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Papua New Guinea Fisheries Industry

Industry Overview
Fisheries Sector Transformation
Fisheries Potential
Fisheries Trade
Tuna Fishery
Prawn and Lobster Fishery
Beche-de-mer | Bislama
Inshore Reef Fish
Other Fisheries

Industry Overview

Papua New Guinea has an extensive and valuable fisheries sector ranging from inland river fisheries, aquaculture, coastal beche-de-mer and reef fisheries to the prawn trawl and large-scale deepwater tuna fisheries. The range of participants covers artisanal community to medium sized domestic prawn and tuna longline operators to large international purse seine fleets in the deepwater tuna fishery.

The PNG fisheries zone of 2.4 million square kilometres is the largest in the South Pacific. The fisheries zone includes an extended reef system, numerous islands and an extensive coastline. These create huge opportunity but also present an enormous challenge for monitoring and control.

The total market value of PNG catch is estimated at K350 to K400 million on average although information on the true value of artisanal fisheries is difficult to obtain and cyclical factors and commodity price movements, especially tuna, cause huge value swings from year to year. It is believed that there is significant potential to increase the economic value and returns to PNG of these fisheries through better management and development programs.

Export earnings are important, but the importance of fisheries to the local markets and subsistence economy is also of major importance to the PNG people and economy. Reliable data on these markets is not available.

Access fees from deepwater fishing nations currently form the bulk of the revenues received and managed by National Fisheries Authority. Other sources include license fees from other operators, assistance from donors and penalties arising from prosecutions under the Fisheries Management Act.

Industry Overview

Fisheries Potential

The fisheries potential of PNG is yet to be fully realized. Our rich and large Exclusive Economic Zone, 2.4 million square kilometres in extent, is one of the most productive in the region. Although, we lack large areas  of continental shelf, our coastal waters and extended reef systems are extensive and are primarily harvested for subsistence purposes. Our riverine and inland waters also represent considerable potential for development, particularly in aquaculture.

 NFA would support a substantial project to determine the nature and extent of our aquarium fish resources and establish commercial operations in the aquarium fish trade.The Nago Island Research Facility will provide NFA with an operational based for the assessment of other viable fisheries and aquaculture activities including; seaweed, pearls, sponges and coral.

Fisheries Potential

PNG’s fisheries sector has indeed come a long way in the last 50 years. However, massive change in the sector was heralded by strategic policy shifts and key legislation that proved to be transformational, as depicted below.

Fisheries Sector Transformation

The ensuing policy and regulatory environment contributed to a new operating environment for both the NFA and the industry, including relations with external stakeholders. This was contingent on making sure that the long-term sustainable future of the country’s marine resources was secured. It was based on this that subsequent commercial development that targeted high value species was encouraged and promoted. This took place in a closely regulated environment, with protecting the resource as government’s top priority. Commercial fishery remains to be export-driven, with foreign direct investment (FDI) constituting major investment capital inflows in growing the sector.

Having managed PNG’s extensive and valuable fisheries sector that ranges from inland river fisheries, aquaculture, coastal beche-de-mer and reef fisheries to the prawn trawl and large-scale deep-water tuna fisheries, an economic and revenue driven policy shift took place in 2015. Focus of government was on revenue generation and broad economic benefits. The latter was to be generated on the back of the onshore investment policy agenda. This two-fold policy objectives to maximise revenue and also encourage increased broad economic benefits remains and with it the challenge to strike a balance on creating a conducive policy and industry operating environments.

Notwithstanding recent legislative constraints brought about by the Public Money Management Regularisation Act (PMMR Act 2017), the government has forged ahead by encouraging the fisheries sector to adopt a broad-based growth, along with Policy intent to capitalize the sector in line with its overarching commercialisation agenda,

recognizing fisheries sector as a strategic asset that potentially can generate increased revenue for the government, wealth, food security and generally improve the socio-economic wellbeing of people whose livelihood depends on the

fisheries sector.

Fisheries Trade Information

The exports of fish and fishery products from Papua New Guinea, in terms of quantity, has continued to increase annually over the last five years. In 2014, over 103,000 tons of fish and fishery products was exported to various overseas markets. In 2019, the quantity of exports was almost doubled with 196,000 tons of products exported within five years with a total export value of PGK1.3 billion.

