Shark and ray resources provide a major export industry for Papua New Guinea, but are generally poorly understood. These resources are vulnerable to over-exploitation, and diminishing stock levels will negatively impact on livelihoods of local fishers. Sharks and rays are also likely to be shared with neighbouring countries, so Papua New Guinea has an international obligation to effectively manage them. This project aims to provide information on species composition and biological status, annual catches and profitability, and other fisheries characteristics to enable the development of effective management strategies. Methodology will include surveys, port sampling, genetic analyses and bioeconomic modelling. Impacts of proposed changes to current management plans will be investigated. Outputs will include an assessment of the status of shark and ray stocks, and a biological collection and technical tools to facilitate better management and conservation. These should lead to more sustainable use of shark and ray resources at a national and community level.
The project commenced in January 2014, later than the originally planned August 2013, and was officially launched in February 2014 in Port Moresby. The Year 1 activities focused on training the longline and trawl observers and commencing the observer program on the shark and tuna longline and prawn trawl fisheries; commencing the socio-economic data collection; establishing contacts with the dive industry; begin planning for the artisanal surveys; establishing contact with the University of PNG regarding the fish collection (ex Kanudi Fisheries Research Station); and start producing the checklist of shark and ray species for the biodiversity component.
In March 2014, the observer training workshops were held in Port Moresby and then Rabaul. The workshops were very successful as many of the observers were already trained and have undergone trips on the vessels. Printed manuals, covering data collection protocols and species identification guides, were provided to all observers during the workshop. The aim is to have full observer coverage on all trips (where possible) for 2 years. The first trip longline observer trips (7 observers on 7 vessels) commenced in the first week of May 2014. The prawn trawl observer program was initially going to be limited to opportunistic observer coverage, but NFA has successfully increased the coverage (through in-kind contribution) to 5 observers who will collect shark and ray data over the 2-year observer program.
The only logistical issue that has arisen in this component (and which will impact on the data collected by the shark longline observers) is that the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) has recently imposed a no-retention policy for silky sharks, which were the main contribution of the shark longline catch. The latest information we have is that the shark longline fleet will be adjusting their practices to be targeting tuna (e.g. albacore) which will result in shorter fishing trips. Although this will result in less shark data, there will be bycatch of sharks from this fishery which will be monitored and examined. Also, more importantly, this change reflects the actual, current situation of shark catches in PNG. So while this is a significant change in fishing practices, the longline observer program will continue to operate and collect the required data.
The first socio-economic data collection trip was conducted in Port Moresby in February 2014. During this trip, potential sources of socio-economic data were scoped, survey questionnaires were trialled, and data collection for the shark longline sector was initiated. Interviews were conducted with shark and tuna longline, and prawn trawl operators/owners. Additional data was also obtained from the NFA database. This included shark fin purchase data for 2008-2013 (quantity in kg, by province and local level government area [LLG]) and shark export data for 1999-2013 (quantity, value and unit price). The NFA shark fin purchase data has been used to guide the selection of localities where socio-economic surveys will be undertaken in Year 2 of the project. Another key outcome of the trip was making contact with Jeff Kinch, an anthropologist/economist based in Kavieng, who will be an important contact for this component of the project.
Dive operation owners/managers at Loloata Island (Port Moresby) and Kabaira (Rabaul) were visited and an information sheet was provided which explained the project and requested (where possible) information on shark and ray sightings. Both dive operators were very positive about the project and agreed to assist where possible. Email contact was made with the Walindi dive team (West New Britain), the manager of which is the president of the PNG dive association. This was also very positive interaction and the dive team agreed to collect data and pass information on to other dive operations via the dive association. Additionally, the NFA bche-de-mer projects involve numerous dive surveys in a number of areas. A species identification guide was provided to Luanah Yaman who will pass on the guide to the divers involved and shark and ray data may be able to be collected through these projects.
Leontine Baje made contact with the curator of the UPNG fish collection and they were happy to assist and provide space where required for alcohol and formalin. Collection of species specific data has commenced, focusing first on PNG material deposited in other collections around the world.
Plans for the artisanal surveys have commenced and the first location likely to be surveyed is Daru in October 2014; this is the peak operating time for the barramundi gillnet fishery.
The Year 2 activities focused on continuing the observer program on the shark and tuna longline and prawn trawl fisheries; capacity building of NFA staff; continuing the socio-economic data collection; commence the artisanal survey component of the project; continue working with the University of PNG’s fish collection (ex Kanudi Fisheries Research Station); and continue collating information for the biodiversity component of the project.
Observers which were placed on the 7 shark longline vessels returned in early July 2014 and data was sent to CSIRO in Hobart later that month. An observer database was established in August 2014 to handle the data initially entered into Excel. A total of 1040 vertebral samples were collected which exceeded our expectations and ensured a strong dataset for the age and growth component. The vertebrae were transported from Rabaul to Port Moresby and then freighted through to JCU in Townsville. Genetic samples were taken from all vertebrae and sent to CSIRO in Hobart for the species composition and population genetic components. Overall the observer data was excellent quality. The use of cameras for image recording of all specimens from which vertebrae were taken was a success and allowed verification of identifications on most individuals. Those that could not be verified from images have been DNA barcoded to confirm identity.
