Export Trial Facility (ETF) – It’s Role in the PNG Marine Aquarium Life Trade

The SEASMART Program is proud to have built and established a world class, marine life holding & export facility in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG).  The Export Trial Facility (ETF) is the first of it’s kind in PNG.  It is equipped with the latest, state of the art technology in water processing/filtration and disease control.   This facility, and its’ well trained staff members, provide an outlet to international markets for the current 100 + SEASMART trained marine aquarium life collectors in Central Province.   The ETF has been designed and constructed to receive, quarantine, hold and support PNG marine aquarium life purchased from several hundred more PNG marine aquarium life collectors nationwide for export to international markets worldwide.

Another very important role of the Export Trial Facility is the establishment of international standards in quality of marine aquarium life resource management, collection, handling, holding and transport.  ETF staff members follow in the footsteps of the SEASMART Program’s  Fisher and Fishery Development (FFD) Division trainers with continued monitoring, training and support to fishers in each Fishery Management Area (FMA) to encourage continuous improvement, best practices and compliance with management, collection and holding procedures set forth to ensure the best quality and sustainability of PNG marine aquarium life.  This “follow up” support is very important as recently trained marine aquarium life collectors are still very new to this trade and live capture of fish, and other organisms.  The practice of carefully capturing and holding live organisms for export to countries around the world is critically essential to build and maintain a reputation of high quality.  Most SEASMART trained marine life collectors require somewhere between 6 and 12 months of collection experience before they become proficient.  Once the FFD Division completes the “basic training” period and several “follow up monitoring visits”, it becomes the responsibility of the “export facility” to further promote and facilitate “responsible”, best practices of the fisher’s.  The areas that require the most follow up, or monitoring of the fishers and their catch, are as follows:

  • Quality Control – Care in fishing, holding, and Holding capacity
  • Resource Management – Collect to order , Rotation of collection areas within FMAs and Fisher intercommunication
  • Finance Management – Establishment of personal bank accounts, equipment budgeting, fuel budgeting, etc.

Quality Control

Quality control is a continuous, but a necessary challenge and process for every organization around the world.  To achieve high quality in any operation, there must be continuous efforts to improve in operations and product.  For the SEASMART Program the first step is to orient the marine life collectors with the idea of live marine life collection and holding to achieve and maintain healthy, high quality marine life.  Often times “collection above the order” occurs, usually due to a lack of communication between the fishers; this is continuously addressed by ETF screening staff, and over time, fishers begin to understand better.  Other times, fishers are simply tempted to collect above the order from a seeming “abundant supply” of certain species, hoping that maybe all of their catch will be accepted.  This is a more difficult concept to address and teach.  Concepts and practices in fisheries management, like catch limits are often difficult for fishers to understand immediately.   Either way, over collection beyond holding capacity always results in damage and/or mortality.  Even after experiencing high reject numbers when screened by ETF staff, perhaps several times, some fishers occasionally repeat these mistakes.

The Export Trial Facility is the FINAL observation and “check point” for PNG marine aquarium life before being shipped to international buyers.  It is essential that the marine aquarium organisms being shipped to international buyers is properly held conditioned for shipping and are of the highest quality.  Practicing this at the ETF has established a high level of quality in every export.  Shipping mortalities currently average +/- 1 %.   It is essential for PNG to continue building the PNG Brand and Reputation of offering the highest quality marine aquarium life in the industry to ensure the marine aquarium trade will continue to grow and have a most positive impact on the reefs and communities involved.

One measure of quality of operations and product with live animals is mortality.  The Export Trial Facility has successfully trained enough national staff; and has made exports of PNG marine aquarium life in 2010 with export mortalities averaging less than 1 %.

Few exporters in the trade are able to achieve such low shipping mortality levels.    When EcoEZ Inc. first began exporting PNG marine aquarium life in mid 2008, while expatriate trainers trained national staff in packing, DOA mortalities averaged around 6%.   During 2009, under new management, and with expatriate trainers moving to new FMA field operations, the ETF experienced some occasional higher shipping mortality levels for various reasons.  With a new, high tech facility, continued training and efforts to strive for continuous improvement, ETF has been able to achieve the lowest levels of shipping mortality in the industry throughout 2010.  Other contributing factors to our reduced shipping mortalities are of course: 1. The new, world class, export facility, and 2.  Trial shipments using various packing methods/techniques along with better communication with importers, have allowed the ETF to finely adjust water to oxygen ratios to reduce shipping mortality as well as freight costs.

