Papua New Guinea working to be leader in responsible seafood sourcing

Workers on board a fishing vessel in Papua New Guinea
The Papua New Guinea Fishing Industry Association has met many of the sustainability goals it set in 2018 and plans to continue pushing to stay at the forefront of the industry | Photo courtesy of Marcelo Hidalgo
6 Min

The Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea (PNG) is continuing to drive its fishing industry to be at the forefront of global sustainability. 

The Papua New Guinea Fishing Industry Association (FIA) set a number of sustainability, traceability, and sourcing goals in 2018, FIA Sustainability Director Marcelo Hidalgo told SeafoodSource. Since then, the industry has met every one of those commitments. 

In 2020, the FIA received Marine Stewardship Council certification for its purse-seine tuna fishery – meeting its main goal of certifying its tuna industry – and in 2022, the FIA told SeafoodSource it was pursuing MSC certification for its lobster fishery. During the 2024 Seafood Expo Global, which ran from 23 to 25 April in Barcelona Spain, Hidalgo said that it has achieved that goal. 

“We are the first country in the Pacific to certify the first non-tuna fishery and the first small-scale fishery in this area,” Hidalgo said.

The company is now setting its sights on the next small-scale fishery on its list: its mud crab fishery. Hidalgo said the FIA started its certification process in April 2024.

Another big goal of the FIA is enhanced traceability, and like with its certification goals, work has already been done to push forward on this objective. In 2023, the country’s traceability systems passed the interoperability test for the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability (GDST), which recognized that the company’s traceability platform was capable of transferring key data elements – aligning it with U.S., European, and Japanese regulations. 

“That is awesome for our members,” Hidalgo said.

The FIA is encouraging its distributors and retailers to match its traceability systems so that the tuna fishery in PNG can have full interoperable traceability – from the boats to the end consumer.

Hidalgo said that the industry went as far as to share its vessel-monitoring system (VMS) data with Global Fishing Watch (GFW). Initially, the FIA was going to partner directly with the GFW, but an obstacle arose.

“We found a barrier; Global Fishing Watch doesn’t do agreements with the private sector. They only do agreements with the government,” he said. 

GFW worked to make an exception for FIA’s fisheries, and the two organizations worked for months to make a deal. 

“At the last minute, the Papua New Guinea government decided to sign the agreement,” Hidalgo said. “We are happy they did it, even though they waited so long. Now, we are the first tuna country in the world that is sharing data in real-time. Other countries have opened the VMS, but there is a quarantine time – seven days or two weeks.” 

Hildago said that for FIA’s members, keeping the location of where their tuna vessels are fishing secret makes less sense, as it's common knowledge.

“Everyone knows we are fishing in the EEZ, within the fishing grounds,” Hidalgo said.  

The open data increases the transparency of FIA’s tuna-fishing fleet and helps raise the bar on traceability, he said. 

“As a fishing industry, we are demonstrating a unique transparency level,” Hidalgo said.

FIA has also set its sights on improving its social accountability. Hidalgo said the association started with a due diligence process in 2018, and the tuna fleet attained FISH Standard for Crew certification – the first tuna fleet to do so. 

“It was not easy, even through we were implementing due diligence for almost one-and-a-half years,” Hidalgo said. 

The fleet had to be audited repeatedly, a process which included interviews with crew members, extensive examination of all contracts, and documentation of vessel workers, Hidalgo said. 

“It has had a positive impact because now our fleet has raised the bar in compliance with social aspects,” Hidalgo said. “It was not easy, and it’s even more challenging to maintain.”

Outside of FIA’s efforts, the government of PNG has also worked to improve its regulations and efforts. The country recently submitted its instrument to accession in the FAO Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), becoming the 78th state party to do so.

The PSMA is an agreement that entered into force in 2016 intended to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The agreement includes provisions on sharing information on vessels including registration and ownership, registering designated ports, adopting the FAO Global Information Exchange System, and using those databases to enforce common law – which can include the right to refuse entry into ports for fishing vessels suspected of being involved in IUU fishing.

Looking forward, Hidalgo said PNG's tuna industry plans to continue pushing to be a leader in sustainability, with FIA currently working on a commitment to limit its CO2 emissions via ... 

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