Resource Assessment & Management (RAM)

Objectives of the RAM Division

As with any new fishery, the establishment of a sustainable marine aquarium trade is carried out with proper stock assessments to set catch limits based on quantitative estimates of population densities and estimated rates of population replenishment. For Fishery Management Areas in Papua New Guinea, coral reefs used for fishing have never been surveyed or monitored signifying that the abundance and distribution of marine aquarium resources is not known. Baseline assessment and ongoing monitoring of Fishery Management Areas and target species are required to identify commonly traded aquarium species and to ensure that these are harvested and managed sustainably.

To address this, the SEASMART Program, through the RAM Division carried out Full Resource Assessment Surveys in seven Fishery Management Areas in Central Province and one Rapid Resource Assessment Survey in Oro Province.  RAM Resource Surveys serve as baseline information of the fishery resources and reef health for any Fishery Management Area. This information serves as the basis for management recommendations and continuous monitoring. The methods include regular surveys of reefs exposed to fishing by fishers and analysing information to see the effects of fishing on reef health as well as determining the population of both vertebrate and invertebrate organisms. By monitoring coral reefs and population of targeted organisms over time, the effects of fishing could be determined and therefore establish whether the effects are ecologically significant compared to unexploited areas in time and space. In doing so, management strategies are effectively evaluated and reviewed in time.

Survey Protocols and Methodology

Basic Qualifications of Team Members

Field survey teams capable in carrying out RAM Resource Assessements and Monitoring of coral reefs and marine aquarium organisms is crucial.  Planning and preparation in advance for field activities are important steps taken prior to RAM Surveys. Preparation includes training of survey scientists in the different survey methods used by the RAM Division, collation and analysis of data, and development of management recommendations.  Each RAM team consists of three (3) or more persons tasked to survey one sub-sampling dive site. To perform a RAM survey, it is critical that qualified marine biologists are selected to carry out the survey. Each RAM survey scientist are required to have the ability to identify all key species in either latin or in it’s commonly traded name. In general, at least one observer in each team specializes in one of the following areas: aquarium vertebrates, aquarium invertebrates, Beche de Mer, food fish, corals, and types of substrates.

During surveys, it is important that the skipper or the boat captain comes from the village. The boat captain serves as a guide as he could easily point out the survey sites as well as the boundaries of their Fishery Management Area from other reefs or villages.

Species Identification and Field Survey Standardization Process

Team members of the RAM Division undergo a series of species identification and standardization exercises to ensure that all survey scientists have common understanding on organism identification. Each member is provided with 3 or more latest identification books and reputable websites such as for vertebrates and for invertebrates to ensure the division’s knowledge in identification, spelling and distribution of species are accurate at all times. For the vertebrates or fish specialist, underwater size estimation exercises are conducted to help identification accuracy. It is also the responsibility of the chief scientist to validate and compare notes after each dive to verify that all data are done properly.

Team leaders are responsible for the overall planning and management of the surveys. They ensure that members have specific tasks for equipment preparation and taxonomic assignments during data collection. It is a requirement for all survey scientists to follow dive safety procedures during underwater surveys.

Survey methodology – two steps of Resource Assessment and Management (RAM) Surveys

Step 1. Rapid Resource Assessment (RRA)

Rapid Resource Assessments are spot surveys in selected dive sites using transect lines to obtain a broad qualitative picture of large areas within a certain Fishery Management Area with a total of 20 dive sample sites with different microhabitats.

Step 2. Full Resource Assessment Survey (FRA)

A Full Resource Assessment Survey is a thorough assessment carried out right after the RRA.  Similar to the RRA, the FRA utilizes a line transect in all fishing reefs within the respective boundary of each FMA. Transect lines are laid systematically and objectively, generally parallel to the reef edge, or stratified according to local habitat features.

The RAM survey is comprised principally of a series of sub-sampling dive transect lines across the reefs surrounding each FMA. With the aid of GPS coordinates and available FMA project maps, the team draws a series of projected sub-sample sites for the entire reef. The map shall be shown to the skipper and discussed within the team before the survey commences.

