Rift between Papua New Guinea and Pacifical threatens future of regional tuna MSC certification

The industry group representing tuna canning and processing companies in Papua New Guinea is seeking its own Marine Stewardship Council certification for the nation’s skipjack and yellowfin fisheries, threatening a split between Papua New Guinea and the other eight island-nations in the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, and Pacifical – which was founded to market the region’s tuna internationally.

On 30 August, Papua New Guinea’s tuna industry – organized under the banner of the Fishing Industry Association of Papua New Guinea (FIA) – signed a memorandum of understanding with the country’s National Fisheries Authority to pursue its own MSC certification. The goal of the MoU is to pursue MSC certification of the country’s purse seine fleet fishing skipjack and yellowfin tuna on anchored and drifting fads and free schools in both the country’s exclusive economic zone and archipelagic waters. The FIA formally contracted with SCS Global Services on 12 September, 2018, to begin that process, according to a statement the FIA sent to SeafoodSource.

“The immediate benefits to PNG in pursuing the MSC certification includes improving the robustness of the PNG’s national fisheries management and governance framework; opening new markets for PNG-made products, which will result in expansion of the domestic tuna industry production base thereby effecting increased employment and increase foreign exchange receipts; [and] promot[ing] a global image for PNG as ‘clean, green, sustainable,’ while adding value to PNG as a country that promotes a well-managed fishery resource,” FIA Executive Officer Jonathan Manieva told SeafoodSource.

On 18 September 2018, FIA conducted a roundtable workshop with the fishery’s stakeholders in Navotas City, Manila, in the Philippines, the first step in the formal process of conducting a full assessment for the MSC.  In attendance were five representatives from the National Fisheries Authority, including the deputy chairman of the National Fisheries Board, the FIA secretariat, and 24 PNG-based fishing and processing companies, including Majestic Seafood Ltd, Frabelle PNG Ltd., RD Fishing Industry Inc., Trans Pacific Journey Fishing Corporation, TSP Marine Industries, South Seas Tuna Corporation (a subsidiary of Taiwanese tuna company FCF), and Fair Well Fishery (PNG) Ltd.  Also, in attendance were Bill Holden, the manager of MSC’s Asia and Pacific region, and FIA consultant Marcelo Hidalgo, who jointly facilitated the workshop, according to the FIA.

The FIA expects the assessment to be completed in 14 months or less, Manieva said.

“We are comfortable to say we believe we will progress the fishery certification in good time, maybe well in advance of the prescribed work program schedule,” Manieva said. “Further, we are now in the process of reviewing our existing process and procedures of MSC Chain of Custody (traceability). These are already in place and working so only a matter of contextualizing to the PNG FIA flavor. Also, PNG FIA has engaged the services of Marcelo Hidalgo as the expert MSC support consultant. He was the lead technical person in developing the PNA MSC scheme and also heavily involved with MSC work worldwide. So, with his guidance and also support from Bill Holden … FIA is already sprinting the course.”

Undergirding the FIA’s decision to pursue its own, independent MSC certification is frustration on behalf of FIA President Sylvester Pokajam and some corporate members of the FIA over the financial management of Pacifical. Founded in 2011, Pacifical is a joint venture between the eight countries belonging to the PNA (Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu), and Sustunable, a Netherlands-based corporation owned by Henk Brus. Collectively, the countries belonging to the PNA control about 25 percent of the world’s tuna catch. 

The dispute between the FIA and Pacifical broke into public view over the past several weeks as Pokajam has sparred with Pacifical Managing Director Henk Brus and PNA Commercial Manager Maurice Brownjohn in letters circulated to the media.

“We are not happy with the way Maurice Brownjohn and Henk Brus have been dealing with PNG and PNA,” Pokajam wrote in an open letter sent 9 October.

Pokajam has taken special issue with the financial structure of the joint venture, which he claimed is structured so that Papua New Guinea’s government and tuna companies pay for the bulk of the costs of the MSC certification while receiving an inadequate portion of the proceeds. Pokajam also complained about how the service fee charged by Pacifical is divided, with half of the two percent fee collected by Sustunable while the other half is divided between the nine members of the PNA (including Tokelau, which is not a formal PNA member but belongs to its vessel-day scheme).

“The PNA/Pacifical model is been widely seen as an alternative source of revenue for the PNA Members. However, to date, it is difficult to ascertain the returns of the Pacifical to PNG,” he wrote.

Additionally, The JV agreement between the PNA and Sustunable requires that all fish caught under its MSC standard be marketed exclusively by Pacifical, in packaging containing the Pacifical logo. That is a major sticking point for Pokajam, who claimed in his letter that the agreement harmed Papua New Guinea’s efforts to establish a national brand for its tuna.

“The ‘PNG Brand’ which we envisioned and desired in the beginning is being continuously stalled because of the exclusivity and other conditions set by Henk Brus on the buyers,” Pokajam wrote.

Pacifical, in its response to the FIA’s announcement it would seek its own MSC certification, questioned some of Pokajam’s statements, including the fact that a PNG brand exists outside of the country’s domestic market. Less than 10 percent of the tuna processed under the Pacifical co-brand and carrying the MSC logo was caught in the waters of Papua New Guinea, according to Pacifical’s statement. 

Pacifical also challenged Pokajam’s critique of the company’s financial disclosures and corporate registration in the Netherlands, which it said was done for “legal and commercial advantages.”

“At the Pacifical shareholders’ meeting, which takes place every year, all PNA country officials have approved the financial year compilation audited reports,” the Pacifical statement said.

In its response, Pacifical did not explain how the organization will respond if and when the tuna companies represented by the FIA cease supplying tuna to the firm.

In his email to SeafoodSource, Manieva said the FIA’s move to seek its own MSC certification meant unequivocally that “PNG-based tuna processing and their PNA MSC-accredited fishing vessels will no longer guarantee supply for Pacifical.”

Manieva said the move has the backing of all of the Papua New Guinea-based companies involved in the FIA, and that “several distant-water fishing nations have already expressed interest to participate under the PNG MSC.” Manieva did not specify whether that included any or all of the FIA-affiliated companies with ownership based outside of Papua New Guinea, but said, “FIA represents all fishing and processing industries in the whole of PNG” and that the FIA “will charge its fees to all members and parties that participate under the PNG FIA MSC scheme.”

If the FIA’s application to become MSC-certified fails, Manieva said it will pursue the creation of a fishery improvement project, using the assessment report as a basis for improving the fishery’s management until it qualifies for MSC certification. 

“For FIA, it is very important to go for a full responsible management of the entire fishery,” he said.

Once MSC certification is achieved for the country’s tuna fisheries, the MoU signed between the FIA and Papua New Guinea’s National Fishery Authority calls for the FIA to subsequently pursue MSC certification for the country’s other major fisheries, including its prawn, lobster, crab, and sea cucumber fisheries, according to Manieva.

In a statement provided by FIA and attributed to Norman Barnabas, the First Secretary of Papua New Guinea’s Office of the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Barnabas said the FIA has full government backing of its efforts.

“The fact that NFA signed a MoU with PNG FIA for implementation of the PNG MSC program is sufficient evidence of [government] support,” Barnabas wrote. “[The] only thing to do now is to implement this MoU.”

Photo courtesy of Malum Nalu and Americas Tuna Conference


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