All fish and fishery exports of PNG comprised tuna in the form of canned, frozen, dried meal; dried sea cucumber (bêche-de-mer), finfish, prawn and shrimps, sharkfin, lobster, and crab.

Consistently for the past 5 years up to 2019, 80% of the combined PNG’s fish and fishery exports volume continues to be dominated by frozen whole tuna, followed by canned tuna at 16%, and tuna dried meal at 3%. Combined exports from the coastal fisheries sector comprised only 1% of the total PNG fish and fishery exports. The onshore-based tuna processing facilities and locally-based foreign vessels dominated the tuna exports and the total combined fish and fishery exports.

Most canned tuna products are exported to EU region with significant quantities of frozen whole round tuna either to resell or for further processing under the EU tax free arrangement and ecolabelling certificate enjoyed by Parties to Nauru Agreement countries. Within the region, PNG canned tuna is also exported to Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu under the trade agreement signed by leaders of Melanesian Spear Head (MSG) countries.

Some frozen whole round tuna is exported to Japan, Thailand, Fiji, Taiwan, Philippines and Korea mainly to supply their processing plants. Fish meal, a by-product of tuna from our processing plants are exported to Australia, Japan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Taiwan. Fresh chilled tuna is exported to Japan, Philippines and Spain while fish oil from processed tuna is exported to Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru and Philippines.

Frozen lobster is exported to Australia and China while live lobster is exported to Australia and Hong Kong. Singapore, China and Hong Kong have diverse markets for PNG’s fish and fishery products like BDM, Crabs (live and frozen), live fish, fish maw (dried fish bladder), shark fins (dried), lobster, stingray, shrimps, and shells.

Fisheries Trade

Industry Stream Information


Tuna Fishery

Tuna is the largest of Papua New Guinea fisheries and represents a balance of both domestic industry development and Foreign (DWFN) Access arrangements. The fishery is primarily based on the skipjack and yellowfin fish species with smaller quantities of bigeye and albacore.

The fishery is guided by a National Tuna Fishery Management Plan, which establishes an overall management structure and an application framework for the longline, purse-seine and pole and line fisheries, including licence limits and total allowable catches. PNG has embarked on onshore investments in the tuna fishery and as a result foreign and domestic access by purse-seine vessels is increasingly linked to commitment to onshore investment, preferably in the form of tuna processing.

Tuna is found through out the PNG fisheries zone but especially to the north and east. As tuna are a migratory species moving from area to area depending on climatic conditions, the quantity found in the PNG zone may vary significantly from year to year. A regional approach to managing tuna is therefore important and PNG is a party to a number of bilateral and multilateral arrangements for this purpose.

Catch is usually about 150,000mt to 200,000mt per year but it is estimated that the resource can sustain much higher annual catches of 250,000mt to 300,000mt. The potential market value is about K1billion depending on the commodity price. Catch from PNG waters accounts for 20-30% of the regional catch and is about 10% of the global catch. There is now concern that yellowfin and bigeye tuna may be nearing and overfished state.

In the recent past, catch trend by vessel category has changed, such that 50% is now caught by vessels associated with on shore investments in PNG and the other 50% is caught by foreign purse-seine vessels who used to catch most of the tuna.


Papua New Guinea currently has access agreements with Taiwan, Korea, Philippines and China and is negotiated on an annual basis. A multilateral treaty arrangement exists with USA. These establish the number of vessel allowed to enter the fishery and the access fees payable. Usually about 130 foreign purse-seine vessels fish in PNG waters each year, but this is now decreasing as some are associated with the on shore investments in PNG and are fishing under the FSM arrangement.


Tuna product is exported in the form of fresh chilled, canned, fishmeal and frozen tuna. Chilled tuna is air freighted to the sashimi market in Japan. Frozen tuna is exported to Philippines and Taiwan, canned tuna mainly to USA, Germany and Great Britain with small quantities to the Melanesian Spearhead Group countries and fishmeal to Australia and Japan. More than 10,000mt of canned tuna is consumed locally per year. Export value is now about K200 million, a 100% increase from K100 million in 1999. This excludes catch by foreign vessels that pay access fees and take fish to overseas processors.


