For many companies the term ‘sustainable’ is nothing more than window dressing, a buzzword to use in their marketing with only the most rudimentary effort towards achieving goals that can be tenuously described as low impact. As we’ve seen from RVS Fishworld’s years of training whole communities of fishermen in the Philippines their sister company Golden Ocean is beginning to do the same in the communities of Papua New Guinea.
Golden Ocean will soon be holding their second seminar to train local fishermen in the proper collection of local ornamental fish using nets and techniques that have been proven to work in the Philippines for decades, following up on 40 local PNG fishermen already trained in December of last year. It’s important to mention that this investment by Golden Ocean into the local communities that live on the shores of PNG’s natural reefs is actually more expensive than bringing in their own staff from abroad which are already trained and very experienced at ornamental fish collection.
Besides the limited species that are consumed for food such as fish and shellfish, the smaller ornamental species of fish, sharks, and immature corals have historically not been of much economic value. We’re not saying that something has to be bought and sold for it to be valuable but when local communities can ascribe a tangible price to organisms that have typically been ignored, they are much more likely to treat the entire ecosystem with more respect and sustainable practices.
This ethos is precisely what Golden Ocean is aiming to instill in local communities by training local fishermen in non-destructive collection of ornamental fish, sharks, corals and other species which aren’t consumed as food, used in handicraft, or incinerated to produce cheap lime. Small anthias, wrasses and gobies are not exactly keystone species of coral reefs but it’s only through the aquarium trade that coastal villages can derive some economic benefit, and with proper training the villagers can learn to harvest these highly abundant species with minimal impact to the marine habitat.
This isn’t the first time that aquarium ‘programs’ have been attempted around Papua New Guinea but efforts like SeaSmart, EcoEZ, and even the PNG 2.0 reboot EcoAquariums were crippled at the start by well-meaning but misguided regulation which forced locals to collect only while free diving. These restrictions all but guaranteed that higher value species like surgeonfish, wrasses, and angelfish were out of reach, while the common, shallow water species quickly saturated the aquarium market leading to low sales and even fewer orders.
The net training of local fishermen to use nets and safely dive to moderate depths using SCUBA and hookah is critical to being able to obtain the higher value species, and the diversity of animals that entice orders being placed from Papua New Guinea in the first place! Golden Ocean has been cautiously building up their livestock catalog in step with their training of local fishermen and are only waiting on industrial chillers to arrive before expanding to corals, clams and other invertebrates – the training of local villagers has been supported by many different international companies over the years and little by little Golden Ocean will spread the methods of sustainable harvest to more communities around the islands and provinces of Papua New Guinea.