The basic method consists of underwater observations using a 100 meter belt transect, laid horizontally along the coast at uniform depths following the contours of the reef. Each vertebrate, invertebrate and coral observed within 2.5 meters on each side of the transect line is identified by it’s taxonomic name. The survey scientists for vertebrates, invertebrates, corals, food fish, Beche-de-mer and substrate take turns in following this transect line while identfying and counting every organism. The survey scientist specializing in substrates will go last as he is also responsible for retrieving the transect line while the substrate is recorded at  every 0.5 meter. The dive buddy system is observed during the dive despite the fact that the survey depth is limited to five (5) meters. This is to ensure the safety of the survey scientists.

Figure 1: Proper lying of transect lines in reef crest, drop off, spur and groove during RRA and FRA survey.

Each of the species observed is recorded in an underwater slate, which is later on transcribed at the end of each survey. Sizes of fish and invertebrates are estimated in centimeters (cm). For each site, the team divides into two groups and lays out a 100m transect line each. This is equivalent to two transect lines per dive site to ensure that enough sample area is covered and to provide better representation of the bottom type and the different microhabitat present in each reef. The visual transect line at each site includes a representative sample of all bottom types and habitat situations, such as: rocky intertidal, reef flat, steep drop-offs, rubble, sand patches, spur and groove, macro-algae and seagrass beds.

Survey of Aquarium Vertebrates & Invertebrates Species

The first survey scientist swims slowly along the transect line, stopping at regular intervals to count fish and to allow cryptic species to come out of hiding.

If a school of fish exceeds 50 individuals, an imaginary quadrant over the school will be used. The abundance of fish in that section is counted and then the count is scaled up accordingly. The size is then estimated from the tip of the caudal fin (tail) to the tip of the snout (total length) to the nearest centimeter. Fast and easy to hide fish are counted first, before the slow moving and fish that stand still are counted last.

Figure 2:  All marine vertebrates/fish are measured during the RAM survey.

Survey of Aquarium Invertebrates and Corals Species

After the transect line is laid, the second survey scientist slowly swims along the transect line. All possible marine aquarium invertebrates’ species within 2.5 meters of both side of the line is recorded and counted. As with vertebrates, invertebrates and coral species are counted and/or sized in centimeters.

Table 1: List of traded invertebrates to be measured

All anemones
Some species of Sea stars (Linkia spp, Choriaster spp, Culcita spp, Echinaster spp, Gomophia spp, Protoreaster spp)
All Sea Cucumbers
All Hard and Soft Corals

Figure 3:  Marine invertebrates measured during RAM survey.

Total Allowable Catch

Total Allowable Catch limits of aquarium organisms is a requirement of the Ecosystem and Fishery Management (EFM) and Management Area Plan (MAP) Development.

Fisheries models in combination with available catch records are used to estimate a portion of the population or a level of fishing that can be sustainably harvested. The total allowable catch is a portion of targeted species’ standing stocks/population or a level of harvest that is deemed sustainable to harvest.

Fishing limits for fish are determined from the estimates of natural mortality rates.  These natural mortality rates (M) are used to estimate total allowable catch as suggested by various fisheries literature.  Natural mortality rates are calculated using Pauly’s empirical equation using data on growth rates (k), length infinity (L∞) and water temperature from various species with adequate size class data.  As much as possible, estimates are determined for various species representing different families.  These estimates are later applied for other species within the same family and/or ecologically similar species.

On the other hand, fishing limits for aquarium invertebrates are set at 20% of local stock until the availability of enough size class data for natural mortality is analyzed.

For both fish and invertebrate organisms, the fishing limits are indicated as ranges (from average density and 95% confidence interval) given the variability of stock abundance estimates.

Alternatively, there will be instances when species caught were not recorded during the surveys.  This case can be due to any or combination of the following:

  • These species are cryptic;
  • These species are highly seasonal;
  • These species have highly specialized and patchy habitats that were missed during the field sampling.

