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Papua New Guinea’s 5957 million square kilometre Exclusive Economic Zone is one of the largest marine jurisdictional zones in the Pacific and the richest in fisheries resources in the region.

The extensive and diverse zone includes 17,000 kilometres of coastline. Deltaic flood plains and barrier-lagoon complexes extend for 4,250 kilometres, or approximately a quarter of the total coastline. Islands and atolls account for 4,180 kilometres, or nearly one quarter of the total.

Besides abundant tuna and other pelagic species, several other commercially-important fish, shellfish and sedentary species are found in Papua New Guinea’s waters. More than 10,000 species of fish, molluscs and crustaceans have so far been identified.

Current production of fish in the country is estimated at about 145,000 metric tonnes per annum of tuna and tuna-like species and other pelagic fish. It is estimated that the potential yield of those species is about 370,000 metric tonnes per annum.

The total resource yield has the potential to reach 800,000 tonnes of fish and marine products annually.

Other coastal resources like reef and lagoon fish show a potential for considerable increases in yields.

Coastal commercial fishing operations are based primarily on prawns, lobster and barramundi and a collection of sedentary fisheries resources, including beche-de-mer, trochus shells, pearl shell and green snail. The operations are carried out by small-scale commercial fishermen, who sell their product to a range of small to medium-sized fish processing and marketing entrepreneurs. Sea cucumber is collected and processed for export. The trade in shells with lustrous interiors is small, but growing.

The prawn fishing effort is mainly concentrated in the Gulf of Papua, the Torres Strait and, to a lesser extent, in Orangerie Bay in Milne Bay Province. Lobster is caught by local dive fishermen in the Torres Straits and the Gulf of Papua. Barramundi is caught by fishermen in Western and Gulf Provinces, mainly for export to Australia.

Domestic private investment in commercial fisheries in Papua New Guinea is small. Inland fish production is still very much underdeveloped, but commercial farming of trout and carp has been undertaken by a few farmers in the Highlands regions. Inland fish production amounts to an estimated 10 metric tonnes annually and consists mainly of carp, tilapia and freshwater prawns, with 70 metric tonnes from trout and carp fish farming.

The tuna industry has the greatest potential for fishery development. More than 40 per cent of the Western Pacific’s tuna catch is harvested from Papua New Guinea’s waters.

Tuna is currently taken by distant water fishing vessels operating under licence. The current haul primarily comprises skipjack, yellow fin and bigeye tuna taken by purse seiners and long-liners from Japan, Taiwan, the United States, Korea, the Philippines and chartered vessels from Pacific Island member countries.

The Government has established a domestic tuna policy, but the country lacks such a fishing fleet and an on-shore processing industry has not been available to properly utilise the resource.

Two separate agreements have however, been signed between the Government and two private canning companies to develop tuna canneries in Madang Province. A mackerel cannery is already into production in Lae.

The Papua New Guinea Government is exploring avenues for the privatisation of various aspects of its coastal fisheries programme. Private sector participation is to be promoted in the areas of handling, processing and marketing of marine products, craft construction, repairs and maintenance, engine sales and ice and fishing equipment sales.

The Government is playing a key role in the management of the fishing industry. The long-term sustainability of the resources and the environmental impact are the key factors for the long-term sustainability, growth and development of the fisheries sector.

Unlike the country’s vast mineral resources, fisheries are renewable, and, if exploited within the limits of sustainable yields, they will generate, on a long-term basis, food, income and employment opportunities for Papua New Guineans.

The major emphasis of the Government’s policy is the development of industrial and commercial fisheries which will help to provide the infrastructure necessary for small and medium scale fisheries development.

The Government intends to support the development of commercial mariculture projects The operations will, however, be subject to licensing in order to regulate the development of the industry. In line with the overall environmental policy, all projects will be subjected to a complete environmental impact assessment.

An integrated surveillance system is being installed. A national observer programme is being developed closely with the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), to monitor the operations of distant water fishing vessels and linkages will be maintained with respect to regional surveillance programmes.

The newly formed National Fisheries Authority has a mandate to improve efficiency and accountability in the industry as well as respond directly to the needs of the fishing industry. The move is in line with the present trend in other renewable resources sectors, such as agriculture and forestry.

Potential investment opportunities in the fisheries sector can be obtained through the Fisheries Sector Manual and the project profiles being promoted by the Investment Promotion Authority.

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