artisanal fisheries in South Fly. Scaly croaker and black spotted croaker were identified as the most valuable species for fish maw, earning an average of US$158 and US$120 per kilogram, respectively. Additionally, approximately 12% of this fish maw is sold in Merauke, Indonesia, highlighting the prevalence of cross-border trade. The data also revealed that 35% of the fishing nets used are of a size that is prohibited.

The advent of technology, including motorised boats and mobile phones, has made it easier for illegal fishing and trading to proliferate. Coordination of cross-border trades has become more accessible and rapid movement enables traders to evade detection more effectively. Integrating modern fishing rules into local laws will empower village courts to enforce regulations and impose fines, creating a strong deterrent to non-compliance and helping to support more sustainable fishing practices.

Creating a regulated fish trade area near the Papua New Guinea-Indonesia border is expected to enhance MCS efforts, ensuring compliance with fishing regulations. This will also facilitate fair trade and benefit all stakeholders in the fishery sector. While plans for community-based MCS are yet to be fully implemented, ongoing training and awareness efforts have raised awareness of fisheries management and highlighted the need to report violations. With the implementation of the FAFMP, success stories in combating IUU fishing and improved fisheries management may soon become more commonplace.

By Joe Kiningi