Prospects of Establishing Facility in Outer Provinces

The future of a strong, vibrant marine aquarium trade in PNG rests with the increased, sustainable growth of volume and variety of species available to world markets. Therefore, expansion into outer provinces is critical to the development and success of the marine aquarium life trade in PNG.  While Central Province does have incredibly diverse marine life, key, high value species variety is rather limited within the prescribed 5 Meter depth limit for collection.  It is therefore essential to the development and success of the trade that valuable species from outer provinces are made available to contribute to the overall supply of PNG marine aquarium life to world markets.  As the marine aquarium life trade grows in PNG, more fishing communities around the country will benefit from conservation education along with an alternative income source generated by the trade.

Despite additional costs of domestic transport of PNG marine aquarium life into Port Moresby for export to international markets, there is still great potential for outer province coastal communities as there are often few income sources in these outlying, often remote regions of PNG.  With the establishment of small, “feeder stations” across the country, to enhance the variety of species in PNG , the country stands to become a world leader and major competitor of high quality, sustainably collected marine aquarium life.

Adding variety to the existing mix of species already being exported will greatly strengthen, enhance and increase the size and value of the trade in PNG marine aquariuml.  Uniting the country with collection of marine species nationwide for export to world markets will ensure a better future and higher standard of living for coastal Papua New Guineans.

Facility Management in compliance with International Standards

It is imperative for a viable and sustainable future in this trade that industry standards be established and best practices are used in order to ensure the highest possible sustainability and quality of product.  It is equally important to be able to verify this. This is why the SEASMART Program has put great emphasis on being compliant with international standards of best practices.  The ETF has spent a great deal of time and effort in creating the company’s Policy and Procedures Manual in order to streamline conformity in operations and generate standardized best practices throughout all operations.  This ensures the highest quality of product as well as compliance with international best practice standards and certification schemes.  Compliance with international standards of best practices and certification signifies to the international market that PNG marine aquarium life is managed, collected, handled, held and transported according to these standards.  This ensures that international buyers will receive the best quality in sustainably collected marine aquarium life.  The ETF, through following the MAC International Best Practice Guidelines, has been able to regularly export PNG marine aquarium life with shipping mortalities commonly under 1%.  This is unheard of throughout much of the trade.

Another recent achievement of the ETF, which demonstrates the value of operating in compliance with MAC International Standards of Best Practices, is the recent “Certificate of Approval” awarded by the PNG National Quarantine Inspection Authority (NAQIA) for the import of live Kappaphycus seaweed for trial based farming in coastal communities in Milne Bay.

After several meetings, visits and inspections, NAQIA awarded the Certificate of Approval based upon ETF compliance ability to satisfactorily receive, hold, observe and ship the aquatic plants while NAQIA staff observe and monitor them for unwanted, invasive species.  These types of activities are important to the future of PNG as the country works to develop different aquatic industries to create conservation based activities and alternative income sources for coastal communities.

Fair Fish Pricing & Determination of Fish Prices

The worldwide trade in marine aquarium life has a wide range of impact on its source/supply countries and fisher incomes from the trade.  In marine aquarium life supply areas like the USA (Hawaii & Florida), marine aquarium life collectors regularly earn a significant primary income in a “limited entry” licensed fishery. In developing countries, where a majority of the marine aquarium life supply comes from, collectors at the village level often work very hard for what is usually a rather low income and low level of profit.  It is often the “middleman” and exporters who make a more significant income/profit margin in this particular trade. In most of these countries, the trade was developed and continues with little or no regulation or management; with little or no concept or practice of responsible, sustainable use.  This is one reason why, in countries like the Philippines and Indonesia, fishers must travel further and further from their villages to collect fish as their nearby resources have been overfished; the fisheries exhausted and depleted.

The traditional resource ownership laws and customs in PNG promise to be instrumental in creating and managing a sustainable, equitable and profitable fishery for hundreds, if not thousands of fishers and their communities across the country.  The EcoEZ Inc. SEASMART Program teaches the importance of every community’s efforts to work to preserve and conserve their marine resources.

It is the philosophy and goal of the EcoEZ Inc. SEASMART Program to raise awareness and promote good ocean steward practices and behavior through creating alternative incomes, and profitable enterprise by offering more equitable prices for fishers’ catch. This aids in raising awareness and educating coastal communities as to the importance of healthy seas and coral reefs.  Earning significant income from this precious natural resource generates more concern and promotes ownership and caring for their coral reefs.

