A WCS United Nations Ocean Conference Blog

In Papua New Guinea’s Island Provinces, Fisheries Management Is Helping People and Wildlife

Aerial view of an islet in Manus Province.

By Sven Frijlink
June 6, 2017

Since 2002 WCS has been working in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to undertake marine conservation in the island provinces of New Ireland and — more recently — Manus. These provinces fringe the Bismarck Sea and lie within the Coral Triangle — a region encompassing the world’s highest marine biodiversity.

With a diverse range of marine and coastal habitats that include healthy reefs and mangroves, New Ireland and Manus remain high priorities for marine conservation in the Pacific region. However, their marine ecosystems are facing threats from a fast-growing human population highly dependent on marine and coastal resources for food and livelihood opportunities.

Selling fish on New Ireland. Photo: Ambroise Brenier/WCS.

The region currently must contend with weak environmental governance and climate change impacts. Added to this, the islands suffer from a general lack of local capacity and technical knowledge to understand, mitigate, and adapt to these threats.

As many conservation practitioners in Melanesia will testify, successful approaches to conservation must be developed within the local context or they will not be supported. One obvious example is the need to work with traditional systems of land and sea tenure.

Coastal communities hold the ultimate mandate when it comes to managing coastal fisheries. Photo: Ambroise Brenier/WCS.

While national, provincial, and local level governments all have a mandate for marine and fisheries management (whether or not this is exercised), coastal communities hold the ultimate mandate when it comes to managing coastal fisheries.

“Successful approaches to conservation must be developed within the local context or they will not be supported.”

As such, we continue to work closely with island and coastal villages to develop fisheries management plans and build the knowledge and technical capacity to administer their plans and monitor their fisheries.

Tsoi Lik island residents with fish. Photo: Sven Frijlink/WCS.

In some cases, we help forge management agreements between neighboring communities where there is reciprocal fishing access or when it is necessary to manage critical areas such as spawning aggregation sites that can affect the health of fisheries beyond the boundaries of individual villages.

Key to successful conservation at the community level is providing a countermeasure when recommending restrictive management measures, particularly when villagers’ protein and livelihood needs are intrinsically linked to their success at harvesting seafood. Typically we deploy inshore fish aggregating devices (IFADs) for villages that agree to management rules for reef fishing.

New Ireland and Manus (pictured) are high conservation priorities in the Pacific region. Photo: Ambroise Brenier/WCS.

These IFADs transfer fishing pressure from vulnerable and highly exploited reef species to less vulnerable open ocean species such as tunas and mackerels. We also assist in the transition of villages away from destructive types of fishing gear. For example, we are undertaking a ‘gillnet exchange program’ where villagers can ‘trade in’ their fine meshed gillnets for larger meshed nets that harvest a lower proportion of immature fish.

“Coastal communities hold the ultimate mandate when it comes to managing coastal fisheries.”

Another key to our approach in PNG is to frame marine conservation efforts in terms of strengthening food security (in addition to safeguarding biodiversity or protecting vulnerable habitats). This approach makes the urgency for management more palpable while recognizing that future demand for local seafood will only increase.

Market in the New Ireland capital of Kavieng. Photo: Sven Frijlink/WCS.

Safeguarding biodiversity while strengthening food security and livelihoods that depend on fisheries remain overarching objectives in our current work.

We are collaborating closely with the New Ireland Government to provide top-down management support to complement the bottom-up strategies we continue to implement with local communities.

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Dr. Sven Frijlink is a Fisheries Technical Adviser for the Papua New Guinea Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).