If in case the aquarium species has no TAC, the 20% of the standing TAC of the nearby Fishery Management Area site is used. This entire species is noted for the next re-survey wherein the survey team prioritizes on the documentation and identification of all species without a TAC.

The initial survey will establish the baseline information on the population stocks of aquarium organisms.  The total allowable catch limits are presented to the local stakeholders during a MAP committee workshop where they agree and sign over the approved values for all traded aquarium species.  The next 12 months constitutes the implementation phase of the management recommendations.  After the baseline RAM survey, the re-survey at the end of Phase 2 will set additional effort on the cryptic and problematic species (highly traded but with inadequate survey data).

Ideally, at the end of the trial project, the final survey together with the collated series of data will ascertain the long-term fishing effort levels that could sustain any fishing area as well as pass on the information management system to the MAP Committee in each FMA.  Three to five (3-5) members local fishers are trained for aquarium stock survey during the initial engagement.  This is another strategy for long-term monitoring of the targeted stocks.

Implementation of Total Allowable Catch and CPUE Monitoring:

  • Catch limits are provided for the area delineated as the Fishery Management Area (coral reef area). These are the total allowable catch limits abided by all marine aquarium fishers.   Since the SEASMART Program may only work with a limited number of fishers for a period of time, the catch limits are incorporated into the fishers association action program (e.g. in Gabagaba Fishers Association) as one of the management tools encompassing basic criteria leading to licensing and fishers certification.
  • All species in the area (traded or non-traded) will be given TAC’s. These catch limits are presented to the fishers and the MAP committee members for final approval and signing.
  • The implementation of TAC starts upon presentation and agreement with the fisher’s group and other local stakeholders. Presentation of these management recommendations first, to the fishers and later, to the LLG and other stakeholders such as the MAP committee are carried out. This process is documented and endorsed to ensure that concerns and issues that may arise are immediately addressed.
  • Initially, the community development coordinator is responsible for facilitating the MAP committee members in discussing the importance of the collated catch data, what they mean and what management decisions are sound and appropriate. In the long run, it is the responsibility of the MAP committee members to independently decide, based on the figures presented, how to implement the TAC and catch records information as their own management system.
  • When 90% of the species’ TAC of a species is reached (detected by TRADE Management System), a MAP Committee meeting is held to discuss whether fishing of concerned species is continued to the maximum limit or to stop when the TAC is reached.
  • TAC’s are for 12 calendar months. If no new TAC’s has been provided, then a provisional TAC is provided.  The additional TAC’s should be 20% of the annual figures proposed TAC of the nearby FMA. Re-survey is executed six (6) months after the expiration of the previous TAC.
  • Catch records of all target aquarium organisms per FMA is collected by the MAP, ETF and FFD Divisions. After consolidation, RAM carries out the respective CPUE calculations.
  • CPUE is monitored by the TRADE Management System. Results are given to update the MAP committee.
  • A significant decline of a certain species per quarter will trigger a MAP Committee meeting and a decision whether to ease up or stop fishing is discussed. A yearly analysis of TAC serves as  a guideline whether fishing should continue for the next year.
  • As a practical management tool, a proportional significant decline in CPUE is a guide to proportionally decrease exploitation rates accordingly.

Marine Aquarium Target Classifications Based on Ecology and TAC Implementation

Targeted Aquarium Species List (TASL)

The species under this list are targetted organisms for trade. This list includes all species in demand and are currently traded species of the marine aquarium trade.

Classes of Targeted Aquarium Species List (TASL)

  1. Class A = High-end species, and Endemic/localized species of the country and most in demand species in the trade
  2. Class B = “Bread and butter species” or the most common species in the aquarium trade.
  3. Class C = Newly introduced species in the aquarium trade

Banned Species List (BSL) 

Fishing and collection of species under this list is prohibited. Species listed under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) list and the Red-list of Papua New Guinea are included in the Banned Species List. This list also includes species banned locally by the National Fisheries Authority.

