PNG Coral Reefs are some of the most abundant, and more importantly, some of the most biologically diverse reefs in the world. The marine aquarium trade has never before been established here and therefore, marine aquarium life abounds right off the shores of every coastal village throughout the country. There is an extremely high abundance of many species of marine aquarium life from the shoreline and beyond. One of our challenges however is that many of the species found within the 5 meter depth limit for collection, are commonly referred to as “bread and butter” species with low to medium value in most cases. Some of these species are found in competing countries at a lower price. There are most certainly a few high value species being collected, however, within the current 8 FMA’s, there are not enough medium and high value species available to encourage buyers to buy more of the “bread and butter” species. This has been proven time and time again for the ETF, as several at times, when a more “common” inventory of marine aquarium life was simply not enough to entice buyers to order; especially during annual slow periods and seasons in the industry. On occasion, the SEASMART Program fishers would collect an uncommon or rare color morph and buyers would quickly place an order to be sure and receive the “special” fish.
This is why it is so critical to the continued growth and development of the trade in PNG that collection of marine aquarium life expands to the outer provinces in order to enhance species variety. By increasing the variety of species offered, greater volumes of the “bread and butter” organisms can be sold along with the more highly demanded organisms. More highly demanded species will allow for more purchases from coastal fishers around the country.
The EcoEZ Mariculture, Aquaculture and Restoration (MAR) Division also promises to greatly enhance our species variety within the next few months by providing farmed corals for export. This also will greatly aid in increasing sales of the abundant, more commons species.
The ability of Fishers to supply the desired quantity and quality of livestock is affected by several factors:
- Ocean currents/tides
- Boat access
- Community Functions – (Death, Bride Price, Church Functions, etc.)
- Species seasonality
- Equipment/Holding Capacity
- Skill Retention
Weather has been discussed previously in this document, however it is a primary factor in the Fishers ability to collect in quantity and also can affect quality as rough seas can cause excessive stress during collection and transport back to FMA holding locations. Expansion into the outer provinces will help to offset unfilled orders caused by poor weather conditions by providing marine aquarium life from different regions around the country. Thus far, having only marine aquarium life supplied by Central Province, bad/rough weather has sometimes delayed collection and exports.
Ocean currents and tides can affect marine aquarium life collection as well, but not usually quite as much as the weather can. There are however, times of high tides, or king tides that can hinder fisher activities. Again, by sourcing marine aquarium life from Provinces around the country, exports can continue on a regular basis and customers can be serviced despite ocean and weather conditions.
Boat Access is one of the major factors that affect fishers’ activities and thus their ability to generate more income. Very few SEASMART Program fishers have boats of their own and therefore must rent them from other members of the community. Often times, boat rental fees are quite high; this forces fishers to either pay the rental fee, which sometimes accounts for a major portion of their earnings, or use a dugout canoe and paddle to nearby collection areas, or not participate in any fishing activities at all. For the few fishers who have better access to boats, there is ample opportunity to fish, for those who don’t have easy access to boats, there are challenges which greatly diminish the earning potential of these fishers and also raise concerns regarding rotation of collection areas within FMAs. It is important that fishers rotate their collection areas so as to not deplete species within “frequently fished” areas nearer their villages. For example, fishers who only have access to a simple dugout canoe usually cannot travel all around their FMA, rather, they only collect near their village and can potentially “wipe out” targeted species in these localized areas without the FMA ever reaching, or exceeding the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) limits.
In mid 2009, EcoEZ Inc. was informed about a boat grant program whereby the National Fisheries Authority (NFA), would provide boats to villages based upon their proper request and submission to NFA. The SEASMART Program staff assisted each of the 8 FMA’s in preparing these submissions in hopes of receiving these grants to alleviate the problem of fishers having no boats. It is our understanding that only one of the SEASMART Program FMA’s actually were awarded a new boat, however, the village of Roku has yet to actually see this boat as of yet. The SEASMART Program has been working with fishers in each FMA to organize and form Fisher Associations. These fisher associations would have various functions; one of which would be to oversee the use and care of any boats awarded to the community. Other functions of the associations would be to deal with any fisher issues as well as participate in MAP Committee functions. The SEASMART Program is also considering conducting some research in designing of collection boats that incorporate sails to reduce the need for so much fuel.
Another factor, which affects the fishers’ ability to collect in volume, is species seasonality. This is generally restricted to only a few key species, however it is a critical issue as there have been several times when fishers could not collect species like Blue Tang, therefore limiting this species available to buyers, in turn causing buyers to postpone their order pending acquisition of the desired volume of a given species. Again, building the species variety with organisms from outer provinces and farmed corals will aid in boosting overall sales of PNG marine aquarium life.
The SEASMART Program has also realized the need for basic business skills education for fishers. This is especially evident for some fishers who learn successful collection skills early on and are quickly able to collect more fish than they can properly hold with their initial holding equipment provided. It is important for fishers to acquire/purchase additional holding equipment such as cups and buckets in order to be able to hold their catch properly and prevent damage by overcrowding and/or lack of proper species segregation.
This ties in somewhat with fishers’ skills retention capacity. The SEASMART Program has found it necessary to follow up with regular “refresher courses” and ETF support to focus on continuous improvement of fishers’ skills and practices. These activities are essential to reduce higher numbers of rejected organisms and maintain/improve practices with some fishers.
- There is an overwhelming need to be prepared for rapid yet manageble expansion of this trade to the provinces. This expansion is required for the following reasons:
- The market requires diversity in species mix and volumes. The market demands and pays for species diversity and consistency of supply. This can only be had by being able to harvest organisms from other parts of PNG. Each province has its own range of species, many the same but a few are either endemic to the area or in more abundance than elsewhere. It is this combination that will drive the growth of this trade out into the provinces.
- For this trade to equally impact all parts of PNG, outlying provinces will need to be incorporated into the SEASMART program’s longterm training and resource assessment and mapping activities.
- It is expected that it will take 5 years before the trade is of sufficient size to have a real impact on the global marketplace. It will take close to 10 years of diligent work (fisher and community training, resource assessment and mapping, and internal export infrastructure built) to prepare a significant portion of PNG to take part in this trade.