Aquaculture updates from Papua New Guinea (March 2009)
Wednesday, 02 September 2009 15:41

By Ben Ponia


In March 2009, SPC's Aquaculture Adviser, Ben Ponia, visited Papua New Guinea (PNG) to assess SPC programming assistance in that country. He was assisted by counterparts from PNG's National Fisheries Authority (NFA) including NFA's Aquaculture Manager Jacob Wani. Several locations were visited to view recent developments and some observations from that visit are provided here.


Daru Island, Western Province 


Daru Island is the capital of PNG's Western Province, and is the largest province in the country, although it is sparsely populated and is one of the least developed. The Ok Tedi gold mine is the main source of revenue. Daru Island itself is small, just 5 km long and 3 km wide. It forms part of the Torres Straits group and sits at the junction between the border of PNG, Australia and Indonesia. The official population is around 15,000 but the number swells when Fly River claimants to Ok Tedi royalties visit the island to receive their payments and trade goods. During our visit, the foreshore was covered with many dugout canoes with makeshift tents. Some people travelled for as many as four days down river. The town is a hotspot of social problems including alcoholism and high rates of HIV.

The Ok Tedi Mine is funding (10 million kina) the Western Province Sustainable Barramundi Project, with Ian Middleton serving as project manager. the project aims to provide economic and social development by 1) farming barramundi in cage pontoons along the coast and inland freshwater bodies, 2) restocking barramundi in the Fly River to encourage eco-tourism fly-fishing, and (3) supporting habitat and biodiversity conservation in Morehead and Suki wetlands and the wider Trans Fly eco-region, which includes West Papua (Indonesia).

The eight-hectare barramundi project site was half-way through construction during the time of our visit. The hatchery design has 12 indoor tanks, brood stock tanks and a large saltwater header tank that will gravity feed two earthen ponds for fingerling grow-out. The facility will have shared accommodation for four hatchery staff. A later extension phase will include housing for the hatchery manager and visiting scientists, and a jetty beyond the inter-tidal zone. 

The barramundi hatchery capacity is 500,000 fingerlings per year, and 20 breeders are already being conditioned. The first barramundi harvest is scheduled for April 2010. Ian has recruited experienced staff who previously worked at his barramundi farm in Madang. Once construction is completed, fish breeding will begin immediately. 

We visited sites for fish grow-out. At the time, there was a fuel shortage due to shipping delays and purchases from royalty payments, so we observed first-hand the soaring fuel prices charged on the 'black-market' (up to 15 kina per litre).  

We crossed the channel separating Daru Island and the PNG mainland to Pama Island, which has a village of about 800 people. The school principal, Wesly Kiwi, worked on Ian's farm in Madang and will be responsible for pontoons in the area. He intends to provide supplementary feed to the barramundi by gillnetting 'trash fish', especially garfish species. Another area for grow-out will be Katatai village, located at the mouth of the Fly River (which is about 70 km wide). Pontoons will also be deployed by project staff in Daru Island channel, at an old pearl farm site.

SPC is interested in collaborating on barramundi tag-and-release experiments in the Fly River as they could provide lessons for other Pacific Island countries interested in culture-based freshwater fisheries. SPC is also involved in an Australian Centre for International Research (ACIAR) mini-project with Ok Tedi staff to assess Fly River herring as a possible fishmeal or supplementary feed source for the barramundi project. Crayfish tails and barramundi are important fishery exports, and the main exporter on Daru would like to transship through Australia to the USA. However, there have been difficulties with Australian quarantine and Inspection Services related to traceability issues that we hope will be addressed through a biosecurity and trade project. The management of the invasive snakehead from Indonesia is also a pressing issue as this species is becoming widespread and is now sold on the local market. Staff in Daru Island have offered to assist the ACIAR mini-project by collecting local Penaeus monodon shrimp for analysis at Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation to assess the disease status of shrimp.

