A Way Forward for Sustainable Reef Ecosystems and Prosperity for Coastal Communities in Papua New Guinea

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A Sustainable Prosperity Opportunity for PNG Coastal Communities


To enable PNG NFA and the Provincial Governments to visualize the opportunities existing within the marine aquarium trade for Papua New Guinea, EcoEZ has prepared a range of charts and supporting chart notes that provide an overview of one option of development for PNG. The charts take a template structure that allows for the changing of numerical representations or other values parameters.


The global marine aquarium trade in live organisms is between US$200 million and US$330 million annually. The marine aquarium industry is global in its outreach, with fish and invertebrates collected and exported from Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, Australia, Hawaii, Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, Brazil, South Asia, the Indian Ocean, East Africa, and the Red Sea. The Asia/Pacific region’s center of marine biodiversity is the primary source for the bulk of the trade in marine aquarium organisms. The Philippines annual trade is valued at over US$100 million a year. Indonesia is about the same. The trade in Fiji is estimated to be worth about US$9 million annually. The Philippines, along with Indonesia, supplies the majority (estimated at 85%) of marine ornamental fish exports, over 98% of which come from the wild. The United States (65%) and European Union are the world’s largest importers of marine aquarium organisms. The trade also provides the primary source of cash income for ten’s of thousands of fishers in some of the poorest areas of the world. It is also a substantial source of foreign revenue for the resource countries.

Thus said, it must be cautioned that much of the trade in marine aquarium organisms is price driven, with exporters, importers, retailers and hobbyists constantly seeking out a lower priced fish. Indonesia and the Philippines are the main suppliers to this market. The supplies from these countries are generally suspected of being cyanide caught and of poorer quality creating an endless cycle of low prices, diminishing resources, fished ever more heavily with dangerous and illegal chemicals such as cyanide. Traditionally exporters have been the main suppliers of cyanide to these fishers. While this tradition is no longer so public in its activities, it is still widely practiced in both of Papua New Guinea’s primary industry competitors, the Philippines and Indonesia. (Please see attached report: “The Marine Aquarium Trade in Indonesia and the Philippines: A Cautionary Tale”)

In no major supply country do the local fishers have an equity stake in the most lucrative part of their country’s trade, export. Most export companies and all of the large ones are primarily foreign owned or owned by non-fishers or resource owners. In most countries, the trade is exploitive or highly exploitive of the fishers and resource owners/managers. This undervaluing of fisher harvests leads to a vicious cycle of overfishing, use of destructive fishing practices, and black markets to make up for the lower income the fishers receive for their efforts.

A number of importing countries (US and in the EU) are considering full or partial bans on the import of marine aquarium organisms unless they are from a proven sustainably managed source. Some of the major issues of concern to these countries include the need for science-based fishery area management plans, the non use of destructive fishing practices, and the creation of suitable species lists to limit the trade in dangerous or endangered marine aquarium species.


In 2008, NFA contracted EcoEZ Inc. to carry out a one-year trial nationwide SEASMART program, starting in NCD/Central Province, to establish technical, environmental, and management best practice guidance for the development of the marine aquarium trade in PNG. EcoEZ Inc. was also contracted by NFA to adapt EcoEZ Inc.’s, web-based monitoring and management software, TRADE Management, to the management of a marine aquarium fisheries adapted to PNG conditions and requirements. The trial program was extended two more years due to the complex nature of the industry, the evolving nature of the program itself and the lack of trained expertise in-country as both trainers and fishers requiring extended training periods to be truly effective, culminating in the development and trialing and market testing of the PNG SEASMART brand and tagline.

Papua New Guinea Marine Aquarium Life…Sustainable, Equitable, Affordable

Through guidance from NFA and the NFA Board, SEASMART sought to develop this industry in ways that would compliment traditional resources rights and customary ownership while ensuring product traceability, quality and ability to brand, and resource access and management responsibilities based on customary rights, and sustainability based on sound scientific management systems.

