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By Neville Togarewa

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (November 23, 1998 - The National)---Papua New Guinea is losing up to K300 million (US$ 140.7 million) a year as a result of foreign vessels illegally fishing in the nation's 200 mile exclusive economic zone. (Note: US$ 1 = K 2.1322)

Most of the illicit fishing operations, carried out, is targeted at Papua New Guinea's highly migratory tuna resource, said to be one of the richest in the central and western Pacific.

The nation will continue to lose hundreds of millions of kina each year unless the government allocates enough money to acquire modern-day surface and aerial platforms - meaning multi-purpose patrol boats and aircraft, including helicopters - train staff and fully equip the National Surveillance and Coordination Centre (NSCC) to monitor, deter, apprehend and punish the illegal foreign fisherman.

Papua New Guinea's tuna resource is currently valued at K 1billion a year, with value added.

"In kina terms, Papua New Guinea is losing up to an estimated K 300 million a year through illegal or illicit fishing in our EEZ," according to Major Kim Soso, one of the senior PNG Defense Force officers instrumental in setting up the National Surveillance Coordinating Centre (NSCC).

Mr. Soso was talking to The National after the official launch of the Coast Watching Awareness Program undertaken by the NSCC under the banner " protecting Papua New Guinea's exclusive economic zone".

Earlier, Mr. Soso presented a paper on surveillance to senior officers of the PNG Defense Force, including the Commander, Brigadier General Jerry Singirok, acting Chief of Staff Col. Ben Norrie, head of the Australian Defense Force Col. Charles Vagi and others from line departments like Foreign Affairs, National Fisheries Authority and the National Security Advisory Council.

Mr. Soso said the coast watching program was commendable but it was only part of the government's overall surveillance program and it would only succeed if the government was prepared to fund it.

He said while the PNGDF appreciated the current financial constraints, the government, through the Defense Force, must fully support maritime surveillance in order to protect the nation's resource and ensure that maximum benefits go the resource owners.

"The coast watching program is another milestone for the organization and the country, especially when our natural resources are in need of protection, proper management and appropriate utilization of the resources. The program will enhance and encompass the surveillance processes and extend our current vision beyond our current visibility," Mr. Soso said.

Asked what new technology and capabilities was required to ensure adequate surveillance, Mr. Soso replied: "While appreciating the current financial constraints, what is needed is a commitment by the Government to provide adequate multi-purpose surface and aerial platforms capable of long-range, high-endurance performance to protect out sovereignty and EEZ.

"What we need today are up-to-date communications and information systems, trained personnel and surface and aerial platforms capable of undertaking 24-hour surveillance, monitoring, reporting and apprehension activities in our coastal waters and our EEZ."

A senior source from the National Fisheries Agency said, while he agreed with Mr. Soso, an independent consultant put the value of lost revenue from tuna at about K30 million three years ago.

PNG currently earns US$12-15 million (K25-32 million) through access and licensing fees imposed on purse seiners and long liners from the United States, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Philippines.

Tuna current price on the world market is US$ 300-600 (K641-K1,282) per ton, compared to US$1,100 (K1,697) about a year ago and with the value of the kina being weak, tuna was not fetching as much as it did up to about a year ago, the source said.

The good news was that with the El Niño phenomena now over and the coming of La Niña, tuna stocks were migrating from the western and central Pacific to the south and north western Pacific and there should be an equivalent increase in catch and revenue, he said.

"We've had a lot of improvement in surveillance with the help of the Forum Fisheries Agency and how we deal with distant water fishing vessels," the NFA source said.

"But it is very hard to put a figure on how much PNG is losing through exploitation of a marine resources, especially tuna. You know what's going on but how can you put a figure."

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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