| The Yegiora Files | Edited
MADANG - The island of Daru has become the centre of attention after a Chinese company announced its proposal to build a multi-functional fisheries industrial park on the island and received encouragement from the PNG government.
There have been both negative and positive reactions to the project based on the economic, political and security interests of various state actors.
But from a PNG perspective, economic and security matters are of greatest importance.
A memorandum of understanding was signed on 12 November in Port Moresby by PNG and Chinese officials.
PNG made it clear in a recent statement that the agreement “provides a cooperative arrangement in managing the relationship and responsibilities between the three parties towards the exploration and facilitation of a proposed integrated and multi-use fishery industrial park investment project.”
The agreement does not include fishing permits or licenses, addressing concern by Australia that Chinese fishing fleets might fish in the Torres Strait border area.
The next step will be to plan properly the next phase of the investment project.
PNG and China through the Belt and Road Initiative want to increase economic opportunities for citizens living in Western, Gulf and Central provinces; in particular, those people who have been fishing the southern seas for generations.
There is a possibility that fishing permits will be issued to them or that the government might ask for a joint venture if local people do not have the capacity.
The Western Province has delta regions and many major rivers. The Balimo area is known for its swamps which contain an abundance of freshwater marine life. The rivers are also well stocked with freshwater fish and prawns.
The PNG National Fisheries Authority and the Chinese Embassy in PNG have an agreement to export seafood to the lucrative Chinese market, PNG being accredited to export seafood directly to mainland China instead of going to Hong Kong or Singapore for customs clearance.
The Western Province has a developed tuna market but need greater emphasis on other coastal fish, crustaceans, molluscs and aquatic invertebrates. Inland fishing is another untapped sector.
Small-scale coastal fishing is not a big industry in PNG and domestic demand for fish is not fully developed due to transportation issues.
Fishermen go out to the sea in their small outboard motor boats to catch fish that they can sell at markets in coastal towns but do not have the capacity to transport fish to towns in the densely populated highlands region.
Inland fishing and aquaculture are growing slowly in the highlands region. The Mount Giluwe rainbow trout farm is the largest inland farm. There is also the Mount Wilhelm trout fingerling distribution hub.
If the PNG government can find markets in China for freshwater marine products it will help with the growth of their commercial fishing. Farmers will also need to manage their businesses to ensure a constantly supply to the domestic market.
The new opportunities provided by China open the door for entrepreneurs in all provinces to access SME loans provided by the PNG government to venture into commercial small-scale coastal and inland fishing.
These loans complement the funding facility offered by the National Fisheries Authority.
It is imperative that this Daru investment project materialises. The onus is now on the government to make it happen.