IN 1999 I was selected to undergo Fishing Technology Certificate Training at the National Fisheries College of Papua New Guinea.
The training was in three modules: deck rating (basic seamanship training) at the PNG Maritime College; fishing gear technology training at the National Fisheries College; and an attachment to fishing companies in PNG.
“You are the most dangerous group we are training,” said Melchior Ware, principal of the National Fisheries College, at the orientation and welcome gathering.
After completing the deck rating and the fishing gear training, I was assigned to Latitude 8 Pty Ltd, a long-line company in Port Moresby, for the practical attachment, before returning to the National Fisheries College and graduating with a Certificate in Fishing Technology.
Some time passed before I got a job as a merchant seaman on board a general cargo vessel, MV Kabul. When Kabul was stranded on Lamasa Island in New Ireland Province the job was over and I returned home and became a subsistence farmer in my father's village, Dagua.
Then in June 2003, I joined the crew of a foreign fishing vessel from Taiwan, Shun Fa No 8, where I remained for a year. I then returned home to Wewak and start a distance learning course with the University of Technology.
One day my older sister handed me the newspaper. “I saw an advertisement seeking recruitment for fisheries observers,” she said.
I saw I had all the requirements - a Grade 12 certificate, a Deck Rating 2 certificate and a Fishing Technology Certificate – and also cargo ship, long-line fishing and purse seine fishing experience.
“I have everything they need,” I said to my sister.
With the feeling I would be considered, I quickly sent in the application papers.
In the meantime I had completed my distance education adult matriculation upgrade course.
A few months went by and then the results appeared in a newspaper. My name was on the shortlist for interview. My heart beat rapidly and I tried to keep calm and control the anxiety.
“It’ only the interview; not the final selection,” I said to myself.
The interview day arrived and I went to the local fisheries office in Wewak. The other candidates gathered outside as we waited for the interviewer.
“Fellows, the interviewer is in Vanimo and will be here when his flight arrives. You can come back at one o'clock,” a fisheries officer from informed us.
The feeling of giving up ran through my mind, but I pushed the thought away. I knew I had to pass the interview.
I walked home to get a glass of cold water. I heard the sound of an aeroplane and realised the interview team had arrived. Before I walked back to the fisheries office, my mother blessed me.
“We are all with you. We believe you will pass the interview and be considered for the training,” she said.
The words came with power and penetrated my heart and soul. They resounded in my mind as I walked back to the interview location. I felt a boost of confidence that motivated me.
“Those of you living in the vicinity of the town can come after the ones living far away have been interviewed,” a fisheries officer said.
So I had to wait for the other candidates to go first. I became the very last person to be interviewed.
The interview questions came rolling at me and I responded with a level of confidence I had never felt before.
I knew that my mother had blessed me and I remained calm.
My ears were wide open, seeking every detail of the questions thrown at me. I had a clear sense of the purpose and believe I put up an impressive presentation.
When the interview was over, the Observer Program Manager gave me a solid handshake signalling something good was coming up. I felt I would be selected. Then I shook hands with the rest of the interview crew and left the scene.
I went home confident I would be selected. I kept myself from getting into trouble and getting into jail. I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.
More weeks went by and the final results came out. I had been selected for Basic Observer Training. The plane ticket was collected at the Fisheries Office and in June 2005, two years after applying, I flew to Madang and the PNG Maritime College.
We did five weeks of training including in observation, first aid at sea, survival techniques and fire-fighting.
There was an examination and the papers were marked immediately after the test. We went for lunch at the Maritime College mess as the trainers marked the papers. After lunch I walked towards the college gate to the betel nut market outside the fence and encountered the deputy observer manager, William Kewo.
“Congratulations, Keith,” he said, offering his hand for a handshake. “You made your way into the observer program. You and Michael topped the class.”
The passing out ceremony was held at the Jais Aben Resort in Madang and Sylvester Pokajam, the then managing director of the National Fisheries Authority gave a speech.
“You are the eyes and ears for the fisheries managers and scientists,” he told us. “You are the first line of defence against illegal fishing at sea.”
The other graduating observers received their certificates first and I was called last and received a Certificate of Distinction with a mark of 92%. My previous experience in the industry had helped, as I understood almost everything about operations at sea on a fishing boat.
I was then contracted by the National Fisheries Authority Observer Program and boarded fishing vessels to monitor, control and scrutinise. The tasks included taking measurements of marketable tuna and other species that are landed during a fishing set.
I also record the positions of the tuna caught by fishing vessels. The other part of the task involves estimating the tuna catch in metric tonnes.
The work that I do for the observer programme is to fill out standard observer data forms that are designed by SPC (Secretariat of the Pacific Community) and FFA (Forum Fisheries Agency).
It is now a decade since I finished my training and I am still offered contracts to collect purse seine fishing data for the observer program. I am currently performing data quality checks for the National Fisheries Authority.
Basically my occupation is part of the mission to manage fisheries and marine resources for sustainable and equitable benefit.
This is the mission statement of the National Fisheries Authority of Papua New Guinea - custodian of the fisheries and marine resources of Papua New Guinea.