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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs)

I'm occasionally asked why we don't directly support communities in the management of fisheries.

Well we do strongly endorse the involvement of communities in the management of local fisheries, but we don't want to duplicate assistance in an area of comparative advantage for NGOs and other national or local organisations. The main strength of the regional SPC Coastal Fisheries Programme is working with our main stakeholders - government fisheries departments - and helping governments to get institutional and legal systems in place that make community, traditional and locally-managed marine areas possible, or more effective.

SPC works on the setting up of frameworks, the provision of scientific information, and inter-country networking. LMMAs work on helping people in actually activating management processes - and this is likely to require a different approach in every area. The ecosystem approach to fishery management - our new objective - is based on how you look at the goals or outcomes that society wants from the ecosystem, not just from the fishery.

And there are many different possible routes to achieving that ecosytem goal - probably as many different routes as there are islands in the Pacific.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Coups and fisheries

I just got back from a videoconference with our Suva office. Over one-third of SPC's staff are based in Fiji, and with a military coup brewing there is a lot to worry about, and plans to make. I won't bring any of that up here since things are moving fast and I don't want anything I say to have implications for any of our staff or trainees in Fiji. But also because this is a fishy, not a political, blog.

I just wanted to make one quick point: Apart from the obvious human impacts of any governmental overthrow, there are often indirect effects on marine resources resulting from the fact that fisheries are the "resource of last resort" in times of hardship. After the first two military coups in Fiji, in 1987, some definite "signals" emerged from the fisheries statistics.


Interestingly, the spikes in production in 1988, the year after the coups, was not in the food fisheries or on local markets, but in export fisheries - the main village cash-earners. Rural people had food, but the downturn in the economy hurt their ability to cover the few extra essentials that needed cash, and the quickest way of raising cash in the outer islands was to sell some marine products to exporters.

SPC told to produce Pacific Islands Regional Ocean Report

One of the things that came out of the SPC Governing Council meeting a couple of weeks ago was a directive from Pacific Community governments and administrations for us to start putting together an "annual report" on the state of the Pacific Ocean in the western tropical Pacific islands region.

What it actually said was this:

CRGA noted:

that although regional tuna fisheries are comparatively well-reported, there is no annual regional report on the status of all fisheries, or other aspects of ocean use in the Pacific Islands region, and that such a report, based on the best available statistical and scientific data, and a fair balance of available opinions in cases where data is not available, would be valuable to national and international decision-makers. CRGA directed SPC’s Marine Resources Division to coordinate the production of a regular annual report addressing the status of the Western Tropical Pacific Ocean and its resources and uses, with the first report produced in time for consideration by CRGA 37

Now there is not actually a lot of hard information about what is happening under the water in this neck of the woods. There are a lot of opinions floating around, and a lot of patchy bits and pieces of information. And now we have the task of trying to tie it all together.

This is a fairly large area of water, as you can see from the map above, but we'll start small - based on what we already have - and keep adding year by year. Some of the existing sources of information, as CRGA points out, are the tuna fisheries summaries (see http://www.spc.int/oceanfish/) but also the coastal fisheries information is starting to fill out (http://www.spc.int/coastfish/Sections/reef/PROCFish_Web/default.aspx) and other regional organisations have collated ocean data from other sectors (e.g. http://www.sopac.org).

By this time next year we could have something useful in hand.

Friday, December 01, 2006

More on MPAs with fisheries objectives

In my posting last week on MPAs with fisheries objectives, I mentioned that we had been asked to provide some advice on the subject to Pacific Island fisheries departments. What I should also have mentioned was that we were specifically asked to try and cut through some of the confusing and complex issues being raised by both sides in what has become a very political debate, with targets being set, and "political will" being mobilised to achieve those targets, with more attention being paid to getting the message across than to considering what the message really means.

We were asked to simplify things for the benefit of fisheries managers. What do MPAs actually offer to fisheries managers?

When I read back what I wrote last week I realise that I didn't cut much confusion - possibly even added to it. I didn't state the basic question (above) clearly enough.

The bottom line, I think, is this:

  • There are many good justifications for setting up reserves and Marine Protected Areas, without needing to invoke fisheries management. However, "benefits for fisheries" are often quoted as additional justification.
  • If you are a fisheries manager, then examine these claims in isolation from the other claims for heritage benefits and biodiversity conservation. It is usually assumed that an MPA will have a beneficial effect on fisheries, but when you look at it closely it may not - except in the kinds of limited cases I outlined, such as protection for spawning areas for particular species (the trochus reserve on Saipan in the Northern Marianas Islands - see the map above - is likely to be an example), or if you can believe assumptions that larvae are widely distributed etc.
  • A no-take MPA may protect marine resources from fishing, but that is different from helping fisheries. As I suggested in my blog last week, an MPA might even promote fisheries collapse in surrounding areas, and will usually result in lower total food-fisheries production from the whole island.

It gets complicated when we consider the definition of the term "Marine Protected Area". Most people automatically assume that MPA means "Banned to fishing". But an MPA is usually defined as an area where human impact is restricted in some way, from light restrictions all the way through to complete no-go areas.

If you look at the definitions objectively you will find that most of the sea is already, technically, covered by MPAs which restrict use in one form or another through conventional and long-standing fisheries management measures - in different areas there may be gear restrictions, or limited entry licencing, or minimum size limits for fish in place. If your politicians have already declared to the international community that a certain percentage of the marine spaces in your island will become part of a "network of MPAs" then check what they mean by "MPA". You may already partly qualify.

For example, if the entire EEZ of a particular country is off-limits to whaling, it usually declares that the EEZ is a "whale sanctuary" and includes this in any discussion of MPA networks in relation to global targets. (Try googling the search terms ["South Pacific" "whale sanctuary" mpa] and see how many hits there are). But many entire Pacific Island EEZs are also off-limits to other fisheries, including driftnetting, and this does not get mentioned in any discussion of MPA networks because it came about through conventional fisheries management actions.

Anyway - if you are incensed by any of my comments, please read the previous blog on the subject. I am not anti-MPA. I'm just worried that the whole issue of "MPAs with fisheries management objectives" has not been thought through before possibly unsustainable claims are made for their benefits to fisheries.

I have no doubt about their benefits in other respects, and I strongly believe that there should be at least some places in the Pacific Islands region where mankind's foot is not allowed to fall too heavily. As long as the price is not entirely borne by rural communities. I reckon there IS a price, despite what is often claimed (try googling ["marine protected areas" "win-win"]) - "If you restrict fishing in this area today, you will reap better harvests in surrounding areas tomorrow". Perhaps. And perhaps not.

I welcome reasonable debate on this topic. That's the primary reason I put this up here, but I realise that this is a new blog, and judging by previous experience, it's likely to take a while before there is enough readership to sustain a discussion.