  • All Sea Horses Species (Hippocampus)
  • All Giant Clams Species (Tridacnids)
  • Hemiscyllium strahani (Hooded Epaulette Shark)
  • All Sea Cucumber (by Season)

Unsuitable Species List (USL) 

Species under this list would not survive in captivity, and therefore it is recommended that they should not be fished. From a scientific perspective, the USL should include species that have low survivorship in captivity (e.g. coral eaters,).


  • Chaetodontoplus mesoleucus; Queen Angelfish
  • Apolemicthys trimaculatus; Flagfin Angelfish over 5 inches
  • Pygoplites diacanthus; Regal Angelfish over 5 inches (can be uplifted)


  • Chaetodon baronessa; Baroness butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon bennetti; Bennetti’s Butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon meyeri; Meyer’s Butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon octofasciatus; Eight Banded Butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon ornatissimus; Ornate Butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon plebeius; Blue-blotch Butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon reticulatus; Reticulated Butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon speculum; Ovalspot Butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon triangulum; Triangular Butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon trifasciatus / lunulatus; Melon Butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon trifascialis; Chevroned Butterflyfish
  • Parachaetodon occellatus; Occelated Butterflyfish


  • Labroides dimidiatus; Cleaner Wrasse

Misc. species

  • Oxymonacanthus longirostris; Harlequin/Orange-spot filefish
  • Plectorhincus chaetodonoides; Harlequin/Clown Sweetlips
  • Pseudanthias tuka; Purple Queen Anthias
  • Aeoliscus strigatus; Razorfish

Sea Slug/Nudibrach:

  • Bornella anguilla; Slippery Bornella
  • Cheilodonura electra; Electric Tailed Slug
  • Chelidonura inornata; Inormate Tailed Slug
  • Chromodoris bullocki; Antenna Purple Nudibranch
  • Chromodoris egrettae; Egrett’s Chromodoris
  • Chromodoris elizabethina; Elizabeth’s Chromodoris
  • Chromodoris geometrica; Geometric Chromodoris
  • Chromodoris kuiteri; Antenna Orange Nudibranch
  • Chromodoris kuniei; Kuniei’s Chromodoris
  • Chromodoris lochi; Antenna White Nudibranch
  • Chromodoris magnifica; Magnificent Sea Slug
  • Chromodoris quadricolor; Antenna Multicolor Nudibranch
  • Chromodoris sp; Assorted Colors Slugs
  • Chromodoris strigata; Strigate Chromodoris
  • Coriocella nigra; Black Coriocella
  • Dematobranchus sp; Speckled Dematobranchus
  • Flabellina bilas; Bilas Flabellina
  • Flabellina exoptata; Desired Flabellina
  • Glossodoris atromarginata; Black-Margined Glossodoris
  • Halgerda aurantiomaculata; Gold-Spotted Halgerda
  • Hexabranchus sanguineus; Giant Spanish Dancer
  • Jorunna funebris; Jorunna’s Sea Slug
  • Notodoris gardeneri; Yellow Sea Slug
  • Notodoris sp; Winged Notodoris
  • Philinopsis gardineri; Gardener’s Tailed Slug
  • Phyllidia arabica; Black Nudibranch (Assorted)
  • Phyllidia babai; Baba’s Phyllidia
  • Phyllidia coelestis; Celestrial Phyllidia
  • Phyllidia elegans; White Nudibranch (Assorted)
  • Phyllidia ocellata; Ocellate Phyllidia
  • Phyllidia pustulosa; Pustolose Phyllidia
  • Phyllidia sp; Red Turtle Nudibranch
  • Phyllidia willani; Willan’s Phyllidia/ Slug
  • Phyllidiopsis shireenae; Shiren’s Phyllidiopsis
  • Plakobranchus sp; Hooded Plakobranchus
  • Pteraeolidia ianthina; Violet Pteraeolidia
  • Nembrotha lineolata; Lined Nembrotha
  • Reticulidia fungia; Abstract Reticulidia
  • Reticulidia halgerda; Decorated Reticulidia
  • Robastra arika (Roboastra); Black Nudibranch / Green Nudibranch
  • Robastra sp (Roboastra); Green Nudibranch
  • Risbecia imperialis; Imperial Risbecia
  • Staylocheilus longicauda (Stylocheilus); Sea Hare Algae Slug