One of the main problems for provincial fisheries departments is the lack of resources for management and surveillance. Fisheries are becoming overfished and fishers are poaching from the Australian maritime area. Turtles and dugongs are caught and sold with few regulations. The sea cucumber fishery is one of the most important fisheries for coastal villagers but the sizes that are being harvested are becoming quite small (as little as 7.5 cm).  Fisheries officials also described their concerns for the freshwater ornamental Saratoga fish stocks because villages along the Fly River have been deliberately targeting juvenile fish that are stockpiled in cages and later sold to Indonesian traders across the border. 


Lae, Morobe Province 

We were unable to travel to Lae but met with a representative from Bris Kanda, a non-governmental organisation currently implementing a large NZAID rural enterprise development project for the Huon Gulf area. According to Lukis Romaso, project manager, the tilapia pond-farming component of the project has expanded faster than they had anticipated. They began in 2008 with 20 tilapia ponds and now have about 100 ponds that are supplied by a satellite hatchery. The fish are sold in villages at 12 kina each, but they would now like to sell them in the main market in Lae where they believe that there is a strong demand. SPC will assist in this commercialisation phase. SPC was requested to assist with a Japan International Cooperation Agency project in Lae, which is supporting community-based aquaculture. The Aquaculture Section of SPC believes there is an opportunity for fattening mud crablets in the mangrove and may carry out some trials. 


Nago Island, New Ireland Province

Nago Island is a small uninhabited islet located just off the town of Kavieng. It is the site of the new NFA Nago Island Mariculture and Research Station, which is currently under construction. NFA has secured 11 hectares of land connected by a jetty. The station has a hatchery, algal laboratory and wet laboratory and indoor and outdoor larval tanks and raceways, with replicates and free spacing set aside for experiments. There is a separate area for quarantine. There are also offices and two resident houses onsite for staff.

Because the island is uninhabited, the facility will be fully self-sufficient in providing its energy and water needs.Nago Island also has tourism potential and NFA intends to sub-lease part of its land to Nusa Resort to build some tourist accommodation. It is intended that the resort and station will share power and water utilities, an interesting example of public and private sector partnership. Nusa Resort already runs a successful eco-tourism/surfing bungalows operation on the neighbouring island. Hugh Walton (Principal for the National Fisheries College) is project coordinator and Peter Minimulu from NFA is hatchery manager. We discussed projects that might help commission the facility once it is completed.

Project ideas included, trochus community restocking trials, cage farming rabbitfish, introducing Kappaphycus seaweed, mariculturing marine ornamentals and mabe pearl culture trials. A quick visit to the National Fisheries College was made to see a small tilapia hatchery and ponds that Peter has established as a part of the college's (introductory and advanced) course. Postscript: after our visit, John Morrison from James Cook University was engaged by NFA to review the hatchery designs and specifications and he provided very useful suggestions.


Peter Cooper is the General Manger of the Carpenters Company in Rabaul, which is farming black tiger shrimp (Penaeus mondon). Carpenters is a large trading firm and exporter of tea, cocoa and copra. The first crop of shrimp (12 mt) was harvested in 2008. It is a fairly large operation with a capacity to produce 80 mt of shrimp per year. At the time of our visit, the farm was preparing for a harvest the following week. This harvest was forecasted to be around 24 mt, of which 4 mt would be sent to Fiji The farm has a new purpose-built processing facility. Sorting, grading, freezing (-35oC) and packaging the harvested shrimp is all done onsite. The facility has a capacity for about 1 mt per day and during peak processing periods an additional 20 workers are hired (mostly female). The facility has passed NFA's audit section's food safety standards.  

The hatchery is located close to the staff compound and is run by a hatchery manager recruited from Indonesia. One ongoing problem is the lack of broodstock around Rabaul, so live breeders have been sourced from trawlers operating in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The hatchery has a high use of probiotics (bacteria) to feed its larvae. The Rabaul 'Tovarur' shrimps retail at 47 kina per kg, and the taste is delicious!