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Thursday, April 05, 2007

SPC Species identification manual

The Secretariat of the Pacific Community has just put a new manual on the website, on marine species identification for longline fishermen and observers.

There is some very nice artwork in here, and it cost us a fair amount to produce, so please give SPC credit if you "borrow" it. However, as long as you do not make money out of it, we are happy for this information to be used for educational and fisheries management purposes.

Apologies if it downloads slowly. New Caledonia-based servers have to squeeze their bits through a relatively small pipe.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Pacific Island Fisheries Management Capacity Database

The idea I posted a few blogs ago, about the possibility of a regional fisheries development index, has matured a little since then. Particularly after attending the FAO Committee on Fisheries meeting (COFI) and seeing the high importance that is placed on this kind of national overview information at the global level, particularly for planning future work.

A "fisheries development index" is not really the right term, and has too many competitive connotations. On the other hand, there are several things which are already in the pipeline, and which can all be tied together under the heading of a regional "Fisheries Capacity Database".

  • One of these is the fact that SPC has already been requested by member governments (SPC Heads of Fisheries) to develop a "fisheries capacity database". It is possible that some people think that the word "capacity" is synonymous with "training" but I see this as being "fisheries ecosystem management" capacity, of which the level of personnel development is just a part;
  • We have also been tasked by member countries (SPC Committee of Representatives of Governments and Administrations) with producing an annual report for them on the status of the Pacific Ocean. This may seem a little grandiose, but we take heart from the fact that this is to be incrementally developed using the "best available information". In some sectors, such as tuna fisheries, this is good information, in others it is sketchy - but by putting it all together at least we will all have a better idea of where the gaps lie;
  • We have just signed an agreement with FAO to update the FAO "Country Fisheries Profiles"for Pacific Island FAO members, and the information required for this exercise will slot straight into the database;
  • Another is the need that keeps coming up through FAO and other international organisations, for better summary information on fisheries, not just on the status of stocks, but on what fisheries development projects have been historically implemented by donors, or by the countries themselves, on what sort of management systems (including traditional and community rights-based systems) are already in place, and even what vessels have been prosecuted or cited by that country for IUU fishing.
At the moment this information is not collected in a systematic way, except for certain topics, and where it is collected it is not necessarily compiled into a historical series.

We're not going to duplicate the FAO databases. This will be a compilation of information that will be used first and foremost to produce the reports that our member countries have requested from us, but we will make sure that this information is compatible with, and contributes towards, global databases.

We will also make sure that the confidentiality requirements of member countries, contributing organisations, and individuals are satisfied. We already have policies covering the use of coastal and oceanic fisheries information, although these may need to be refined as we start looking at new types of information. The main mechanism for linking local information to global databases will be aggregation and summarisation, so sensitive details are not transmitted.

However, this will not be a "database" in the conventional sense of the word. Although it will be electronically compiled using a standard and comparable set of fields, the information will be very miscellaneous, and some will be textual rather than numerical. I guess the word "knowledge-base" might cover it, but all of these terms have unwanted, and sometimes grandiose, connotations. The emphasis here will not be on system design, but first and foremost on compiling the actual information, in such a way that can be later analysed and re-used.

I guess the final point to make is that this will be primarily my responsibility, since I'm the only person at SPC who can link all of these areas without a change in duty statement. We don't have a big new project to do this, or extra resources, so it won't be hugely sophisticated or highly detailed in the first instance. As well as putting together as much existing information as possible from SPC historical sources, I also intend to harness the considerable potential of SPC staff who are travelling to island member countries on their regular assignments, and ask them to try and find out more on a standard set of topics, in each country they visit. It may take some of them out of their comfort zone, but I don't intend for it to detract in any way from their assigned tasks.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Fisheries blogging - is it sustainable?

I've put up 16 items on this weblog over the past three months, of varying degrees of "heaviness". These have attracted the grand total of two comments. This wouldn't be an issue if there were plenty of pageviews, but the one page I installed a counter shows that there aren't many hits.