The EcoEZ SEASMART Program went from being a relatively quick planning exercise to the understanding that much more training, higher level industry development and promotional work needed to be done such as site specific resource assessments, fisher/trainer training, FMA mapping, animal holding and husbandry systems, monitoring and management systems, product traceability and branding, market creation and promotion, and more if this industry was going to develop differently from almost all past artisanal fisheries in PNG. Through the PNG SEASMSART program, this new fishery would be sustainable, equitable and capable of sustained profitability. For change to be allowed to happen, an innovatively new system of coastal fisheries development, monitoring and management was needed. A system that actively involved resource owners, fishers, private sector, and Government in the management and benefits of this new trade was needed.  It was to assist with this need that the SEASMART program was developed and has been implemented.

What Does SEASMART Do?

Sustainability, Equitability and Profitability are the three core goals of the SEASMART program in the development of a marine aquarium trade in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Building on local tradition and customs, supported by international market demand, and utilising cutting edge technology and traceability mechanisms, the SEASMART Program is creating a new natural resource trade in PNG that is changing the way natural resource exploitation is carried out, ensuring local management control, resource extraction sustainability, product traceability and branding, transparent business best practices, and ultimately, stable industry profitability…breaking the boom and bust cycles so common in PNG’s artisanal fisheries such as beche de mer and live reef food fish.

The SEASMART Program covers the following general areas of national industry development from community and fisher owned Fishery Management Areas (FMA) to export.

  • Resource Assessment & Management (RAM)
  • Management Area Planning (MAP)
  • Fisher & Fishery Development (FFD)
  • Mariculture, Aquaculture and Restoration (MAR)
  • Export and Facility Development (EFD)
  • Smart Business Development (SBD)
  • TRADE Management System
  • Traceability, ISO & Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) Certification
  • Communication, Branding and Promotion

Traditional Resource Rights and Tenure Systems as Modern Management Tools

Papua New Guinea is one of the few countries in the world with such strong land tenure and customary resource ownership systems. These customary systems are centuries old and have proved to be a very effective home for the sustainable management and equitable use of a community’s shared natural resource base such as coral reefs or other coastal ecosystems. A community’s strength lies in them being able to use their entire marine resource base in ways that are more sustainable and equitable than past coastal fisheries. There are large and growing markets willing to pay for a product coming from a community-owned source because it has been managed, harvested, and or handled in a certain way, the PNG SEASMART way. The marine aquarium trade, as being developed by EcoEZ Inc. and the SEASMART Program, integrates tradition and natural resource ownership with modern management, cutting edge technology, and expanded human growth potential by satisfying and leading market needs and trends.

The EcoEZ PNG SEASMART program has successfully trialed a manageable and marketable approach in establishing community based marine aquarium Fishery Management Areas (FMAs). It has empowered the fishers with necessary skills to actively participate in the fishery and harmonized existing traditional resource management systems to generate income for people and revive local commercial activities. Active resource owner involvement in this fishery from ground level up is key to the long-term sustainability of this industry. The SEASMART system provides the fishers and their communities, exporters and private sector suppliers, and local Government with the crucial guidance, skills, and economic and conservation opportunities required to attain sustainable prosperity.

Fishers (male and female) from existing eight (8) FMAs (2 FMAs involve more than 1 village and are called United FMAs) have acquired skills comparable to other fishers in the world. Communities now have a better understanding of the true value of their coastal marine resources, and the vital ecosystems that support marine life and ultimately the community’s livelihood.


The PNG SEASMART Program has within a short period of time successfully demonstrated the real value of promoting the PNG brand in the world market. Our entry into renowned world markets during this trial period has placed PNG amongst the privileged few. This dominance in global expertise will only grow as this trade evolves further in PNG. (See attached MACNA Trip Report).

In order to be successful in its attempt to develop a sustainable, equitable and profitable marine aquarium trade, PNG will need to differentiate its products from those of its competitors in ways that allow for profitability throughout the market chain, sustainability of the resources base, and the stable economic development of the fishers and their participating community FMA’s. Sustainable prosperity is the SEASMART Program’s goal for participating fishers and their communities.