Limited To Catch Species List (LCSL) 

These are species that can be fished but whose numbers should be closely monitored. TAC of species under this list are limited due to the slow reproduction of its own species and its slow growth rate. From a scientific perspective, the LCSL include species that are the direct habitat of fish and invertebrates (e.g. anemones,). Also, under this list are species that have very small abundance seen during the survey or species that are usually hard to find (e.g. zebra octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish, wobbegong and some species of shark). For the Leopard and the White-Tip shark, getting a special permit to export these marine aquarium species from the National Fisheries Authority is compulsory.

Table 2: List of limited to catch marine aquarium species

Scientific name Common name
Heteractis aurora Sand Anemone
Heteractis crispa Sand Anemone
Heteractis magnifica Purple Base Anemone
Heteractis sp. Clown Anemone
Macrodactylia dorensis Base Anemone
Stichodactyla gigantea Giant Carpet Anemone
Stichodactyla haddoni Carpet Anemone
Stichodactyla mertensis Merten’s Carpet Anemone
Stichodactyla sp. Multicolor Carpet Anemone
Stegostosoma fasciatus Leopard Shark
Eucrossohirus dasypogon Tasselled Wobbegong
Octopus zebra Zebra Octopus
Triaenodon obesus White-Tip Shark


Dangerous Species List (DSL) 

The species in this list should be avoided as some of these species are deadly. TAC for these species are not set.

The following species are classified according to the level of danger:

DSL with TAC

  • Blue Ringed Octopus

With a beak that can penetrate a wet suit, they are one little cute creature to definitely look at but should not be touched. The blue-ringed octopus is the size of a golf ball but its poison is powerful enough to kill an adult human in minutes. There’s no known antidote. Residing in rock pools and coral, the blue ring octopus’ rings will “glow” an electric blue when provoked or is on the defense. This is when it is most dangerous, especially to children, as it looks very pretty and harmless.

Species Description
Hapalochlaena lunulata Which is the larger and grows up to 20cm (8 in) across its stretched tentacles.
Hapalochlaena maculosa Is small and more common, weighing a mere 28 grams (1 oz) found in the shallow coral and rock pools
  • Cone Shells

Looks quite appealing, but several types are known to be very dangerous to humans. The venom of some contains the most potent neurotoxins known to man.

  • Lion Fish

Lionfish have venomous fin spines that can produce painful puncture wounds. Fatalities, however, are rare. The fish have elongated dorsal fin spines and enlarged pectoral fins, and each species has a pattern of zebra like stripes.

  • Selected Stone Fish (Synanceia verrucosa)

With 13 dorsal spines that release a poisonous toxin when pressed, the Stonefish can inflict excruciating pain and possible death to the unwary. They dwell on stony, muddy bottom areas.


  • Sea Snakes

Approximately 15 species of sea snakes can be found on the reef and all of them produce lethal venom. Having small fangs, they are not normally aggressive. There has been no reported deaths from sea snakes, however they should still be treated with respect.

  • Stingrays

Fatalities reported from stingray deaths are few and far between. Barbs on the stingrays’ tail whip up when trodden on and can inflict serious lacerations and deep wounds. Tetanus is also a possibility if the wound becomes infected.

Restrictions on Dive Depth

A restriction on dive depth is imposed in order to maintain the balance between the needs of the fishers and their safety.  Although it is possible for experienced fishers to dive much deeper, for a healthy reef, it is at five (5) meters where most aquarium organisms are found. In addition, the depth limit act as a buffer zone that enables the replenishment of the natural reserve of marine aquarium resources for species found beyond five (5) meters. Therefore, all RAM Surveys are conducted at a mean depth of five (5) meters.

Alternatively, the high demand of marine aquarium organisms in the world market are so elevated for organisms found in deeper water. This is due to the organisms’ being rich in colors, it’s uniqueness and variety. Marine organisms are naturally diverse and occupy different depth levels with particular habitat and ecological requirements for their survival and behavior.

