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MSC opens new markets for PNG’s growing tuna catch

By Matilde Mereghetti April 21, 2021 10:11 BST

Oceanian state Papua New Guinea (PNG), in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, is likely to grow its Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified tuna catches to over 100,000 metric tons in 2021. Good oceanographic conditions and the expansion of its certification last year to additional vessels are likely to boost catches this year compared to the last, according to the PNG fishing association’s sustainability director, Marcelo Hidalgo.

The MSC certification achieved last year has allowed PNG member companies to further penetrate several markets such as Europe, north America, and Japan, according to Hidalgo. New customers include secondary processors in Spain and importers of the final product in the US, he said.

Last month PNG published its 2020 annual report, declaring a total of 74,000t of tuna caught during the year, equivalent to approximately 254 million cans. However, PNG's annual report was criticized in an article published by news outlet Atuna, which highlighted some discrepancies in the figures.

The Atuna article included a disclaimer that it is partially owned by Henk Brus, managing director of Pacifical, a competing tuna supplier from the Parties of the Nauru Agreement (PNA) western Pacific island countries.

Following this criticism, the PNG fishing association's chairman, Sylvester Pokajam, issued a statement saying he was "gravely concerned" about the claims made by the Atuna article since they could "damage trust and confidence PNG has already established with the international community and market".

Pokajam pointed out the PNG's reported total catch of 74,000t was verified and certified by the country's national fisheries authority through 100% observer coverage onboard fishing vessels and the National Fisheries Authority (NFA)'s catch and documentation scheme.

Also, the Fishing Industry Association (FIA) of PNG operates an "integrated Fisheries information management system" that electronically issues a unique MSC trip code/number to fishing vessels and batch certificates to its MSC-eligible and certified tuna catches, he noted. "Therefore, FIA could not in any way misrepresent its catch data as alleged," he stated.

Hidalgo further explained to Undercurrent News the report's calculation of 254m cans --the equivalent of the 74,000t of raw material caught -- was based on the volume of raw material caught, taking into account the yield of tuna cans depending on "loin cleaning" (between 40-45% depending on the tuna size/type of processing).

He said Atuna's criticism had failed to consider that the weight removed from the raw material figure had been subtracted during processing (head, skin, blood, bones, etc.) leaving only the tuna flesh actually used, according to a tuna can's yield percentage, which depends on the tuna size and type of cleaning.

PNG's FIA, together with the NFA, achieved MSC certification in the first half of 2020 for 64 vessels. The PNG fishery has been certified with all gears, including fishing aggregating devices, which means there is no need for vessels to keep different catches separate onboard. Later last year, it added another 20 vessels to its certification.

PNG opted to maintain the requirement for its purse seine tuna vessels to carry observers despite the pandemic -- although the requirement for 100% observer coverage in the MSC certified purse seine fishery in the Western and Central Pacific and Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) waters has been temporarily suspended since March 2020.

The exception, which was accepted by the MSC as a "temporary" measure due to end on July 31, 2020, was extended last month until May 2021, with a further extension possible. Tuna caught by the fishery is landed in the PNG ports of Lae, Madang, Wewak, and Rabaul, and in General Santos City, Philippines, for processing. The tuna is exported as loins and in cans to markets in Europe, Australia, and the US, among others.

Hidalgo also referred to the figure of MSC-certified tuna sales globally between April 1 2019 and March 31,2020, of 69,461t, which was the highest amount to date. He noted this figure refers only to tuna that is sold with the MSC blue label.

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