The pricing structure of PNG’s marine aquarium life is primarily determined by the international marketplace, although some species, being uncommon, endemic, or in high demand, creates a higher value for some species.  In general, export prices of PNG marine aquarium life are somewhat higher than neighboring, competing countries, allowing for a higher, more equitable price to be paid to the fishers.  In addition to standard market value/prices, domestic freight rates, abundance and catch per unit effort factors are taken into consideration when determining organism pricing.

Endemic, or potentially new species require a bit more research. Firstly, determining value of similar species is done. Also, input from trusted buyers with experience in collecting/dealing with rare and unusual species is of help in determining value/price of aquarium organisms.

Global Market Size & Market Development

Tens of thousands of people around the world derive income from the trade in marine aquarium life.   Collectors and exporters in supply countries, importer, retailers, and those involved in the equipment and dry goods manufacture/supply all make a living from this industry.

The United Nations issued the following report in 2003 which provides the best available data on the Marine Aquarium Trade & Market:

  • Over 20 million tropical fish from 1471 species exported into the United States in Europe annually
  • Between 9 and 10 million other organisms, like molluscs, shrimp, anemones, etc. traded annually, comprised of some 500 species
  • Up to 12 million stony corals exported to U.S. and EU annually
  • Trade in marine aquarium life is between $ 200 to $ 330 million USD annually

It is estimated that the Philippines and Indonesia supply approximately 80 % of the worlds’ marine aquarium life, mostly to the U.S. and Europe.  Over the past 15 to 20 years however, several other countries, (including the U.S.) have taken advantage of their coral reef resources and are currently involved in the marine aquarium life trade.  Some of these supply sources have built a good reputation by providing higher quality livestock to an ever more demanding market.  Countries like the U.S. and Fiji have established a sustainable trade in marine aquarium life.  Most other supply countries however, have little or no management regimes and are depleting their resources.  It is reputed that cyanide use along with over collection, poor handling and transport of marine aquarium life threaten the sustainability and future of the trade where these destructive practices continue.   This factor does “open up the door” for more competition in a market which has been strongly dominated by only two countries.   Better fisheries management, along with the ability to produce higher quality marine aquarium life are major factors, which could allow a country like PNG to become a leading competitor in this trade.  Despite being much smaller than either, the Philippines, or Indonesia, PNG, with it’s expansive coral reefs, stands to become the worlds leader in providing the best quality, most sustainably collected marine aquarium life in the world.   Even in the event that the hobby/trade diminishes due to economic factors, PNG is poised to take market share away from the leading competitors, allowing for significant growth of the export trade of marine aquarium life of PNG.  It is feasible that over the next few years, PNG could take 20% to 30%, or more, of the market away from the Philippines and Indonesia as their fishery stocks decline due to destructive collection practices and poor resource management.

Impact PNG has at the Market Place

PNG marine aquarium life has had a significant and exciting impact in the U.S. marketplace since the SEASMART Program first began exporting into the United States in mid 2008. U.S. buyers in Los Angeles California initially ordered PNG marine aquarium life every week; eager to see what ocean jewels PNG would produce.   Since then, some buyers have become a bit disappointed with the limited species variety, and have not ordered on as  regular a basis.

Despite a somewhat limited variety of marine aquarium life species offered to date, PNG continues to surprise and excite the world with interesting morphs of commonly found species.  The PNG “Lightning Maroon Clown” is perhaps one the most famous aquarium fish in the world!  Two specimens of the common Bi-Color Angel were also collected over the last two years.  ETF has ensured that resource owners/collectors benefit directly from these more valuable specimens and receive anywhere from K 25 to K 100 for their prized catch.

Once this fish arrived in the United States, several photos, internet postings, and articles garnered attention around the world.  There was also a recent article published in an international magazine. (CORAL Magazine)  All this publicity of the PNG “Lightning Maroon Clown,” brought many requests for more of this spectacular fish. The ETF received several requests for PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish!  Importers worldwide and buyers, who had not ordered lately, contacted the ETF asking if and how they could get this fish, or another specimen like it.

On a recent SEASMART Program survey and sample collection in Tufi, one Amphiprion lueckokranos Clownfish was collected.  This species is found in only a few countries and commands quite a high price. It will be a species that if available, will increase sales of other PNG marine aquarium life. One importer in England, after being informed of the 500 kg minimum for shipping, asked if EcoEZ Inc. could guarantee at least 5 specimens of A. lueckokranos clowns if they ordered 500 kg of other marine aquarium life.

