Papua New Guinea

In March 2015, we provided an initial training for a few community members and provincial fisheries staff north of Madang on the north coast of Papua New Guinea, together with WWF PNG supported Australia and funding from Australian Aid and John West. By June 2017 ~4,000 fish had been measured and recorded in local names, at the time of writing only 2551 of these records had been matched to scientific names (152 species).

The data collected is of extremely high quality, enabling good preliminary estimates of size of maturity to be developed for 8 species and initial assessments of 3 species. Due to the extremely narrow reef area and high coastal population, the food web in this area is extremely depleted, despite the basic fishing techniques applied from single dugout canoes. The small species of emperor and snapper that normally dominate the catch in heavily fished areas have become extremely rare (<1% of the catch) and the main species being caught are damselfish and small wrasse. The fishers tell me that they, “no longer fish for meat, but now fish for soup”.

Unlike Palau and Fiji, to date there has been very little buy-in for government agencies but the community work is being co-ordinated by an extraordinary community member called Matthew Mirak, who has now trained and supervises six fish measurers in neighbouring communities. Initially annoyed at being sent along to our training because it did not teach him to fish more effectively, Matthew went on to deeply assimilate the SPS concepts. He spontaneously converted our pig analogy into a calculation of his community’s yield of coconuts based on the number of trees they own, he compared this to how many were being eaten on average each meal, proving to his elders they would never have excess for making copra and earning income, unless they controlled consumption. With this analogy he moved on to convincing his community that they also needed to manage their fish, winning community agreement in the first year for a daily bag limit on rabbitfish during their spawning season, the timing of which he determined from his examination of gonads.

Having been sensitized to the overfishing issue, when the run of rabbitfish through the spawning season was noticeably poorer than previous years, the community moved quickly in the second year to agree a three year fishing ban which they intend replacing eventually with a minimum size limit.

In the absence of buy-in from government agencies, but with the support of WWF, the fish measurers and their communities have begun discussing how they can work through local government frameworks to achieve the systemic reform they are now thinking is needed.