PNG’s competitors (Indonesia and Philippines) operate primarily as supplier of low cost, lower quality fish and corals. Both countries “Brands” have been devalued over time through the widespread use of destructive fishing practices, poor resource management, inequitable distribution of financial benefits of the trade, and bottom-line poor quality and high mortality rate of their products. They’re marine aquarium products are sold without the added description of where they come from because it would have the effect of lowering even further the value of their product. Countries with higher standards such as Fiji and PNG, have their country’s names listed along with the species names being sold, thus able to command a higher price for many species.

Maintaining brand integrity is not easy and must be monitored and managed like any other important business component. Once the value of the PNG brand becomes devalued, a vicious cycle results of lower prices to both fishers and importers and increasing laxity in standards resulting in an ever inferior product commanding ever lower prices or prices that never change despite long term negative currency fluctuations. Both the Philippines and Indonesia operate this kind of industry. Both countries will find it very hard to restore lustre to their brands and compete with PNG for the market we are initially targeting.

PNG marine aquarium life has a solid industry reputation now for producing high quality fish at a reasonable although not cut rate prices. We have a series of articles on the PNG SEASMART Program coming up with a very prestigious industry magazine, “Coral.” These articles will be accompanied by articles in other frontline industry magazines like Tropical Fish international and FAMA. Our market outreach has gone into high gear with additional outreach and positive feedback coming from the SEASMART program’s Facebook page, Youtube channel, and blog site. (See www.seasmart.ecoez.com for more info.)

It is the intention of the SEASMART Program to lead PNG into global dominance of this trade. That is our long-term goal. It is an achievable one if we plan carefully for the long term; provide adequate funding; train trainers, fishers and others well; incorporate committed private sector investment efficiently; monitor effectively; and market aggressively.  To do this, however, will take concentrated Government commitment and support for up to ten (10) years or more if new fishers, communities and outer Provinces are brought in to ensure nationwide wide coverage of the PNG SEASMART management and production system.

PNG is doing something that no other resource supply country has ever done in the marine aquarium trade. It has in fact devised a unique development system that will provide the global trade with a model program to show legislators that this trade can work for the benefit of the environment as well as the people involved throughout the production and market chain.


The outputs are presented in a standardised format to make projections easier, they do not reflect actual numbers of FMA’s produced in any one Province, but the number of FMAs that can be produced in one year by one FMA Development Team. FMAs may be developed in different provinces in the same year by the same FMA Team. Larger maritime provinces will necessarily have more FMA community sites so the numbers reflecting the early adopter Provinces do reflect an accurate development opportunity. Smaller provinces or those with less marine aquarium habitat, should go to the provincial numbers in the lower (later adopter) part of the charts to get a better understanding or what their provincial opportunities might be. A province with a physically smaller size resource base may still contain some very valuable species providing a better than expected market return. The charts are as follows:

  1. PNG SEASMART Marine Aquarium Industry: Ten Year Output Value Overview
  2. Overview of Total PNG Export Value and PNG % of Global Marine Aquarium Trade in 2020
  3. SEASMART New Full FMA Expansion Overview
  4. SEASMART New Fisher/Coral Gardener Participation Overview
  5. SEASMART Fisher and Fisher Community FMA Income Potential Overview
  6. POM Central Export Facility(s) and Provincial Facilities Gross Income Potential Overview
  7. SEASMART Fishery Management Area (FMA) Development Team, SEASMART FMA Extension Service, & Facility Staff Requirements
  8. PNG SEASMART Program Provincial Expansion, Privatisation and Equity Trusts Income Flow Overview

A Precautionary Approach taken to Industry Modeling

This report shows that not only is the marine aquarium trade a viable industry for PNG but that it is also a substantially valuable trade (if done the PNG SEASMART way) to all PNG links in the market chain. The overall figures for this development option are contained in charts 1 & 2 above. The rest of the charts depict the different values sections of the trade reflected in charts 1 & 2. The precautionary principle was used in all of the charts, settling on the lower option of any set of numbers used to calculate market size. Examples of this include:

  • the size of the global trade is between US$200 million and US$330 million, we used US$ 210 million as our baseline amount;
  • the value assigned to Provincial fisher income per week is K75 for the first yr and K95 for the second year. This compares to an average of K100/wk for active fishers fishing in present trial FMAs and doesn’t involve the sale of coral that is about 50% of the global trade in marine aquarium organisms;
  • There are twenty fishers per FMA working 2 days a week for 26 weeks of the year;

These are only a few of the precautionary approaches taken to this document. It is designed to be a guide to what is possible and what kind of personnel and outputs will be required to make this possibility a reality. By any measure though, this trade has a good future in Papua New Guinea if done the SEASMART way. It will be one of the largest and most sustainable income producers for coastal peoples in PNG.

