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Risks and Benefits of the Marine Aquarium Trade

Risks The marine aquarium trade is typified globally by unsustainable practices, habitat degradation and destructive fishing methods, often evolving as a community level extension of the larger live fish trade. Philippines and our Asian neighbor’s reefs are widely decimated and its fishers living in poverty. Without radical changes to the way the resource base is managed, the amount and ways fishers are paid, and ownership structure of local industry companies, the trade will continue to wreck destruction everywhere it operates. If not properly set up and managed, the marine aquarium trade can be highly destructive to the resource base. It will continue along the way of other artisanal fisheries with heavy resource depletion, destructive fishing practices, deceptive marketing, inequitable development, cut-rate pricing, and community and fisher dissention. massive resource depletion and ecosystem destruction; widespread use of destructive fishing practices further impacting the ability of the resource base to provide food and income to resource owners; inequitable development leading to resource owner and fisher dissatisfaction and dissent; lower product quality leading to customer rejection, lower prices, and loss of markets; local and national level corruption; and and local and national industry collapse. Benefits Listed below are the potential benefits of a properly managed marine aquarium trade to a country and are dependant on specified cost and management factors being in place. Factors such as aquarium fishery management areas with Management Area Plans (MAPs) being set up and properly managed; equitable export business models with fisher equity stakes; effective certification, monitoring and reporting systems; organism traceability; “choke points” established for product export monitoring; effective and reliable funding; consistent Government commitment and support; ongoing research and resource assessment; and reasonable air freight pricing (the single largest cost factor in product export). A properly managed marine aquarium trade is a trade that will: build on and strengthen traditional customs and authority to local governments of resource ownership and land tenure through international market support; create conditions that are supportive of local community ownership and management responsibility of their marine resources; offer coastal fishers an immediate alternative livelihood that is sustainable, and socially and economically viable while building the resource base for other artisanal industries like beche-de-mer and food fisheries; help to restore damaged coastal marine aquarium fishery habitat (the same habitat of beche-de-mer and live reef food fish species); develop marine aquarium community-based aquaculture and mariculture enterprises and markets; impart to a country a leadership role in the promotion of localenterprise development, ownership and management; and distinguish a country’s marine aquarium product in the marketplace as being sustainable, equitable and affordable.

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Sustainability, Equitability and Affordability in Papua New Guinea’s Marine Aquarium Trade

Strengthen PNG “Brand” signifying Sustainability, Equitability, and Affordability. The marine aquarium trade has traditionally been very price driven with little interest in sustainability. Exporters lack of interest was supported by the purchasing decisions made by importers, retailers and in turn the hobbyists. The result is a trade driven to desperate and destructive actions in many supply countries. Exporters are the number one source of cyanide for fishers in this trade as they were for the live food fish trade in PNG.  Fishers are spending longer and longer times out, needing to travel farther away, and do deeper dives to be able to make the same small amounts of money they did even 2-3 years ago. Their resource bases have been overfished, destructively fished, and driven to their present position by the desperation of local fishers and the low prices offered by the trade (fisher prices have not risen in Philippines for example for the last 20 years). This is the future of this trade in PNG if it is allowed to develop without strong management and monitoring especially if new investment is not carefully screened before licenses given. Sustainability, equity and cost (affordability) are interdependent and each will not happen without the other. It is the intent of EcoEZ Inc. and the SEASMART program to ensure that that history is not repeated in PNG and that PNG is given a fair chance to succeed at a trade under its own rules. Sustainability: In almost all natural resource based, non-extractive, industries, proving the sustainability or growth towards sustainability of your product is of increasing importance to the marketplace. This is also true of the marine aquarium industry, which is also faced with additional threats of closure or extreme management measures by importing countries. The marine aquarium trade in most countries of operation is not sustainable and has traditionally been a destructive influence (not as severely though as many food fisheries, and land based pollution or sedimentation) on the environment and people’s lives albeit an important source of livelihood for fishers. PNG’s developing marine aquarium trade has working solutions for almost all sustainability issues faced by local FMA resource owners. Being able to prove that an organism comes from a sustainably managed source requires robust systems for resource surveying, mapping and planning; fisher training and support; species TAC setting by individual FMA (an FMA is the base unit of management); fishing to order; world class facility equipment and infrastructure; and traceability and third-party certification to prove all claims of sustainability. Equitability: Throughout the world, the marine aquarium trade as with most uncontrolled or partially managed in-shore marine fisheries (the majority) is not owned or managed by the fishers themselves or in the case of PNG, the resource owners. Nowhere in the world are local resource owners in charge or managing their own resource base nor do they have a major or even minor ownership stake in the export side of the industry. PNG has a different model, one that pays fishers better, more consistently and with minimal or no waste of time and resources through our collect to order system. It is proposed that all export companies be required to maintain a 51% local ownership structure. Fishers, through the creation of a Fishers Trust, will maintain a 25% ownership stake in all PNG licensed export companies (this 25% can be counted against the 51% local ownership requirements. Value of ownership stake based on the value of product sold to the exporter by an individual fisher over the previous year. Affordability: PNG marine aquarium life, although more costly in some ways to produce and market such as transport costs, is blessed with an abundant and productive resource base located close to local resource owners and fishers allowing for a much shorter market chain than is available in most other parts of the world including and especially PNG’s main competitor countries, the Philippines and Indonesia. Since PNG has a strong reputation now for producing very high quality marine aquarium life, we are able to maintain a pricing mechanism that is on the higher end of the market. Most of our product, though, is comparably priced with Indonesia and the Philippines or the Solomon Islands and Fiji. We are also able to improve margins and eventually profitability by pricing higher our species exclusives, and special pattern or color morphs. Since the construction of the new facility in Port Moresby, we’ve had one small claim on dead fish from a wholesaler. This means that we do not lose money through fish mortality (trade averages between 5-25% on many species) and can price our fish accordingly. A quality product means we have less dead claims, allowing for a pricing regime that maintains a pricing regime that is more supportive of the fisher’s efforts and yet remains affordable in the international marketplace. Our best fisher, a woman from Fishermen’s Island has averaged between K150-300 per week since the beginning. Sales have steadily increased although have been somewhat limited in volume due to our present limited species mix (a problem which will be solved by expanding to other provinces). Fishermen’s Island, where people have to fish to survive, earned about K60,000 in 2009. Other FMA sites have done less well but are still earning substantial income from this trade. Actual statistics for all FMA’s and fishers are available from NFA upon request. Conclusion Papua New Guinea has the resource base, the resource ownership system, a very interested market, and an excellent development team in SEASMART. This is a very rare opportunity for PNG to work itself into a dominant position in an international trade. It is our strong conclusion that NFA and the Government of Papua New Guinea make the financial and institutional commitment to developing the marine aquarium trade as being developed by EcoEz Inc. and the SEASMART program. For the advances attained by the SEASMART trial program and enjoyed by participating fishers and communities to be fully realized and brought to the rest of the country,

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