A Kiap’s Chronicle: 5 – Going solo
A PNG urban legend - the shape-changing ‘botol meri’

Tuna sustainability threatened in an overfished Pacific

Yellowfin tunaKERRY KIMIAFA

I WAS once told by my environmental sciences lecturer, Assoc Prof David Mowbray, that “tuna fish know no boundaries and no borders and no man or government will claim the tuna as theirs”.

Dr Mowbray pointed out that tuna are a trans-migratory species and can be anywhere depending on season and sea water temperature. They can swim long distances without fatigue due to their tough muscular build.

Their meat is a delicacy on dinner tables, whether canned or fresh. If fish were like cars, tuna would be the Ferraris of the ocean—sleek, powerful and made for speed.

Their torpedo-shaped bodies streamline their movement through water and special swimming muscles enable them to cruise the ocean highways with great efficiency.

They prefer to travel in schools to avoid predators, usually with the smaller ones at the top; however this group behaviour comes at a huge cost as fishermen use this knowledge to their advantage to scoop and haul them in using driftnets or even sticks.

The highly decorative skipjack, blue fin and yellow fin tuna are sporting wonders; some of which weigh in at several hundred kilograms.

According to some game fishermen, yellow fin and blue fin are amongst the world’s toughest game fish. You’ve got to be strong to play them and haul them in because it’s no job for a boneless man.

You could be jerked overboard by the sheer might and fighting prowess of these fish. These tuna are amongst the most sought after game fish.

“These bad boys of the ocean are strong and have high stamina,” I was told. “They will fight until the end and will make you sweat till the moment you land them.”

And, in particular, if you are targeting a yellowfin then you should be prepared for a battle because it is no quitter. It will fight until you cut it loose or land it on the boat.”

As an Environmental Scientist whose interest covers both food and game, I’m very concerned with the dangers threatening the survival, numbers and regeneration time of these oceanic wonders.

This concern is felt also on behalf of the Pacific Island sea faring community and the people who rely on it, whose livelihood is very much dependent on fish stocks for protein supply and sustenance.

It is public knowledge that tuna stocks have been overfished and depleted, and that traditional tuna breeding grounds are threatened right throughout the Pacific.

The use of modern fishing technology including GPS and radar to locate and spot schools of fish and sophisticated fishing techniques like drift net fishing are beginning to overwhelm the fish.

There seems little regard for sustainability.

Population increase in Pacific communities is also exerting pressure on fish stocks and other marine life.

At the same time, increased storm water disposal into oceans and increasing sea water temperatures are leading to coral bleaching, destroying the breeding ground for aquatic life including fish.

Papua New Guinea, through the National Fisheries Authority (NFA), and the other Pacific Island countries are signatories to various tuna conventions and agreements. These laws are meant to ensure that tuna will remain available to the South Pacific people.

I’m sure that these and other initiatives like will assist to bring greater awareness to Pacific islanders, governments and the fishing industry of the necessity to conserve and ensure the long term survival and availability of tuna fish species in Pacific waters.

Kerry Kimiafa is the Head of Science at Goroka Grammar School.  He is an environmental science graduate from the University of PNG  and a current masters candidate in Ecology through the University of Western Australia.


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`Robin Lillicrapp

An interesting article appeared recently indicating global ambition regarding this subject. It will be a matter of conjecture as to how PNG might benefit, if at all, from the planned outcome.


Kerry Kimiafa

Thank you all for your positive and supportive comments. Special thanks to Keith for uploading this article online as its meant to be educational to all; especially to the Pacific islanders and their governments.

Philip Fitzpatrick

The report to which you refer is due to be presented to the government in May this year Paul - the wheels of government grind as a snail's pace.

Whether Turnbull will release it is another matter entirely.

Paul Oates

Thanks for the 'heads up' Michael. When will the PNG people start understanding that when they let the kids loose in the candy store without supervision they, not the children, are really responsible for what happens?

Michael Dom

And on PNG Loop: http://www.looppng.com/content/mp%E2%80%99s-buying-heavy-equipment-no-plans-claim

Paul Oates

Well Michael, at least on PNG Attitude there are still some 'outsiders' that do care about PNG and her people.

Keith, maybe it's time to write another joint submission to our Foreign Minister on behalf of the PNG people and all of us in our Pacific neighbourhood?

