On 2 and 3 November 2022, after more than two years of virtual meetings due to the global pandemic, key members of the ATSEA-2 Project’s Regional Steering Committee (RSC) gathered for the first time in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, for the 4th Regional Steering Committee meeting. The ultimate aim of the meeting was to pave the way for sustained regional cooperation in the Arafura and Timor Seas (ATS) region.

The end of 2022 marks the mid-point of the five-year ATSEA-2 Project. Cognisant of this fact, the meeting provided a valuable opportunity to assess progress and establish roadmaps for the completion of the remaining targets; to that end, presentations focused on the recently completed Project Midterm Review (MTR), while discussions related to governance and the environmental and knowledge management aspects that will help ensure long-term cooperation and sustainability beyond project completion in 2024.

The RSC highlighted significant progress that has been made by ATSEA-2 since the Project’s Inception Meeting in 2019. This included the completion of significant regional and national thematic assessments on key transboundary issues related to climate change, unsustainable fisheries, land-based and marine-based pollution, habitat and ecosystem degradation.

These key studies served as a reference in the development of key management plans and guides related to Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM), Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) and Climate Change adaptation. In addition, they supported ongoing efforts to update the region’s Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA), while also building consensus for the establishment of an ATS Regional Governance Mechanism (RGM) that will support implementation of the next ATS SAP and country NAPs.

“Nothing beats the trust and camaraderie established from face-to-face discussions,” stated  Justin Ilakini, Managing Director of the National Fisheries Authority (NFA) of PNG in his opening remarks at the meeting. These pertinent comments kicked off two days of discussions, resulting in a number of strategic recommendations and decisions.

PNG as Host Destination

The hosting of the RSC meeting rotates in all the ATS countries as part of their commitment to the ATSEA Program. PNG, through the NFA as the key focal ministry, serves as the newest country member, having formally joined ATSEA-2 in 2019 (PNG served as an observer country during ATSEA-1). Thus, hosting the 4th RSC signified PNG’s crucial support in carrying out the targets of ATSEA-2, while also setting the future direction of regional cooperation in the ATS region.

Dr. Handoko Adi Susanto (right), the ATSEA-2 Regional Project Manager, handed over the plaque to Noan Pakop (left), Deputy Managing Director of National Fisheries Authority, Papua New Guinea and the National Project Director of ATSEA-2 PNG.

NFA’s successful hosting of the event was highly commended by all the partners, including  Noan Pakop, Deputy Managing Director of the NFA, who served as overall Chair of the Meeting, with support from  Iwan Kurniawan of UNDP Indonesia as Co-Chair of the Meeting and the national organising committee. PNG also ensured the engagement of other key stakeholder partners during the event, comprising representatives from UNDP PNG, academia, local government and the private sector. 

Implementing ATSEA-2 in PNG

Ilakini emphasised that key objectives and initiatives, particularly in South Fly District of the Western Province, should catch the heart of the PNG people, particularly at the grassroots level. In light of growing concerns surrounding environmental degradation and climate change impacts in PNG’s coastal and marine environment, the work undertaken by ATSEA-2 becomes even more vital.

This work comprises several capacity and awareness building activities. Specifically, ATSEA-2 is working on sustainable fisheries management, finalising a community-based South Fly Fore-Coast Artisanal Fishery Management Plan and developing a first National Action Program (NAP) for PNG. 

In 2021, PNG set up its National Project Board (NPB) as a national decision-making body for the Project. This body has since been supported by a National Inter-Ministerial Committee (NIMC) and National Stakeholder Partnership Forum (SPF), along with the National Coordinating Unit (NCU).

The flagship ATSEA-2 Project in PNG is an artisanal fishery management plan for South Fly in Western Province, along with the development of the country’s first NAP in support of the regional SAP. The first of its kind within the NFA, the multi-species Artisanal Fishery Management Plan will be community-led and driven by stakeholders, while also being complementary to NFA policies and species focused fisheries management plans. The target rollout and legalisation of the Plan, together with the formalisation of its Multi-Stakeholder Committee, is targeted in 2023. Meanwhile, the first NAP of PNG, which will serve as a future national framework of action in its ATS area, is targeted to be completed in 2023 as well.

During the RSC, the NFA (together with other ATS countries) expressed their continued support for the ATSEA Program. In particular, the NFA highlighted the potential they see in ATSEA initiatives and affirmed their willingness to provide the necessary support – including financial assistance – to further sustainability. The Next RSC will be hosted by the Government of Indonesia.

By Kate Aguilling and Kenneth Yhuanje