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 aaquarium 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, a long term, phased approach to provincial expansion should be pursued. EcoEZ Inc. and the SEASMART program have been building local capacity to effectively and efficiently expand the industry to the rest of PNG.

Other inshore fisheries such as beche de mer, trochus, giant clam, etc. can be easily linked in under the same FMA management and branding system systems as the marine aquarium trade. All of the above are presently included in all SEASMART FMA natural resource surveys. Adding other fisheries into the local FMA management system will also allow for easier and more effective monitoring by NFA and Provincial fisheries departments but will also add to the income opportunities of the local fishers. Well managed FMA’s with sufficient populations could possibly even be allowed to sell beche de mer under carefully monitored and managed trial conditions prior to the present ban ending.

Under present SEASMART FMA Development Team structure, EcoEZ Inc. has three (3) FMA Development Teams, giving PNG the capacity to carry out full industry development activities in three provinces simultaneously. Full PNG development of this trade could be done over a seven to ten (7-10) year period resulting in over 275 FMA’s developed, 8000+ fishers trained and making a living in thirteen (13) Provinces, and earning a minimum of K20-25 million total per year. A trade that if done right, will make a measurable difference in people’s lives around Papua New Guinea.