I know from experience that, even if people appreciate an information-source, getting feedback from the readership can be like getting blood out of a stone. I also know from experience that it takes a while for the readership of a blog to build up, assuming it is worth reading in the first place.

And that is my dilemma. At this stage I don't know if it is simply a matter of time before what I put out here reaches "critical mass", or whether it is simply uninteresting.

I'll continue a little while longer though, and see what happens. Next week, when I'll be at the FAO Committee on Fisheries meeting, should provide plenty of food for thought ...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

10 commandments to save world fisheries

I just saw a new item at http://news.mongabay.com/2007/0218-fisheries.html entitled
"10 commandments that could save world fisheries"

A team from the University of Oregon (as far as I can make out - please correct me if I'm wrong) were making a presentation on Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco. According to the news article, they have proposed 10 commandments for fisheries managers "to protect the world's marine fish populations while ensuring ongoing production of sea food in a sustainable manner".

These are:

  1. "Keep a perspective that is holistic, precautionary and adaptive. We must consider whole systems, we must fish with more caution, and we must learn by testing new approaches. Instead of talking about ecosystem management, we refer to 'ecosystem-based' management, because it's misguided to think that we can totally understand or completely control entire marine ecosystems."
  2. "Question every assumption, no matter how basic it is or what the conventional wisdom suggests." The group says that some traditional fishery goals -- like "maximum sustainable yield" -- are based on flawed concepts.
  3. Maintain an 'old growth' structure in fish populations, since big, old, fat, female fish have been shown to be the best spawners, but are also susceptible to overfishing.
  4. Characterize and maintain the natural spatial structure of fish stocks, so that management boundaries match natural boundaries in the sea.
  5. Monitor and maintain seafloor habitats to make sure fish have food and shelter.
  6. Maintain resilient ecosystems which are able to withstand occasional shocks.
  7. Identify and maintain critical food-web connections, including predators and forage species.
  8. Adapt to ecosystem changes through time, both short-term and on longer cycles of decades or centuries, including global climate change.
  9. Account for evolutionary changes caused by fishing, which tends to remove large, older fish.
  10. Include the actions of humans and their social and economic systems in all ecological equations.
The presenters wound up by saying that "nowhere in the world are all of these 'commandments' being followed perfectly."

Now, does anybody actually have any major argument against any of these "10 commandments"?

I don't think I do, although of course it is easier to follow some of them than others. And I suspect that some of them are probably more important, or critical, to the aim of "protecting the world's marine fish populations while ensuring ongoing production of sea food in a sustainable manner" than others.

I'd argue with some of details, like the insistence on using the phrase "ecosystem-based management" instead of "ecosystem management" because "it's misguided to think that we can totally understand or completely control entire marine ecosystems". I worry that this uses the same logic as the people who say that because we can't always do single species-based management successfully yet, so what hope of doing ecosystem-based management? It misses the point. It's not about absolute control - its about looking at the bigger picture.

More anon, perhaps, when I've digested these a bit more thoroughly, and checked out what some of the gurus have said on these subjects. Like all blogs, the main purpose of bringing this to your attention is to see what other people think, so I'd welcome any comments from you ...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Pacific Islands Fisheries Management Index

I first put forward this idea ooh 19 years ago when I attended my first SPC meeting as a Pacific Island member country representative, but was told that there was no way that it would fly. It would cause too much internal friction - it would divide rather than unite the Pacific Islands.

Well things have moved on a bit since then, and for several years the region has completely accepted several "indicators-by-nation" including the Millennium Development Goal indicators, the UNDP Human Development Index, and the Environmental Vulnerability Index. SPC even has its own specialised national indicator-tracking unit called PRISM.

Estimated Australian ODA to the Pacific by country 2005-06

Now, I reckon the time is ripe for a regional fisheries-specific index which covers the SPC membership, and gives everyone a better idea of where they stand. The developing countries and small island states would also be able to get a bit of a global perspective on their fisheries management performance by seeing how they stack up in relation to our bigger members: Australia, France, New Zealand and USA.

