14 Nov 2019


Jim Higgs, Marine Sustainable Development Manager, WWF-Australia

Sometimes it’s what you don’t see, rather than what you see, that causes the biggest concerns. And this was certainly the case during visit to Madang on Papua New Guinea’s north coast at the end of October 2019.

What I didn’t see were people fishing, selling seafood or eating fish, as a result of a mine refinery spill into coastal waters on the Rai Coast. For a community where seafood is central to life for so many people, this is very disturbing.

This may be a strange start to a blog celebrating World Fisheries Day but stick with me…this is an important tale about resilient coastal fishing communities supported by a global seafood megabrand – John West Australia.

Since 2014, John West Australia has financially supported WWF offices in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands and helped secure significantly greater matching funds from the Australian Government’s aid program. This funding has been used to implement coastal community projects that focus on empowerment, resilience and alternative livelihoods.

In PNG, a central component of these projects has been the establishment of a Community Facilitator, or CF for short, network of women and men selected by their community chiefs. The CF’s receive training from WWF staff, or where more appropriate, experts in the fields of small business development, disaster risk reduction, climate change, and disability inclusion. WWF training focuses on community-based fisheries management and associated assessment processes, financial literacy and the establishment of village savings and loans schemes (VSLS), and mangrove and foreshore vegetation restoration programs. CF’s receive this training and then return to their communities to apply their new knowledge in a situationally appropriate manner, with skills and knowledge retained in the community.

I’d deliberately planned this last trip to coincide with the monthly CF peer-to-peer learning exchange for the 60 odd CF’s operating in the Madang Province. What wasn’t planned was a province wide ban on fishing and the sale of seafood products by the Provincial Government in response to a mine refinery spill into coastal waters on the Rai Coast. While the fishing ban was obviously devastating for local fishing communities and almost 500,000 people, the work supported by John West had helped many people in coastal fishing communities we work with through the loss of income and source of protein.

CF’s I interviewed explained the devastating impact on the fishing ban to people in the province. Some people had not had any animal protein for over a month, with the only source available coming from greens from the family garden. These were even more scarce for people living on islands where family gardens are not as productive as the mainland.

The upside to this devastation was the VSLS had provided participating community members with the financial resilience to use their savings to purchase protein in the form of canned tuna, beef or pork. The CF network also enabled people like Yakal (above) to share their experiences and skills, like making clothes and bags for sale at the local markets, to help others diversify their source of income from coastal fisheries.

Some CF’s were also involved in the monitoring program to determine the extent of the mining spill impacts on local fish stocks.

We can only hope the results from this monitoring comes back positive and fishing, which is so central to many, can once again soon resume in the beautiful Madang province.

Empty fish market in Madang
© Jim Higgs / WWF-Australia