Bernadette Carreon writes in SeafoodSource, 3 May 2021

The Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea said its Marine Stewardship Council-certified tuna catches have not been interrupted – and have even gained momentum – even in the face of COVID-19 and its effects on the industry and market.

According to the Papua New Guinea Fishing Industry Association (PNGFIA) 2020 annual report, the country’s tuna haul in 2020 was 74,000 metric tons (MT). 

PNG Fishing Association Sustainability Director Marcelo Hidalgo told SeafoodSource the data was collected from the National Fishery Authority (NFA) of Papua New Guinea observers placed onboard, and the Integrated Fishery Management System (iFIMS).

All told, the catch yielded 254 million tuna cans of tuna.

PNGFIA Chair Sylvester Pokajam said PNG has continued to deploy on-board fisheries observers, even though the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission allowed the suspension of fisheries observers coverage on purse-seiners at the beginning of the pandemic. He said the NFA would not have allowed fishing operations to continue without observers on board.

“After we attained MSC status in May 2020, the National Fishing Authority insists that observers are placed on vessels and allow them to also disembark in several ports,” Mr Pokajam told SeafoodSource.

Mr Pokajam said because of this, the country’s fishing efforts accelerated, and its processing capacity had not been affected by the pandemic.

“Fishing was not interrupted. [In fact,] it really gained momentum,” he said.

The association has been strict in making sure all the observers are following safety protocols, including taking COVID-19 tests before being placed on board. There are 200 MSC-certified observers on board the country’s tuna vessels, but they are only on board for a month at a time to ensure their safety, Mr Pokajam said.

Mr Pokajam said that observers are crucial in ensuring vessels comply with fishery regulations, and pointed to the report noting that PNG has been fulfilling its mandate of traceability and transparency.

“A traceability system is the best method to prevent fraud and illegal products from entering the supply chain as certified products. It protects consumers and the efforts of everyone working to keep our oceans healthy,” the report said. 

“A traceable supply chain is a key to delivering the MSC’s vision of healthy oceans and providing its consumers with sustainable seafood they can trust.”

PNGFIA fishers and processors are selling whole round frozen tuna, pre-cooked frozen tuna loins, raw packed canned tuna, and canned tuna. Mr Pokajam said PNG is also opening sales to new markets in 2021, including from Spain and the United Kingdom.