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PNG Tuna Fishing Rights For Rice Planting Courses Philippines, March 7, 12

The island state of Papua New Guinea is willing to give Filipino commercial fishers access to its waters in exchange for agriculture commodities and rice technology, according to Philippine Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.

Alcala said on Tuesday the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has started discussions with Papua New Guinea officials on the issues of access and trade.

Under the proposed agreement, the island nation would allow Philippine vessels to fish in its tuna-rich waters and permit the processing of seafood caught in its territory.

According to Alcala, the fish processing centers in Papua New Guinea are mostly manned by Filipinos who do not have the capacity for large-scale processing. “In return, we will teach them how to plant rice,” Alcala said.

In 2011, BFAR Assistant Director Benjamin Tabios said Papua New Guinea officials also raised the possibility of buying agricultural commodities from the Philippines at a preferential rate.

Tabios said this would boost the Mindanao agricultural sector as it would be supplying Papua New Guinea, a largely food importer without wide farmlands.

The proposed agreement between the Philippines and Papua New Guinea, with its vast fishing grounds, came at a time when the country’s fishing sector has been declining due to poor catches.

In 2011, the fisheries subsector’s contracted. The agriculture department said the subsector, which accounted for 20.7 percent of the total agriculture output, declined by 4.1 percent.

Aside from overfishing and poor harvests, the decline in the fisheries sector was also due to the closure of the Pacific high seas for tuna fishing. Alcala said the Philippines would call for the reopening of the fishing grounds later this month, during the meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

Another option is for the Philippines to take in the tuna catch of Papuan vessels since the country lacks processing facilities, Alcala said.

“Their processing facilities are still not working in full capacity. So, we ask them to take a portion of their catch to General Santos City, where we can accommodate a huge volume of tuna,” he said.

This means that the idle canning factories in General Santos will process the tuna and label it as a product of Papua New Guinea.