Resource management is a key factor in fisheries and in regard PNG has one of the largest observer programs in the region to collect data for management purposes. The programme has 65 trained observers who work on tuna vessels. They also cover non- tuna fishery vessels such as the prawn vessels, shark longline vessels, Handline vessels and those doing trial fishing. Observer coverage on vessels fishing under trial fishing permits is 100%. Port samplers are stationed at major ports to do sampling when vessels make port calls.

Tuna Processing Sector

The last fifteen (15) years has seen significant growth in the tuna processing sector in PNG. It is Government policy priority to ensure it maximizes net economic benefits from the nation’s fisheries resources, and it has been the tuna fishery that has derived that much needed net economic benefits for the country. Key government investment incentives packaged under the pioneer scheme such as a 10-year tax holiday, accelerated depreciation and concessions introduced in 1995 actually triggered investment in onshore tuna processing and value-added industries. This government assistance attracted the much-needed foreign direct investments (FDI) in developing the country’s tuna processing sector, that currently boasts six (6) tuna processing plants whose combined investment is estimated to be around US$250m (K831m) and growing.

Growth of PNG’s tuna processing sector was further leveraged through preferential market access whereby PNG canned tuna exports benefit from a 24% duty exemption into the lucrative EU market. This preferential market access that has allowed PNG’s tuna processing sector to be competitive has declined in importance overtime as global trade increasingly becomes a level playing field due to preference erosion.

The 1995 domestication policy targeted the longline tuna sector, which showed increased domestic investment in the industry initially but due to high operational costs and changing sashimi market conditions over the years, activities in the longline industry has markedly declined. The domestic longline industry is struggling as is the case in other regional neighbors. The opportunity for PNG nationals to realize their potential in the sector continues to be promoted by the domestication policy. However, the reality of large-scale tuna fishing operation and processing is that it is capital intensive and requires the necessary skill-sets in managing the entire supply and value chain of the commercial tuna business efficiently, tuna being a global commodity.

Notwithstanding this, the NFA has employed an approach to gradually limit the activities of distant water fishing partners who have not shown any commitment to onshore investment, whilst

giving preference to those who are willing and able to link their fishing operations to shore-based investments. At the same time, all vessels that are linked to national processing plants are encouraged to offload and increase the volume of processed fish as their processing capacity increases. These stem from the understanding that the development of an industry is more beneficial to the economy in general compared to just building a fishing fleet who contribute very little towards employment, foreign exchange, commerce & trade, taxes and spin-off benefits.

Revenue from the tuna fishery remains the

highest income stream for the fisheries sector. Since its introduction and implementation in 2010, PNG has been able to quadruple the value of its tuna resource. These gains are now believed to have reached an equilibrium point, PNG may need to consider other innovative options in maximizing the value of the tuna fishery or the development of alternative investment vehicles to bank the gains that have

been realized in the tuna fishery.


Prawn and Lobster Fishery

A small fleet of prawn vessels operate in PNG. Of the total, most prawn trawlers operate in the Gulf of Papua Prawn Fishery, while historically one has operated in the Orangerie Bay Prawn Fishery.

In the Gulf of Papua fishery, a total annual catch from all species of prawns is on average about 1, 000 metric tonnes (tail weight) per annum, with an estimated value of K10 million (AUS$ 5 million). The fishery remains closed to foreign involvement. Prawns are processed and packed on board and mainly exported to Japan,

Singapore and Australia or are sold domestically within PNG. The fishery is managed under the Gulf of Papua Prawn Fishery Management Plan.

The prawn and lobster fisheries in the Torres Strait Protected Zone is being co-managed with Australia under the Torres Strait Treaty Arrangements. The management is aimed at preserving the fishery for the traditional inhabitants, with strict limited entry for non- inhabitants. At its peak, the Orangerie Bay Prawn fishery produced annual catch worth an approximate K100, 000.00. The products were mainly exported to Asia and even sold domestically. The Orangerie Bay Prawn Fishery Management Plan managed the fishery.

