After a short dinghy ride from the island town of Daru, the ATSEA-2 team arrived at the coastal village of Aberemabu in South Fly. The tide was receding, exposing a long, black sandy beach interrupted by isolated outcrops of mangroves. The high tide mark at the edge of the village was strewn with nets and other fishing gear, indicating the importance of fishing in the area.

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), the ATSEA-2 Project is developing an artisanal fisheries management plan alongside the villagers of South Fly in Western Province. This work is currently at the data collection stage; an important source of critical information on artisanal fisheries in South Fly. As part of the project, villagers will be closely consulted to ensure that existing fisheries management practices are identified, respected and incorporated into the management plan.

The coastal villages of South Fly depend almost entirely on fishing for their livelihoods. Their main protein source is the sea; they also trade marine products with inland communities for foods, produce and daily necessities. Fish and other marine resources are sold to raise the income needed for shopping, school fees and outboard motor fuel, among other needs. Growing pressure on marine resources is having an adverse impact on these resources and affecting quality of life for many living and working in South Fly.

With the increasing human population, pressure on fishing has also grown, resulting in the over-exploitation of fisheries and marine resources. The problem is exacerbated by fishing by outsiders, who do not have rights to the village fishing grounds. As incomes diminish alongside the resources that support them, fishers have been resorting to extreme measures; wasteful or destructive activities such as fish bladder harvesting, wherein fish carcasses are generally discarded after extraction. Mr Philip Martin, a community leader of Aberemabu village, summarised these fisheries issues when he said, “it is more difficult to catch fish now, because the fish populations have decreased due to overharvesting, illegal fishing and bladder harvesting”.

ATSEA-2 PNG is working with the South Fly villages to develop an artisanal fisheries management plan that will support sustainable management of fisheries resources in the area. This was the first field trip to South Fly by the ATSEA-2 team and Eco Custodian Advocates (ECA); a consultancy firm engaged to develop the South Fly Artisanal Fisheries Management Plan. ECA will be working with the villages to collect data and information on artisanal fisheries, specifically on species, socioeconomics and the customary rights-based management. This information from the villages, along with fisheries policies and advice from the fisheries authorities and justice and law enforcement agencies, will be compiled into an enforceable formal management plan. Community inputs of customary practices into the management plan is essential, so local fishers can easily comply with management measures.

Referring to ATSEA-2’s development of an artisanal fisheries management plan with villagers, Mr. Martin said that the initiative “has made people hopeful that their fisheries resources can be managed sustainably for the benefit of future generations.” He added that this has made the villagers “more eager to work with ATSEA-2 in future, to support the development and implementation of the artisanal fisheries management plan.”

Once the management plan is completed, ATSEA-2 will develop a system for community-based monitoring, control and surveillance to ensure compliance. ATSEA-2 will address factors that have previously constrained sustainable fisheries management in the region, including overfishing, destruction of natural habitats and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. This will be accomplished through the implementation and adoption of comprehensive and integrated ecosystem-based approaches to natural resource management and conservation at the national and regional levels. Specifically for Papua New Guinea, artisanal fisheries management will be implemented in the South Fly region.

ATSEA-2 is the 2nd phase of the GEF-financed, UNDP-supported Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action (ATSEA) programme, covering Indonesia, Timor-Leste, PNG and Australia.

(by Kenneth Yhuanje)