Perhaps the last one we wrote to the Department has been misplaced?

Michael Dom

Local communities suffer from the abuse of their natural resources.

But how can people in those communities reasonably expect 'outsiders' to care about their well being when it is their very own local leaders, land owners, tribal elders and extended family members who sign-off on the deals with extractive corporations in the first place?

Perhaps legislation should be put forward that enables class action lawsuit against legal or customary landholders where the development potentially impinges on the environmental stability and sustainable livelihood of surrounding communities?

Or does one exist which we have not utilized?

A pity Sir Michael Somare is retiring, because in his once burgeoning role as a global environmental policy leader, that might have been a truly gracious legacy to leave to the people of Papua New Guinea.

Perhaps Namah...yeah right!

Similarly the PNG fisheries sector is farcical - much like agriculture, forestry, manufacturing, mining and...whoah, that's our economy!

About the only economic sector that seems to be doing well is construction.

And we all know how intimately connected the construction industry is to politics.

Their objective is simple - 'we'll build this nation physically by purloining the public purse'.

The strategy - 'we'll build wondrous circuses with white elephants, gladiatorial stadiums, towers of Babel, bigger, broader, circuitous city routes, higher institutes of public ignorance and an all new and improved parliamentary pseudo-church'.

This is how to drive an economy into bankruptcy, ruin a growing democracy and have the people help you to do it.

Daniel Kumbon

Our fishery resources are like our forests - resources which could be managed by local communities but our government does not support. It allows outsiders who bribe their way in and soon all our sustainable resources will be depleted.

Good article Kerry. I have learnt something about the tuna fish too. It compares well with the muruk (cassowary) of the forest. Just yesterday I came down from Porgera and people told me there was no more Muruks or kapuls in the nearby mountains.

Fish, muruks, wild pig, kapuls etc are the cheapest protein most PNG families can easily buy (tinned or fresh) and our government ought to be sensitive to our needs.

John K Kamasua

True Paul and Phil...this is a very good article.
PNG need some facts and truths, not hyperbole, and it is also a fact that the tuna in the can sold on the shelves of stores in POM or elsewhere should not have found their way in the first place.

Paul Oates

'There seems little regard for sustainability.'

If ever we've heard a self-fulfilling prophesy it’s this one. In previous posts on this topic it seems everyone acknowledges the problem but the answer is seemingly just too hard.

Tuna are pelagic fish that know no national boundaries. The Pacific is their breeding and eating ground. The Pacific is also the only ocean that has so far not almost totally destroyed the existing tuna stocks. Yet!

Some small Pacific nations have tried to institute a moratorium on their tuna fishing but how can that be effective since the fish will go where they can find feed and breed.

PNG’s government Fisheries Minister and the Department’s CEO have previously made sweeping public statements about how they are monitoring the amount of fish caught in PNG waters and how the whole process is sustainable. If anyone actually understands these classic examples of hyperbole (definition: exaggerated statement not meant to be taken literally), they should be shaking their heads at this blatant lie.

Can someone tell us how can PNG monitor the situation when they have virtually no Navy and no national fishing fleet? To rely on the catch information supplied by the ever increasing number of officially sanctioned foreign fishing fleets and on shore canneries is ludicrous not to mention an obvious fallacy.

Why would those fishing fleets who catch the tuna and then process the fish either on board or in their home port ever bother to let PNG authorities know how much they caught?

What’s the answer? Well that depends on a concerted effort by all Pacific nations to work together and make effective decisions as a concerned and cohesive group. Potentially billions tax kina and her national fish stocks are currently being able to be spirited away under PNG's very nose.

What’s that I hear someone in the government say? ‘Yeah! So what? What's in it for me?’

Kerry, your article has effectively presented the classic PNG dilemma of outlining the problem, but not tackling the obvious answer. Is this because the traditional PNG village culture of not wanting to specifically accuse anyone in particular is still having an indelible effect on her younger generation?

Philip Fitzpatrick

I've heard that tuna are intelligent too - as smart as dogs apparently.

If you've been to Wewak you'll see the big Asian mother ships and the smaller fishing boats lurking just beyond the harbour. People between there and Manus complain that fish stocks are rapidly depleting.

It's a bit ironic when you see what's inside the cans of tuna sold in PNG stores. It's the dark, strong meat that elsewhere goes into pet food.

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