South Fly villagers in the western province of Papua New Guinea (PNG) have long understood the importance of nature. To them, fish and marine resources are essential to livelihoods. A recent training session provided by ATSEA-2 focused on using an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) to make this link between fisheries and nature even clearer; special focus on governance aspects helped to add structure, while also developing their understanding of how natural resources can be managed more effectively.

The training team arrived at the venue at around 8:00 a.m. on 29 August 2022 to set up, prior to the commencement of training at 9:00 a.m. They were met by an enthusiastic group of well-dressed men and women, who were the leaders from various coastal villages; they had arrived early, eager to begin the EAFM training. In PNG, something has to be critically important for people to turn up early for it.

“South Fly coastal villagers depend on fishing,” said Ms. Dainah Gigiba in her welcoming address to the ATSEA-2 training team and participants from the South Fly Fisheries Office. “This training will be very useful for the villagers to properly manage their fisheries resources,” she added.

In total there were 23 people who attended the training, four of whom were women. This group included various fisheries managers and representatives from 12 South Fly villages, Western Province fisheries, South Fly District fisheries, South Fly District courts, the National Fisheries Authority, the Conservation & Environmental Protection Authority and ATSEA-2.

South Fly coastal villages depend almost entirely on the sea. They harvest marine resources for food, income and bartering with inland communities. As these resources have been overharvested, with added pressure from Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing, the strain on fisheries resources has become increasingly apparent.

The villagers have noticed a decline in their fisheries resources, but most have been unable to do anything about it; there is precious little outside help available to assist them in their fisheries management. Some villages, such as Sigabaduru, have imposed their own restrictions, banning the use of nets to catch jewfish for their swim bladders – only hook and line fishing has been permitted. Villagers already see a clear need for fisheries management, but are unsure of how this works in practice.

To bridge these knowledge gaps and offer practical solutions, ATSEA-2 conducted the EAFM training among fisheries managers and leaders from 12 target villages in South Fly. Participants were enthusiastic and actively involved in the training, which included a number of group activities that helped trainees to identify issues in fisheries management, prioritise their goals and establish a vision for future management. This involved the identification of key objectives, indicators, benchmarks and management actions. In terms of governance, the villagers indicated that they will develop committees as a way to enforce compliance.

After the training, the participants expressed their appreciation. Local government area manager, Mr. Duobe Amura, was very emotional when he said, “finally, we are getting the training we have needed. Now we can try to manage our own fisheries resources.”

Concurrent with the EAFM training was the public consultation on the South Fly Artisanal Fishery Management Plan, aspects of which were discussed as examples in the EAFM training. This consultation concluded the consultations on the management plan, which were held with a range of stakeholders. The plan will subsequently be updated with feedback from these consultations and then finalised. It will then be endorsed by the Western Province and South Fly District Fisheries authorities, before being authorised by the National Fisheries Authority. Management measures of the authorised plan will be enacted in the Fore-coast Local Level Government as an LLG law. The LLG law is then enforceable by the village courts within the district. 

ATSEA-2 is the 2nd  phase of the GEF-financed, UNDP-supported Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action (ATSEA) program. Covering Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea and Australia, this 5-year project supports the implementation of the following governance and environmental objectives of the ATS regional Strategic Action Program: (i) strengthening of ATS regional governance; (ii) recovering and sustaining fisheries; (iii) restoring degraded habitats for sustainable provision of ecosystem services; (iv) reducing land-based and marine sources of pollution; (v) protecting key marine species; and (vi) adaptation to the impacts of climate change.

(By Kenneth Yhuanje)