Home' Ausmarine : February 2010 Contents Pilgrim's Progress
Somehow, in my career as a fisheries "expert" -- defined as
someone from overseas with a briefcase -- I seemed fated to
leave behind yet another failed state; but then, of course, who
else would have employed me?
This time it was the South Arabian Federation which was
claimed by Yemen. And so I said farewell to potentially rich
fisheries, already being done over by the Russians, and headed for
my birth place, Adelaide, to join my family which had arrived
before me when our son ran out of schooling.
I was handed a clipping from the local paper. It seemed that the
South Australia Fisheries and Fauna mob wanted someone; so I
fronted up before a committee. As often with squabbling
government departments, the newcomer got the job and I started
work under Allan Bogg, then on his way out to join FAO in India,
and probably glad to go.
The new director was Mick Olsen, lately harvesting manager
with Tasmanian Alginates, and one time CSIRO cray (sorry, rock
lobster) scientist. Traveling the State was a rewarding experience
but I fell foul of a system which wouldn't let me do my job. The
right royal rows usually ended in my being summoned to high
government office to explain myself. Although it turned out that I
was dishwasher, microwave, and freezer safe, after three years I said
the hell with it! So, when the Commonwealth External Territories
mob wanted someone for Papua New Guinea, I soon found myself
in a new and interesting situation.
There was not a lot to be done with subsistence and artisanal
fisheries, much of which were constrained by traditional
ownership which Australia has sworn to protect against incursion.
There were, however, modest fisheries for prawns, barramundi, and
rock lobsters. Over in the Sepik river, introduced African Tilapia
did so well that they were processed, sold to the protein-starved
Highlands and became so popular that the postal service franked
envelopes with, Pis 'e namberwan abus -- "Fish is number one in
the bush". Carp did well everywhere and were welcome; an empty
belly reckons not with environmental concerns. We even put trout
in the Highlands for tourists but the locals fished 'em out! Said it
was their right.
A few prawn trawlers from the Persian Gulf arrived complete
with mother ship, made a few quid in the Gulf of Papua, and went
on their way leaving not much of interest until two Japanese and
one Australian/Japanese firm (Gollin Kyokuyo) wanted to try
skipjack tuna. Ho ho!
The boats were Okinawan polers which nightly lamped and
lift-netted bait fish along the reef, had a couple of hours sleep,
and at dawn put to sea searching for feeding shoals as indicated
by sea birds. Live bait was then taken from the main tanks and
put into smaller ones fore and aft. The boat then moved through
the area broadcasting bait until action occurred, when
everything slowed down, sprays were turned on and things
usually became hectic.
There were two groups, one in the bows (younger men) and
one in the stern. Each man had a bamboo pole and short line to
which was attached a feathered but barbless jig which, when
the line slackened as the fish hit the deck, shook from the
skipjack's mouth. Five tonnes in an hour or two is bloody hard
work, I can assure you, even at the low stern. Sometimes,
when the fish were choosy, a hook and live bait was the only
answer. Then, each fish had to be caught between arm and
body as it came in and manually unhooked; a slower and
somewhat slippery job.
Of course, all that blood and slime washing into the sea brought
sharks, often huge ocean white-tips. They slowly patrolled the
scene looking quite lazy and bored, but if a skipjack fell back in the
water it was taken in a flash. Should a fisher fall in, action is
immediate. Two others reverse their poles, one each side of the
anxious man who gabs them and is hoisted aboard, quick-time.
The pole boats work to a freezer ship anchored in a sheltered
place. In late afternoon they come in, transfer the tuna, and then
proceed to a favourite place for the night's lamping for bait --
anchovies and the like. It's a continuous job until the moon
interferes, when the catchers go into port for a rest.
Sometimes they just whooped it up on the mothership,
having invited the girls from nearby islands. Filming
the...ahem...entertainment was one thing but showing it later to
another group which just happened to contain husbands and boy
friends caused a real riot -- one or two in hospital.
Apart from licence fees, duty on fish exports, and gratuities to
traditional owners of baiting grounds, when asked by the Japanese
government what more it could do for PNG, I suggested a fisheries
college, complete with training boat, to be built at Kavieng in New
Ireland where, during the war, the Japanese had a big skipjack
And so we got a several-million-dollar job of which we were
quite proud. Going to Japan to negotiate over the boat was a fine
experience, not the least of which was being treated like royalty in
a company hotel, staff lined up outside to bow and greet. We
boiled in the hot-spring-fed traditional communal bath and had
dinner with geishas, the works!
Kavieng Fisheries College was a residential affair for young
Papua New Guineans. It really was a nice set-up. So much so that
ambitious pedagogues from other places tried to take over from we
ignorant fishos. Apart from two supplied by Japan, staffing was a
problem -- my wife was college cook for a while! One or two
technicians were not the best but in the main we got by. But then
our very own departmental education section cast its eye on us and
finally took over and we were soon choked with learning.
But things were not so good anymore. In 1975 PNG became
politically independent and by 1979 the country was simply run
down; nothing really worked there any more. I shifted to Darwin
leaving yet another failed state behind me; which was par for my
I wondered if the old place at Kavieng is still going after all this
time? The PNG government website is "still under construction,"
but the PM's site going strong -- look up Michael Somare and learn
about the Rt Hon Grand Chief M T Somare GCL GCMG CH CF
KStJ, PM of PNG and his various extra-curricular activities.
Anyway, his government library assured by email today that the
fisheries college is still operating. I wonder how and by whom?
Grumpy Old Bastard
February 2010 AUSMARINE
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