Industry Stakeholder Opportunities

Fishers and their Communities

Through the SEASMART Program, PNG will take the lead in a global coastal fishery. PNG will lead the market curve in a very receptive and high value international market that places economic value on local issues such as sustainability, and fishers and their communities managing their own resources and receiving a stable, significant income for their efforts. This is a rare opportunity for 100’s of coastal communities around PNG, presently isolated from active participation in the global economy, to enter a global market on their own terms and at their own pace. This trade also offers women a real role in the operation of a major industry since they make up at least half the fishers/coral farmers working. Women are presently the highest income earners in the trade in PNG.

National and Provincial Governments

It is also a rare opportunity for Provincial and National Governments to actively participate as an indirect equity and dividend partner in an industry with such a wide positive economic impact. This model allows for Provincial and National Governments to have a source of income sufficient to support their industry extension, management and monitoring services. A PNG SEASMART marine aquarium industry will allow for relatively easy Government monitoring and management of this very complex and possibly destructive trade. Simply put, the Government partners in the trade are responsible for managing the trade and its resource base while the private sector investment partners are responsible for the managing the business side of the industry.

The SEASMART development model is supported by the EcoEZ TRADE Management information management system. Through TRADE, National and Provincial officials can enter password protected sections of TRADE to access data from fisher specific information to FMA and species TACs figures to export numbers to information on almost any aspect of the trade. A SEASMART marine aquarium trade is a transparent, easy to monitor and manage trade. Through TRADE, a SEASMART marine aquarium industry can deliver paperless data at every link of the market chain. This means no more data transference and time loss from pencil in the field to computer in the office.

Educational Institutions

The PNG SEASMART marine aquarium industry will require over ten (10) resource assessment diver scientists over the next five years and double that for fisher trainers, MAP developers, IT specialists, etc. EcoEZ and its PNG SEASMART Program is presently working with UPNG on the development of cross course training, student interships, research, and a host of other issues. In the model that follows, a trust is set up to support PNG student scholarships, in-service and overseas training, and applied research. These efforts should be expanded to UNITECH and the Fisheries College to ensure that PNG’s future needs for facility managers and personnel, resource scientists, fisher trainers, web designers, marketers, IT specialists, etc.

Coral Reef and Coastal Habitat Conservation

A SEASMART fishery management area (FMA) integrates into its resource management system the need to really understand what is being managed. In each FMA, thorough resource and habitat surveys are carried out, GIS mapped, individual species assigned TAC’s (total allowable catch) limits, dive spots, turtle hatching and other conservation areas mapped out and removed as fishing area options. Any area of conservation importance locally, nationally or internationally can be integrated into an FMA’s management area plan (MAP), and product promotion activities. Through the PNG SEASMART system, Papua New Guinea will very soon be home to worlds largest system of marine protected areas….all supported by the marine aquarium and other developing SEASMART FMA managed trades.

Other Private Sector Opportunities

The PNG SEASMART industry will require thousands of boxes, liners, bags, tank glass, nets, pumps, fuel, vessels/vehicles and so forth every year providing a substantial opportunity for local suppliers of these products. The opportunity is great to develop new, PNG boat designs more applicable to use in the trade and capable of being manufactured/built in PNG.

A Way Forward

This PNG SEASMART Marine Aquarium Industry: A Way Forward to Sustainable Prosperity for PNG Coastal Communities document highlights a possible and achievable goal for PNG in the development of this new industry and an adjustable template for forward planning. If you would like more information on or would like to talk with us about SEASMART please contact us below. Thank you.


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