The first prawn trawl observer went to sea in June 2014. The data collected was of exceptional quality and a large number of whole specimens were obtained. Subsequently, observers were also deployed onto prawn trawl vessels in November (x2) and December 2014 and April 2015. Data quality was high from all of these trips. All large specimens were photographed, measured and a genetic sample retained. All small specimens were frozen and stored in Port Moresby. To date, the samples from all but one of these observers (April 2015 samples) have been processed. A total of 39 species of sharks and rays have been recorded to date, with a number of these representing new records for PNG waters.
The shark longline fishery in Rabaul ceased after the May-June 2014 observer trip with the vessels due to be refitted in Taiwan for tuna longlining instead. These vessels have not re-commenced fishing although the observers are ready to be deployed. It has been more difficult to involve the tuna longline fleet out of Port Moresby in the observer program. In early 2015, NFA staff used an enforcement letter to ensure observers’ access to the vessels. After a delayed start, two observers have now been out on separate tuna longline vessels. Getting more observers out on these longline vessels is a priority over the next 12 months.
In September 2014, a taxonomy and genetic training workshop was held at CSIRO in Hobart for one NFA staff member (LB). This workshop was successful and a protocol guide emanating from this workshop has been produced. Samples from one of the prawn trawl observer trips were used as a teaching tool to illustrate both taxonomic and genetic techniques. Leontine Baje was notified during this trip that she had been successfully awarded a John Allwright Fellowship to undertake a Masters project (commencing July 2015?) at JCU in Townsville.
The first artisanal fishery survey trip to Daru in Western Province was run in October 2014. A number of fishing villages and camps were visited along the nearby coastline and socioeconomic and biological data was collected. The presence of the highly threatened river sharks and sawfish in this region is noteworthy and possibly indicates that fishing pressure is not extreme given the observations of these species; however more detailed investigation is required. A village chairman from the main fishing village has collected subsequent data on shark and ray catches and we will be approaching him to collect more data in the next 12 months.
The second socio-economic data collection trip was conducted in the Milne Bay Province in November 2014.
We have worked closely with several UPNG staff and those involved in the fish collection. Over 200 specimens of sharks and rays have been retained whole in the collection in temporary formalin containers. Work at the fish collection has focused primarily on processing samples from the artisanal survey and prawn trawl observer trips. In the coming year, we will begin focusing on improvements to the current collection to ensure longevity of specimens
This year’s activities focused on finalising the observer program on the tuna longline and prawn trawl fisheries; and continued the following: capacity building of NFA staff; socio-economic data collection and conducting further artisanal surveys; working with the University of PNG’s fish collection (ex Kanudi Fisheries Research Station); collection and analysis of data for the life history components; and collating information for the biodiversity component of the project.
A further 2 prawn trawl observer trips and 4 tuna longline observer trips were conducted. The prawn trawl observer component has now finished with all data entered into the database. As part of finalisation of the tuna longline work, there is a plan to conduct two more tuna longline observer trips before the end of July 2016. Additional vertebrae collected from these observers have been sent to JCU for the age and growth components of the project. Two further artisanal surveys were conducted, one to Kavieng in New Ireland and Buka in Bougainville in October 2015 and one to Alotau and Mullins Harbour in Milne Bay Province in March 2016. Two trips were also undertaken to PNG for processing of the samples collected by the prawn trawl observers. All data from the observers and artisanal surveys collected to date have been entered into the database. The prawn trawl data are currently being analysed with a paper on the results of this work due to be submitted later in the calendar year.
As the observer program has come to an end, focus is being placed on obtaining the necessary NFA data from the longline and purse seine fisheries. Most of this data needs to be requested from SPC (Secretariat of the Pacific Community); for both datasets, the fields (metadata) we require have been identified and NFA staff are in the process of requesting from SPC. Planning for the first stock assessment workshop has commenced and is due to be held in Hobart in October 2016.
A socio-economic survey was conducted in Kavieng, New Ireland and Manus in October 2015. Data collected highlighted that shark finning was not a major practice in these areas with only mostly incidental catches observed in the villages surveyed. The detailed socio-economic data collected during the Milne Bay work in the previous year was analysed and submitted to an international journal; this is currently in review.
The life history work on the key shark species has continued. The age and growth study on grey reef sharks has been published, the age and growth work on silvertip and oceanic whitetip sharks has been submitted and is in review, and age and growth work on silky sharks is currently underway.
The dried shark fins examined on the artisanal surveys have produced a large number of genetic samples which will be used to determine the species involved. Once species identities are known, suitable conversions can be used to estimate the total lengths from the fin measurements taken. A database of conversions from fin size to total length has been established for a large number of shark species which are caught in PNG coastal fisheries.
The development of genetic markers and tools to determine the regional population connectivity of three key species (scalloped hammerheads, grey reef and silvertip sharks) continues. New mitochondrial and nuclear DNA markers for each species are being developed and screened in extensive samples from the observer program and the artisanal surveys.
Specimens collected from the observer program and on the artisanal surveys have been added to the UPNG fish collection. A total of 288 specimens have now been collected with 116 of these sent to the Australian National Fish Collection in Hobart as a representative