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MSC: Sustainable triumph for Papua New Guinea

Traditional fishery in the Torres Strait hits the world-class benchmark in modern-day sustainable fisheries standards.

Papua New Guinea's Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery celebrated efforts to ensure the health and longevity of the lobster stocks in the Torres Strait Protected Zone at a certification event held on Friday 20 October at the Crown Plaza in Port Moresby, PNG.

Based in the Torres Strait Protected Zone, the Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster fishery stands out for its adherence to original techniques that have minimal impact on marine habitats and non-target species. With a limit of only seven boats and 5-7 fishers on each boat, the operations are recognized as a small-scale and now sustainable fishery. The crew and divers consist of local fishers from Daru Island who embrace the traditional methods of hand harvesting each exquisite shellfish via freediving (a diving method that does not require breathing equipment and instead relies on one long breath-hold) or by hookah (a diving method in which surface-supplied air is provided to a diver via a hose). The methods used require minimal gear and are highly selective, reducing the impact on the environment and avoidance of any incidental catch of non-targeted species.

Anne Gabriel, MSC Program Director for Oceania and Singapore said: “The leadership shown by Papua New Guinea’s Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster fishery should be emulated around the world as a benchmark that meeting world-class standards is not only achievable for small-scale fisheries but necessary. By embracing traditional and sustainable fishing practices, these communities are not only securing their future but protecting a vital part of our planet’s ecosystem.”

The certification event held in Port Moresby on October 20, 2023. From Left: National Fisheries Authority Board Chairman, Laurie William; NFA Managing Director, Justin Ilakini; MSC Program Director for Oceania and Singapore, Anne Gabriel; and President of the PNG Fishing Industry Association, Sylvester Pokajam.

Local divers dedicate their lives to this method of fishing, and it is a practice passed on from generation to generation. For the fishing community of Daru Island, the ocean is the lifeblood, and this makes responsible fishing practices crucial for tradition and culture to survive. MSC certification serves as a shining example of how remote communities can achieve sustainability goals while preserving their unique cultural and environmental heritage.

A Daru Island lobster fisherman storing the catch. Photo credit: M. Hidalgo 2023.

Attaining MSC certification, the fishery commits to transparency of its operations and continuous improvements in responsible management. MSC certification highlights the critical importance of sustainable practices and assessment in remote areas like the Torres Strait Protected Zone. These regions are particularly vulnerable to Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing and whilst the fishery has historically encountered IUU, the journey towards MSC has helped agencies detect and deter IUU risks, leading to greater economic stability for fishers in the region. The involvement of a third-party assessor in the certification process not only ensures impartial evaluation, but it reinforces responsible management and provides additional verification of regional fishery performance.

Daru Island Villagers fishing make up majority of the crew for the Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery. Photo credit: M. Hidalgo 2023.

Small-scale and artisanal fisheries often present unique challenges and complexity for assessment teams and certification bodies. Independent leader in third-party certification, verification, and validation for sustainable standards around the world, SCS Global Services, conducted the assessment. SCS has a long record of accomplishment navigating the MSC Standard and Process for small-scale fishery client groups since the certification of the Mexico Baja California Red Rock Lobster in 2004.

Jason Swecker, SCS’ Managing Director of Seafood says "SCS proudly celebrates the PNG Lobster Fishery for earning MSC certification, showcasing their commitment to sustainable fishing. Leveraging SCS’s globally recognized assessment expertise, especially in the western central Pacific, we’ve helped ensure this certification not only acknowledges their dedication to responsible stewardship of our marine ecosystems but also offers people a sustainable seafood choice. Together, using solid science and mindful management, we’re working to improve and protect our global oceans and fishing communities."

MSC Certification was delivered to the FIA by SCS Global Services on October 12, 2023. From Left: Marine research technical support, Eric Gilman; SCS Global Technical Specialist, Jessica Melgey; FIA PNG President and Chairman, Sylvester Pokajam; SCS Global Lead Assessor and Program Director, Gabriela Anhalzer; FIA PNG Sustainability & CSR Director, Marcelo Hidalgo.

Honouring the recognition, Sustainable and CSR Director of FIA PNG, Marcelo Hidalgo said, "The Torres Straight Lobster Fishery certification shows the collaboration between the National Fisheries Authority (NFA) and The PNG Fishing Industry Association (FIA) of Papua New Guinea. This first-ever small-scale fishery in the Western and Central Pacific shows our commitment to sustainable fishing in Papua New Guinea to the world. This is part of our responsible sourcing policy (RSP) and commitment to improving the small-scale fisheries management plan, providing guaranteed livelihoods in the future, and at the same time we expect to place this valued commodity directly in consumer markets like restaurants".

With current markets in China, Hong Kong, and Australia, FIA PNG and NFA aim to open Singaporean and European markets with the MSC certification.

The MSC assessment process is independent, fully transparent, and stakeholder-driven with all documentation available at MSC certification was possible for the Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery thanks to the Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery Stock Assessment undertaken by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), an Australian Government agency responsible for scientific research.

Author: Inday Ford

MSC Oceania Public Relations and Communications Manager



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