A poet’s journey 2: What are poems about?
Now the Jackson line cements a true Melanesian link

Are we witnessing the total demise of the tuna?


The total demise of the tuna,
Could well nigh just be sooner,
If some overfish,
To put your tuna on their dish,
And create just an empty Neptuna.

LIKE MANY OTHER PEOPLE TODAY I’m contemplating a small can of overseas produced tuna to spread on my sandwich for lunch.

That act alone puts me at the top of a food chain that extends far out into the Pacific Ocean. Yet is this the real food chain and, if so, can it be effectively managed?

Let’s examine this part of the food chain as we know it. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by microscopic algae (phytoplankton) in the oceans that are then eaten by plankton.

Plankton are then eaten by small baitfish and sardines. Sardines are then eaten by larger carnivorous fish like tuna.

Tuna are then caught and eaten by humans. But is the food chain actually a food cycle? After all, humans then produce carbon dioxide.

Tuna are pelagic fish that travel vast distances in the world’s oceans. While the fish are mobile, they do tend to stick to fixed migration patterns that roughly equate to the seasons in each hemisphere.

Each ocean (Atlantic, Indian, Pacific) seems to have its own particular varieties of tuna and there are a number of different species.

By far the most desirable species of tuna are Bluefin, then Yellowfin and then species like Skipjack coming in a definite third.

Given that tuna range across many national maritime borders and the open ocean, there can be no defined ownership of this resource.

Nevertheless, the areas where tuna spawn and grow are often within national boundaries and this aspect could be better investigated and policed if there were resources made available and an appropriate national will.

Recent claims that a tuna spawning area in PNG could be affected by the effluent being discharged by some mining companies seem to have been dismissed by authorities.

It goes without saying that all important national food resources should be protected and managed so that the resource is used in a sustainable manner and available for future generations. Yet have the available lessons of the world's tuna fishing up until this time been fully understood and appreciated?

Nations in the South Pacific have previously been so concerned about the sustainability of tuna stocks that they imposed self fishing limits on their national fisheries.

The PNG Fisheries Department previously claimed that they would not allow any increase in tuna fishing until a detailed investigation and research had been carried out on the sustainability of national tuna stocks.

Yet how could any one nation ensure sustainability of tuna resources without a comprehensive international investigation and agreed regional policing?

Tuna fishing is about to expand exponentially in PNG. Four new foreign owned canneries are being built with much heralding of how this will benefit PNG and provide employment.

However who exactly benefits from this dramatic increase? Whose food chain are we actually talking about here? What has caused this sudden interest in PNG tuna? Has PNG conducted the promised investigation into sustainable tuna fishing prior to approving these new tuna canneries and what were the published results?

Does PNG have the available resources and expertise to effectively monitor tuna resources and the ability and national will power to restrict over fishing if fish stocks become severely depleted?

The foreign companies currently building tuna processing plants in PNG to harvest local tuna stocks are there for logical reasons.

Tuna stocks in other parts of the world have been severely depleted and it has been claimed, some species of tuna have been overfished to extinction levels. Could this be the real reason PNG has suddenly become a desirable place to fish for tuna?

It seems a pity to rain on PNG’s parade at a time when employment and the diversification of national export industries are so vital.

Yet amid all the hoopla and hyperbole, it seems awfully apparent that the PNG people may have again been asked to accept short term gain for long term pain?

So is PNG’s food chain really being managed? Perhaps PNG’s new Fisheries Minister or his department might like to elaborate on the methodology being applied?


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Paul Oates

Hi Chalapi, It is not really corporate greed at work. The nature of business is it will seek to make a profit wherever it can. The essence of this whole debacle is about control over national resources and international co-operation and understanding.

Has the PNG government, as has been previously claimed it would, actually investigated and logically determined that there are sufficient sustainable tuna resources to allow this quantum leap in fishing? If so, what are the limits that have been put on the national catch?

Can the PNG government, on behalf of the PNG people, actually have any control over these foreign businesses? What are the methods used to monitor the imposed limits and how do you control a foreign fishing fleet inside and outside your own waters?

Where are the resources and funding allocated to do this? Australia has a hard enough time using the Australian Navy to catch poachers catching Patagonian Tooth Fish in the Southern Ocean and had to have the help of the South Africans.

Will the PNG people actually gain any real, long lasting benefit over the extraction of this very desirable resource before it too suffers from over fishing as has clearly happened elsewhere?

Wages and salaries at a cannery are only a fraction of what will be obtained when the logical increase of possibly millions of tons of tuna are extracted from PNG waters? Once the fish are gone, what next? Empty sheds and no local income on top of no tuna?

Can someone tell me this hasn’t happened elsewhere when the over fishing of tuna has virtually pushed this great resource to the brink of extinction? That’s presumably why these businesses have come to PNG.

Chalapi Pomat

Indeed it is a sad story. It epitomises corporate greed. We see it occuring all the time and everywhere in PNG.

It is not just happening with tuna but other natural resources as well. Big corporate companies rock up, thinking that these inhabitants of the Pacific are low second class people and they don't matter.

They take away the good stuff, completely stuff up their livehood and poison the evironment, and walk away as if everythng is all right.

My people of Pere Village, in particular the Chalapen tribe, are traditonal tuna fisherman over many centuries. They still fish for tuna the traditional way today albeit much more difficult now because of the impact of commercial tuna fishing and climate change.

With the likehood of Newcrest mining being given the full licence to mine gold in Manus at Worei, and its use of submarine pipeline for disposal of its tailing (heavy metal & cynide contaminated mine waste), it is only going destroy the spawning grounds for tuna, coral fish and many my people depend on for their livelihood.

You only have to look at what has occurred at Lihir, Misima & Ok Tedi etc.

We have suffered enough already. This corporate madness of submarine tailing dsiposal must be stop and all future Environment Impact Studies must be peer reviewed.

Peter Kranz

Paul - It's a sad story, and we as humans don't seem to have learned from past mistakes.

Big business moves into new areas to exploit a product, but when it's gone they just move somewhere else - the locals get bugger all.

There's a brand of canned tuna flavoured with chillies produced in the Solomon's called, I think, Solomons Taio. My favourite. It uses the small but extremely hot bell-shaped chilli.

The producers used to pay local villagers to grow chillies to use in the product, so quite a cottage industry was established to supply the manufacturers. But around 2006 decided they could import chillies from Asia more cheaply.

Result? Collapse of the local village chilli-growing industry.

Admittedly this is small compared to the impact of over-fishing tuna stocks, or polluting their breeding grounds but is a sign of what I fear will inevitably happen.

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