The only questions are: what indicators to use, and how to actually get the information. It's not exactly lying around on the internet waiting to be "data-mined", and there's no money for huge new research projects.

Suggestions on the back of an envelope please, or as comments to this blog ...

P.S. Here's a very rough start we made a few years ago

from www.spc.int/coastfish/Reports/ICFMAP/UNDPHL.HTM

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fisheries livelihood diversification

In my last blog posting I mentioned Bob Gillett's name in connection with the publication of an FAO/SPC-sponsored review of issues in spearfishery management in the Pacific Islands region.

Bob Gillett enquires whether this Tongan trochus is F1 or F2?
(photo linked from the SPC trochus information bulletin)

Young Bob is nothing if not productive, and he has also just put together the final draft of a short review of "alternative income generation" or "livelihood diversification", as a fishery management tool.

The spearfishery review mentioned in the last blog posting was the result of visiting a bunch of countries and interviewing a lot of people, all in the context of several decades of personal experience. This alternative livelihoods review however was the result of getting several people from different countries together in Noumea, locking them in a room, and trying to reach consensus opinions on the basis of their various experiences.

It is likely to take some time before the paper is published, so I want to release a preview here. It should provide some food for thought, particularly for those who are about to embark on fishery management or conservation actions and who may assume that there are simple, well-established ways of accommodating those who are affected by these decisions, short of a direct buy-out, or who hope that people can be reliably be "diverted" from particular fisheries, thus avoiding the need for expensive management interventions.

The abstract says:

  • The use of livelihood diversification has long been promoted for relieving fishing pressure on inshore marine resources of the Pacific Islands region. Four main types of alternative activities have been promoted to reduce fishing pressure: aquaculture, fish aggregation devices, deep reef slope fishing, and alternatives outside the fishing sector. In reviewing the situation over the last thirty years, it is difficult to identify cases where the use of livelihood diversification as an inshore management tool could be considered clearly successful. It is relatively easy to cite examples of livelihood diversification failure, but a potentially more productive exercise is to identify successes. Past experience in the use of livelihood diversification points to some important overall conclusions. Perhaps the most important lesson learned about livelihood diversification in the Pacific Islands is that its performance has not been to the level where it can be considered an effective resource management tool. In many cases, livelihood diversification could even be a distraction that deters communities from gaining an awareness of the need for, and benefits of, more effective forms of marine resource management.
The paper itself is currently entitled "Livelihood Diversification as a Marine Resource Management Tool in the Pacific Islands: Lessons Learned", and the authorship is Robert Gillett, Garry Preston, Warwick Nash, Hugh Govan , Tim Adams and Michelle Lam. The work itself was sponsored by WorldFish and SPC. Keep an eye open for it.

We hope that there will be several more papers on "lessons learned" about fisheries development and management in this series. We've done one or two things like this in the past (our 1993 article on "Pacific Island Lobster Fisheries: Bonanza or Bankruptcy?" was an archetype), and these have proven to be popular (the lobster paper was the most-hit item on the SPC website for several years - overtaken only when we introduced a recipes page), but they do pose a dilemma for us as an intergovernmental agency: - how far can we go in being critical of things happening in our member countries?

Obviously national fisheries planners can learn as much from from failures as they can from successes. But when hard information is scarce, and when the judgement of success or failure depends upon consensus opinion, the publication of that opinion might have an unwarranted effect on individual or national reputations.

However, I notice that there is very little hesitation to publish success stories, and in terms of lessons learned, "false positives" can be just as damaging to the broader development effort as "false negatives" might be to individual reputations.

As a result, we have hesitated to do much in this area, but history is valuable, and when you see decisions being made in favour of actions that you know have failed in the past, it probably does more harm than good to avoid talking about past mistakes.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Spearfishery management

A news item from New Caledonia. You may have seen it already since it has hit the world press:

A fisherman survived a shark attack in New Caledonia, France, by poking the creature in the eye as it shook him “like a rag”, he told a newspaper yesterday. Jesse Jizdny, a 30-year-old policeman, said the tiger shark went for him three times last week while he was fishing with friends off the northwestern coast of the French South Pacific territory.

