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Developing legal value chains and alternative markets for South Fly District fisheries, Papua New Guinea


Previous work in the South Fly District, Papua New Guinea (PNG) has revealed the complex linkages between poverty, illegal activities, over-fishing and food security. Livelihoods are heavily dependent on subsistence and artisanal fisheries. Much of the growing Asian market for bêche-de-mer, shark fin, fish bladders and mud crabs is serviced via illegal cross-border value chains into Indonesia, while legal trade exists in parallel. The ultimate project aim was to develop future management actions and projects that can increase income from legal activities and empower local communities, while reducing levels of illegal trade and unsustainable activities in the region.
This 18-month project mapped the legal and illegal value chains of high-value marine products traded by fishers in the region. Methodological complexities associated with gathering empirical information on illegal activities were overcome by using participatory approaches and building trust between the researchers, communities, value chain actors and government authorities. Participatory systems modelling was used to identify the numerous root causes of illegal trade, including the lack of incentives to cooperate and legally market the products for higher returns. Fishery management agencies also lack the capacity to manage the resources sustainably. The main recommendations identified as a result of the consultation were:

  • Systems approach to a complex problem. The problem of illegal and unsustainable livelihoods in the South Fly is highly complex and any interventions proposed to divert fishers from the illegal value chains should address the root causes of problems.
  • Capacity-building. A lack of capacity at all levels appears to be a major root cause of problems, and must be addressed. Stakeholders should be engaged using participatory approaches in all stages of any intervention to ensure the legitimacy and transparency of interventions, and encourage learning, collaboration and coordination.
  • Improve resource management. Many of the marine species targeted by fishers are not being effectively managed. Community-based management of species is one potential solution for this issue, but capacity-building would be required.
  • Alternative enterprise models. Cooperatives and ‘hub-and-spoke’ enterprise models may enable fishers to gain greater market power, combined with improved product quality and value-adding.
  • Diversified livelihoods. Potential alternative livelihood activities include small-scale barramundi farming using locally-sourced feed; small-scale sea cucumber ranching; crocodile farming using tilapia or other pest fish as feed.
  • Implementation of the free-trade zone in the border area between PNG and Indonesia. The implementation of a free trade zone following the Free Trade Zones Act 2000 in the PNG-Indonesia border area with a trade centre in Bula would provide border communities with legal and monitored access to the Indonesian market.
  • Review of the Torres Strait Treaty. Current restrictions under the Australia-PNG Torres Strait Treaty on the movement of goods and products from PNG into the Torres Strait 

Protected Zone are limiting opportunities for PNG Treaty Villages’ livelihoods, exacerbating poverty and illegal activities. A review of the Treaty’s arrangements is necessary, at least to formalise the existing informal trade in marine products, and to improve joint management of shared BDM, sharks, barramundi and mud crab stocks.
This SRA project successfully identified barriers within value chains for different fish species and products that prevent or limit the use of alternative legal markets, and potential solutions to the problem. It was also successful in engaging international actors along the value chains and gaining their interest in working collaboratively to implement broader action research. These positive outcomes provide the basis for the implementation of research to trial alternative enterprise and community-based management models that may induce behavioural change and have a wider impact in reducing illegal activities, overexploitation and poverty. Outcomes of this SRA could have a potential impact on community members in the South Fly, and knowledge and learning could eventually be transferred to other coastal communities in PNG facing similar challenges. There could also be indirect benefits to Australian and Indonesian governments and communities in the transboundary Torres Strait region due to reduced exploitation of shared high-value or protected marine resources (particularly bêche-de-mer, sharks, barramundi and jewfish), and reduced costs of enforcement of illegal fishing and trading activities.