The lobster fishery currently involves more than five hundred divers annually and generates an annual estimated average of about 80 mt, worth approximately a little over K4 million in exports alone. Products are mainly exported to the United States markets. The prawn fishery has still availabilities for more active fishing vessels to participate. Restrictions and high fishing operational cost appear to make this fishery less economic than the Gulf of Papua prawn fishery. An annual harvest of prawn (all species) was worth approximately K3 million in exports alone and products exported to Asian markets.


Beche-de-mer | Bislama

The growth in the beche-de-mer industry has gradually increased in the last few years, and with it an increase number of participants, as well as the hype of trade activities and multiple financing arrangements between locals and non-citizens. Subsequently this has constraint the allocated resources for monitoring for this fishery by both the National Fisheries Authority and the provincial administration.

There is significant improvement on the quality of the export product, as a result of improving processing method by many operators. It is also attributed to dissemination of information to fishermen on handling of different species and processing techniques.

The overall export has level off to more than 400mt (dried) annually, values as a result of weaker kina against US dollars at more than K21 million. While the establishment of the national management plan has had a positive impact on the sustainability of the fishery at some provinces, there is further need to involve the community in the overall management of the resources under their respective jurisdiction



The capture fishery for barramundi is based along the southern coast of the PNG mainland and mainly in the Western province. The fishery is now operating under a management plan that was developed under an ACIAR funded project completed in 2002.

Barramundi exports in 2000 was 23.5 tonnes valued at around 402 thousand kina; exports in 2001 was 21.5 tonnes valued at around K353 thousand kina; 2002 was 31.5 tonnes valued at about 600 thousand kina while the 2003 export was 10.6 tonnes valued at around 230 thousand kina.


Inshore Reef Fish

Much of the catch from this fishery is sold and consumed locally but a small portion is exported annually. In 2002 about 132.82 tonnes of reef fish was exported valued at about K797, 176. A total of 49.94 tonnes of reef fish was exported in 2003 valued at K288, 356. The combined total export for 2002 and 2003 in terms of quantity is about 182 tonnes valued at over K1m. Most of the reef fish products are exported as a trunk, whole, gill and gutted, maw, and filleted either frozen or chilled. T

he quantity of reef fish sold and consumed locally is not accounted for in the NFA database. Exports from this fishery are expected to increase once the European Union Coastal Fisheries Development Project (CFDP) and ADB project are completed and fully functional. However, there is still a potential for small to medium scale development of this fishery such like the deep reef slope resources.



Aquaculture was introduced in the 1950s as a means to alleviate high malnutrition levels in inland areas. Despite this ancient introduction, development has so far been stagnant and mostly concentrated at the artisanal and subsistence level. Pond culture of carp, tilapia and rainbow trout has developed significantly in the last few years with over ten thousand farmers throughout inland areas with a combine total production estimated to be valued at K10 million.

At the commercial level, trout, barramundi and pearl culture has been established and recently commenced for prawn. Commercial trout farming began in 1976 and but has under gone turbulent times with feed and lack of fingerling constraints. To date one farm with potential production capacity of 10 tonnes annually is in operation along with several small-scale farms of 5 tonnes average production capacity. Collectively, they have the capacity to produce over 30 tonnes valued at half a million kina.

Bismarck Barramundi Pty Ltd. in Madang pioneered the propagation and farming of barramundi in PNG in 2000. The Company is now producing around 200,000 table size fish annually. Spin off benefits of this achievement has been the involvement of villagers along north coast of Madang through the ‘Family Farm’ concept, where the Company provides fingerlings, feed, technical assistance, etc and buys back the fish for processing and marketing. Bismarck barramundi has also pioneered the propagation of banana prawns in PNG in 2003. The first trial run was completed at the end of 2003 where a tonne of prawns were harvested. This achievement is expected to drive the prawn culture industry in PNG

Coral Sea Mariculture established the first pearl hatchery in PNG on Samarai Island ( Milne Bay ) in 2002 and has so far conducted two spawning of Gold lip and Silver lip pearl oysters. The availability of juvenile pearl oysters is a bonus for potential farmers and the PNG pearl industry.

