Eight months after the official word that EcoEZ’s PNG SEASMART program had come to legal blows with the government of Papua New Guinea (PNG), you might have given up hope on seeing PNG fish anytime soon. In fact, it has probably been a year since any fish left PNG destined for the US. Time to get excited about PNG again. Late Thursday night the official release was made announcing the new exclusive exporter of PNG fish, EcoAquariums PNG, lead by former SEASMART employee Daniel Navin.
EcoAquariums PNG is already firing up the imaginations of fish-heads, flirting with our addictions by reminding us of all the truly exciting fish that PNG has to offer. Images of abberently patterned Butterflyfish (shown above), and wild caught Percula clownfish showing “Picasso” tendencies (below), no doubt will help renew the interest in PNG-sourced livestock.
While we attempted to reach Daniel Navin with many questions, at the time of writing this piece we had not heard back and we suspect he has his hands pretty full (and wet). Still, when browsing the new website we couldn’t help but notice the strong influence of SEASMART-developed management practices being implemented in this revived fishery. Sustainable collection, based on scientific fisheries management practices, with government oversight, is once again front and center.
Additionally, equitable trade and involvement of PNG people in the business is a hightlight too — in reading a few different sources, it seems that the community of Fisherman’s Island has a 10-15% ownership stake in exchange for the land this new business will operate on, and another 10% ownership is in the hands of another former SEASMART employee, Iga Ware.
We also noticed a subtle difference in practices when reviewing the website. It regards the use of the term “decompression.” If you weren’t already aware, SEASMART divers were limited to collecting only shallow water species with snorkel gear. This was seen as a negative by some, who noted that this collection practice limited the species that could be accessed and thus, made it harder to justify purchasing from the SEASMART program. The very notion that fish will now be “decompressed” implies that deeper collections will now be part of the program — if true, this will drastically improve the variety of species offered.
The other change we noticed was the implication that there will not be any completely off-limits species. Here again, this was a change from SEASMART, who probably would have never collected a coralivorous butterflyfish. Now, for the right client who is prepared to handle such a fish, a collection will be made. Again, adding to the diversity of offerings from PNG.
What we don’t know is exactly when fish will start shipping from PNG again. Ret Talbot’s article in the CORAL newsletter states “end of the year,” while the webpage announcing a special ReefThreads Podcast by Gary Parr and Sara Bertolino suggests that EcoAquariums PNG is “ready to start delivering livestock to the reef hobby market.” We also don’t know if EcoAquariums will be attempting to revive the fledgling coral mariculture project, actually started by Daniel Navin when he started working for SEASMART in 2010.
And finally, we don’t know what the future holds. EcoAquariums PNG has an exclusive license from the PNG FMA, but this is a one year temporary license according to Ret Talbot’s article. I think we speak for everyone when we say that we truly hope that history doesn’t repeat itself.
EcoAquairum’s full press release is below.
Rare, Exciting and Sustainably-Collected Marine Aquarium Animals Soon to Arrive in North American Markets from New Exporter in Papua New Guinea
FISHERMAN ISLAND, PNG – August 11, 2011 – EcoAquariums Papua New Guinea (PNG) Ltd released photographs today of a very unusually patterned ornate butterflyfish (Chaetodon ornatissimus) spotted in its collection area. This is one of several unusual fishes observed by EcoAquariums fishers in advance of the new company’s planned export of marine aquarium animals to North American markets later in 2011. EcoAquariums holds the sole license issued by PNG National Fisheries Authority (NFA) to export marine aquarium life from the Pacific island nation known for fishes such as the lightning maroon clownfish and the promise of a truly sustainable and equitable marine aquarium fishery.
“Rare fishes like this butterflyfish and some of the unique clownfish morphs we are seeing will, I think, reignite excitement for PNG’s marine aquarium fishery,” says Daniel Navin, director of EcoAquariums. Navin adds his fishers will not target obligate corallivores like this ornate butterflyfish unless it is for a very specific client who is prepared to meet the animal’s husbandry needs. “The point is that we have some pretty amazing and unusual fishes here in PNG, and our fishers are keen to begin collecting for aquarists desiring uniquely beautiful, incredibly healthy and sustainably collected animals.” In 2010, PNG captured the enthusiasm of aquarists worldwide with exceptional fishes like the lightning maroon clownfish. “It was, however, the potential for PNG to emerge as the first science-based, sustainable and equitable marine aquarium fishery that really drove market demand,” says Navin.
Navin was hired in 2010 by Seasmart, the company awarded the contract to explore establishing a sustainable marine aquarium fishery in PNG. When the joint NFA-Seasmart trial program ended late last year, Navin approached NFA for a license to export aquarium animals. “PNG NFA is among the Pacific’s most progressive, sustainably-minded fisheries agencies,” Navin says, pointing to PNG’s tuna fishery as an example. “NFA has poured millions into tagging programs and establishing one of the Pacific’s largest no-take zones.” When it comes to the aquarium fishery, NFA has already invested five million USD. “They want their aquarium fishery to be the most sustainable, equitable and well-managed in the world, and we at EcoAquariums are fortunate to be building on very solid work,” says Navin, referring to the detailed reef surveys, total allowable catch numbers and training of local fishers completed by NFA and Seasmart during the trial period. “Having said that, we are approaching the fishery in a far more market-driven fashion,” he says. “We believe there is a market for equitably-traded, sustainably-collected and maricultured marine aquarium animals, and we’re looking to target that market, while being both fiscally responsible and inventive in our approach.”
EcoAquariums Papua New Guinea Ltd is the only marine aquarium company licensed to operate in Papua New Guinea. Focused on environmental and economic sustainability for both reefs and local fishers, EcoAquariums is an innovative leader in shaping the future of a robust marine aquarium trade dependent upon sustainable wild-collection, mariculture and aquaculture.
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