There have been several interesting color morphs of common species exported to date, along with some not so common species; and even a new species for the trade/hobby that have generated greater interest in PNG marine aquarium life throughout the world.  The “Tufi Blue Damsel” is a new species to the trade/hobby and samples were taken during surveys in Tufi earlier this year.  Some specimens of this fish were also exported to the United States to determine the marketability and popularity of this fish.  The “Tufi Blue Damsel” was an immediate hit; one “damselfish aficionado” contacted ETF immediately, to find out where he could obtain some specimens.  He was referred to the U.S. importer, Sea Dwelling Creatures, who ordered the fish and he quickly purchased some and has since written a great article, which has brought the fish, and PNG marine aquarium life into the world spotlight again.

With all the excitement to date, over several special “PNG Fish”, the market is eagerly awaiting to see what new surprises PNG holds in store for the aquarium trade/hobby

While U.S. importers are somewhat more concerned about fish prices, species variety and freight costs, European importers are much more interested in the environmentally friendly, sustainability component of PNG marine aquarium life.  For several years now, only a small percentage, (approximately 20% to 30%), of the U.S. market are willing to pay more for responsibly, sustainably collected marine aquarium life, a majority of importers and hobbyists throughout Europe are excited about a responsible, sustainable supply of marine aquarium life. (Personal experience of U.S. retailer)

The ETF is in the process of filing the application for the EU to enable PNG to export it marine aquarium life into Europe.

The expansion of marine aquarium life collection into the outer provinces, along with enhancing species variety with coral farming, etc., is essential to success, and will enable PNG to meet the growing demand for a consistent, responsible, sustainable supply of marine aquarium life, while providing new, alternative incomes to thousands of Papua New Guineans around the country.

With all the excitement to date, over several special “PNG Fish”, the market is eagerly awaiting to see what new surprises PNG holds in store for the world.

Freight Routes & Rates

Freight routes and rates remain one of the biggest, negative impacts in the growth of sales of PNG marine aquarium life.  Fortunately, Qantas Airlines provides a very good service to Los Angeles, California; the largest point of import for marine aquarium life in the world.  The usual flight leaves Port Moresby at 6:30 a.m., arrives in Brisbane by 9:30 a.m. just barely in time to be transferred to connecting flight departing for Los Angeles (LA) at 11:05 a.m.  The flight arrives in LA at 7 a.m. on the same day.  This equates to approximately 16 hours of flight time and approximately 24 hours total transit time for the organisms.  This transit time is very competitive, however the freight costs out of PNG are significantly higher than those of competing countries.  Despite higher freight costs however, there is still great interest in supporting PNG’s new, sustainable marine aquarium life trade.  The bigger obstacle is most certainly airline routes and schedules.


There are several aquarium life importers across Europe whom have expressed interest in purchasing PNG marine aquarium life. Unfortunately, most of these importers are in countries we cannot access properly at this time.  The Tropical Marine Centre (TMC) in England however, will be able to import PNG marine aquarium life once we have completed the European Union (EU) application process.  Qantas Airlines provides service to London Heathrow Airport with an acceptable transit time to ensure a timely transport of livestock.  Other destinations will require much more research and assistance/support from freight forwarding specialists to achieve transfer of live cargo to connecting flights from different airlines.  Once PNG obtains EU approval, sales to TMC and the rest of Europe could potentially increase overall sales/exports immediately by as much as 20% to 30% maintaining a similar market share as new provinces open up.


Prospective customers in Canada have been inquiring about purchasing PNG marine aquarium life since the very first few exports in mid 2008.  The problem is that it is Qantas policy not to transfer livestock to another carrier.  This is very unfortunate as there is a significant, growing market in Canada, potentially increasing sales/exports of PNG marine aquarium life by as much as 10% to 15%. We continue to work with Qantas to open routes to Canada.

Japan, Singapore, China & Malaysia

EcoEZ Inc.has made trial shipments to Japan and China in 2008 & 2009, however the route goes through Australia first, and then north to a final destination increasing freight costs and stress on the livestock with a longer trip.  ETF has however, maintained low DOA/Mortality with these shipments into Asia.  Importers from the above countries have expressed great interest in PNG marine aquarium life. Enhanced species variety and better access to these markets could increase immediate sales of PNG marine aquarium life by as much as 5% to 10% maintaining a similar market share as new provinces open up.

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