Currently there is high interest in aquaculture both at the subsistence and commercial level. There is high potential for aquaculture both to complement capture fisheries and increase export earnings.

The key species harvested at the subsistence, artisanal and small-scale commercial are tilapia, carp, trout, seaweed, and barramundi, with annual product and value. Prawn and pearl aquaculture have the potential for commercial scale production. Commercially operated farms have now ceased operation. The prawn farm in Kokopo, East New Britain closed due to change in management priority, while the pearl farm in Sariba Island, Milne Bay closed due to the unresolved conflicts with the landowners.


Aquaculture production is dominated by subsistence, followed by small- scale commercial for the domestic market. Seaweed farming and production, an emerging alternative fishery livelihood activity, is the only export product from the aquaculture sector.



a. Biology of Saratoga (Sclerophages jardinii)
Saratoga, Sclerophages jardinii (Saville-Kent 1892) or the spotted-barramundi as is commonly known is a valuable aquarium fish. It has a limited distribution range which is restricted to Northern Australia and Southern New Guinea. In PNG, it is restricted to the Fly, Strickland and Bensbach river systems of the Western Province. Like most freshwater fish species in PNG, the ecology of Saratoga has not been fully studied. Data collected by Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) show Saratoga population in the Fly River is around 50-70 cm, which seems to be the breeding size. However records of 70-100cm have been recorded for the species. Generally the number of adults in the wild is relatively low due to limited population recruitment as a result of the species’ slow maturation and low fecundity. Therefore collection of juveniles for the aquarium trade could become non-sustainable if extreme caution is not exercised during fishing, collection and other steps in the chain of custody.

Saratoga is a surface feeder and feeds mainly on terrestrial and aquatic insects but occasionally feeds on small fish and crustaceans. It inhabits relatively still clear waters of streams and swamps and is frequently seen near the surface or near shore among aquatic vegetation. Saratoga breeding season in the Fly River systems commences in October and ends around the end of December, which is prior to the wet season. Saratoga is a mouth brooder and has a low fecundity, usually around 30-130 eggs depending on the size of the brood fish. The female carries the fertilized eggs in the mouth until they hatch in around 1-2 weeks and the larvae with their enlarged yolk sacs are kept in the mouth or close to the mouth for a further 4 or 5 weeks. The young begin feeding primarily on micro-crustaceans at a size of 2-3cm well before the yolk sac is entirely reabsorbed. They eventually become independent of the female parent at a length of 3.5-4.0cm.

b. Saratoga and the Aquarium trade
The demand for Saratoga as an aquarium species arose in the wake of the high demand for the Asian Arowana; Sclerophages formosus, in the 1970s. The Asian Arowana belongs to the same genus as the Saratoga but is more colourful and majestic. It is a sought after fish by aquarium hobbyists, especially those of Chinese descendent who believe that the Arowana is a direct descendent of the Dragon, the mystical feature in Chinese folklore from which all Chinese are believed to have descended from. Such superstitions along with Arowanas beautiful red coloration, its two characteristic barbles, its large size, and its difficulty with feed requirements in aquarium and culture conditions (requirement for live feeds) and the difficulty in breeding in captivity posse a challenge to aquarium hobbyists, thus making it the most sought after fish in the aquarium trade. It is also believed that Arowana brings good fortune and wards off evil. For instance a gold colour Arowana in an office is said to bring a lot of good fortune due to its gold colour whilst a red colour Arowana in a home is said to ward off evil. Such superstitious believes and Arowanas beauty and unique characteristics has fuelled the demand for Arowana, leading to the depletion of wild populations which consequently seen Arowana being placed in Appendix 1 of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered species of wild flora and fauna (CITES). The popularity of Arowanas led to the demand for other related species in the genus Sclerophages and Osteoglossum; such as the Sclerophages jardinii, S. leichardti, Osteoglossum bicirrhosum and O. ferrerirai due to; a) association with good fortunate, b) increased scarcity of S. formosus c) the ancient or primitive nature of species in the family Osteglossinae (bony tongues) and d) the fact that other species are generally less expensive than Arowanas. Thus the demand for wild and cultured juveniles of Saratoga for the aquarium market began to increase.