As a livelihood commodity, species variety have to be in abundance in order for the fishers to be competitive. In reality, it’s still premature for the fishers of Papua New Guinea to go deeper than or beyond 5 meters as this would require higher/newer skills and knowledge. Thorough training in safety and possibly SCUBA or hookah (compressed air) will be needed. Fishers will have to invest more on gear and equipment and will also be responsible for the high level of maintenance. Deeper dive depth will also require a higher level of sophisticated management regime.

Resource Abundance & Pristine Ecosystem

Papua New Guinea is blessed with some of the best coral reefs in the world. About twice the amount of fish species as compared to the Red Sea, and roughly ten times as many species of corals are found here compared to the Caribbean. On a broader scale, Papua New Guinea is considered as one of the “Hotspot” country of coral reefs in the world (Allen, 2008). This indicates that the coral reefs in PNG geographically contain an extraordinarily high concentration of biodiversity and endemism. Also, PNG is considered to be one of the last frontiers of coral reefs in the Pacific especially in terms of the abundance of marine aquarium resources. New discoveries of species are being determined in every Fishery Management Area where the SEASMART Program is actively working. These are the key points that could open a window of opportunity for PNG marine aquarium fishers in the world market today.

According to Science Daily (Oct. 28, 2009) — Experts concluding the global DIVERSITAS biodiversity conference in Cape Town described preliminary research revealing jaw-dropping dollar values of the “ecosystem services” of biomes like forests and coral reefs — including food, pollution treatment and climate regulation. Undertaken to help societies make better-informed choices, the economic research shows a single hectare of coral reef, for example, provide annual services to human valued at US $130,000 on average, rising to as much as $1.2 million. (Pavan Sukhdev of UNEP, head of a Cambridge, England-based project called The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB).

Based on the analysis of more than 80 coral reef valuation studies, the worth of services per hectare of coral reef breaks down as follows:

  • Food, raw materials, ornamental resources.
  • Climate regulation, moderation of extreme events, waste treatment / water purification, biological control.
  • Cultural services (eg. recreation / tourism)
  • Maintenance of genetic diversity.

Figure 4: Based on the studies of Dr. G.R. Allen, this map of the Indo-Pacific region showing diversity isopleths for tropical reef fishes. The lightest shade represents between 200 and 400 species and the darkest shade between 1300 and 1700 species.

*Table 3:  Highest ranked areas/countries in Indo-west and central Pacific region based on total number of endemic reef fishes

*(Conservation hotspot of biodiversity and endemism for Indo-Pacific coral reef fishes; G.R. Allen, 2008).

The coral reefs in the world are now under extreme pressure from human impact (pollution, logging, illegal fishing, overfishing, etc), and natural disaster such as coral bleaching, coral diseases, crown of thorns, sea star plaque, as well as “global warming”.

However, in PNG, abundance diminishes locally and tends to vary at different scales and locations. The general observation is that species abundance seems to be greater on reefs in remote areas than those near urban centers.  For instance, Tufi in Oro Province hosts a high abundance of aquarium species compared to Fishery Management Areas in NCD and Central Province. This trend is caused by many factors, one of which is the condition of the micro- and macro-habitats of the species.

Figure 5:  A pristine and healthy reef in Tufi, Oro Province.

Coral reefs in close proximity to urban areas are less pristine than that afar. Frequent use of irresponsible fishing techniques, increased dependence on marine resources for artisanal purposes, sedimentation and run-off from upland developments, and domestic effluents all play a part in the poor state of the reef ecosystems near cities and towns.

Marine aquarium species in National Capital District in Port Moresby however do not show the expected decline in numbers. The table below shows the span of abundance of marine organisms regardless of the distance to the city or population center. For example, the FMA of Fisherman’s Island which is the nearest to the center has the highest number of recorded organisms with over 100 species more than the second highest FMA, Keapara, which is the farthest away.

Table 4:  A summary of marine aquarium vertebrates and invertebrates present species in the 7 FMA’s of the SEASMART Program.

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