c. Illegal trade across the West Papua border
In PNG, the Saratoga (S. jardinii) was first exploited in the early 1990’s when villagers from the Bensbach River or Torassi area harvested wild Saratoga juveniles and traded them to merchants across the nearby Indonesian border province of West Papua. Although the harvest and trade of Saratoga is prohibited by law in West Papua, this illegal trade of Saratoga juveniles across the border continues to the present day. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Indonesian merchants across the border provide fuel and other necessary items for fishermen from the Bensbach and Obo areas to collect Saratoga juveniles. Most often fishermen are paid either in Indonesian ruphia around 200 ruphia for a juvenile Saratoga or are provided basic goods in exchange for the fish, thereby exploiting the poor fishermen. According to the North Fly Fisheries officer some 500,000 juveniles are illegally traded over the border annually (Robert Alphones, personal Com.). It is difficult to ascertain this figure but it highlight the fact that significant quantities of juvenile Saratoga are traded across the border. The Saratoga population in the Bensbach area has been depleted and fishermen are moving further into the Obo Area of the middle fly region.

d. Operations by Jodi Ltd and Obo Fishing Company
In November of 2003, a Jodi Pty Ltd. in collaboration with Obo Fishing Company of the Middle Fly area of the Western Province began exporting wild Saratoga juveniles to Singapore for the lucrative international aquarium trade. The company exported a total of 50,000 juveniles purchased at a total cost of K70, 000. Collection in 2004 was higher than that of 2003 due to the increase in fishing and the company moving into new areas to purchase fish. The partners are buying fish from fishermen for a total of K1.30 per juvenile; this is substantial cash for a remote area such as the Obo and Lake Murry areas. A fisherman is estimated to earn around K300.00 a day during the breeding season, thus fishing for Saratoga juveniles has increased substantially in the last two years.

e. Fishing methods employed
Fishermen set 3, 4 and 5-inch nets in lagoons and swamps usually near the bank with vegetation. They then move a further 50 meters from the net and start beating the water forcing brood fish into the nets. When a fish is caught in the net a second group of fishermen remove it and check its buccal cavity for juvenile fish. The juveniles are removed and on most occasions live broodstock are released back into the river. Alternatively fishermen set the nets in still lagoons or clear and slow flowing streams and wait quietly near the net for fish to be trapped.

Currently information on the population size, structure and other biological parameters of the Saratoga fishery in the Middle Fly area is unknown. There is little study on the biology and ecology of the fish species. Also information on the economics and the value of this fishery is still lacking due to lack of information. However, the lack of both economic and scientific information should not be a hindrance to developing a management plan to exploit the fishery on a more environmentally sustainable level. 


Other Fisheries

A shark fishery was established in 2003 and is presently operating under a National Shark Longline Management plan that was approved by the NFA Board in 2002 and gazetted on the 26th of June 2003. Nine vessels were licensed to fish for sharks since 2003 and this number was to be reviewed after two years when a review is done for the fishery.

Shark exports ranged from around 1867 tonnes valued at about 6.7 million kina in 2000; 1,776 tonnes valued at about 8.5 million kina in 2001; 1,451 tonnes valued at 6.6 kina in 2002 and 1,302 tonnes valued at about 4.9 million kina in 2003.

Crab fishery is a small but increasing fishery in PNG. At present, crab is an important subsistence fishery to the coastal communities along the estuarine mangrove habitats. The most common species often exported or sold at the local markets and restaurants is the mud crab (Scylla serratta). About 29.3mt of crabs were exported out from 1994 to 2001 with a total cumulative value of PGK 0.353 million. Most crabs were exported out of East New Britain, Milne Bay, National Capital District, New Ireland, and Western Provinces. They are either exported live, frozen or cooked.


Other fisheries resources of significant national or community interest include aquarium species, seaweed, trochus, giant clams and green snail. These resources are generally coastal resources and it is the intention of NFA to work with communities to establish effective management regimes to realise the potential of these fisheries.

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