“I saw a big tiger (shark) coming with its jaws open. I saw all its teeth. He went for my torso and I thought, ‘that’s it, I’m done for’,” Jizdny told the Nouvelles Caledoniennes newspaper from his hospital bed. He hit the shark on its nose but it came back at him and caught his ankle. Then it charged a third time and grabbed a leg. “It was shaking me like a rag. I bent round on him and put my hands on its jaws. Suddenly I felt something soft. So I put my whole thumb in, it was its eye.” The shark let go and swam away, while Jizdny was airlifted to hospital in the capital Noumea where he underwent an operation on his injured leg.

So just be careful next time you go spearfishing. Tigers aren't too choosy about what (or who) they eat, especially when there are dead fish nearby.

Photo linked from ScottS at flickr - www.flickr.com/photos/scotts101/55399115/

Which reminds me, FAO has just published our joint review of Spearfishing in the Pacific Islands ("current status and management issues"). Bob Gillett did almost all the legwork and writing on this, and it makes a useful read for anyone who is interested in one of the biggest headaches facing fisheries managers in this region.

It is ironic that so much is being spent on trying to get Pacific Island governments aboard initiatives to control international deepsea trawling in the oceanic tropical Pacific Islands when there IS no significant deepsea trawling in the region, but trying to get resources together to do something about an existing national management headache like commercial spearfishing is like trying to get blood out of a stone. It took quite a while to persuade FAO to climb aboard this review, but climb aboard they did, and eventually paid 66% of the costs of visiting 5 Pacific Island countries to gather the background information, as well as the publication costs.

Trouble is, this is a fishery without an international aspect, and local fisheries don't attract a lot of attention from funding sources nowadays. You don't get to speak for your country at the United Nations, and there is no high-profile international law governing it. I'm just glad that FAO, especially through the FishCode programme, is keeping its eye on the real issues, and not just pursuing the high profile internationally-combative stuff like the rest of the pack.

Well, we've got a concise statement of the issues. Now to try and find support for workable on-the-water control systems. This will require not just fishing community awareness, but a certain level of central government legislation and enforcement, as well as the rewriting of many national development strategies that still refer to the "teeming bounty of the sea", and which promote economic livelihoods through reef-fishing without considering the likely ecological limitations.

And this is one fisheries management issue where marine protected areas, in the form of seasonal or permanent "spawning aggregation" protection, is likely to be one of the most useful components to any management strategy.

The final document itself is not yet online, but it should be so shortly, and you should eventually be able to find it via http://www.fao.org/figis/servlet/static?xml=fishcode_prog.xml&dom=org&xp_nav=5,1

A draft version is however available on the SPC 5th Heads of Fisheries Meeting website at http://www.spc.int/coastfish/Reports/HOF5/HOF5-spearfishing-web.pdf

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Apologies for the long silence. I've been on leave, back home in Scotland, and when I'm on leave I try to avoid thinking about fish as much as possible. (A bit difficult when you live in an ex-fishing village near two of the biggest remaining fishing ports on the Scottish east coast, but it can be achieved by putting your fingers in your ears and singing very loudly). Trouble is, I don't know much about British fisheries. My entire fisheries career has been spent in the Pacific, and I left Scotland with a degree in botany of all things. However, having spent the last 20 years trying to encourage Pacific Island governments to bring fishing communities into the management process, it is always a shock to go back home and find that the European Union has been doing the exact opposite. Its only recently that even regional consultative systems have been set up.

It reminds me of the days when I was managing a UK government-funded project to help Pacific Island countries set up integrated coastal fishery management planning frameworks, and I asked our SPC UK representative to see if London would send us some UK examples, to see if they could be used as models for Pacific processes, given that many Pacific Island countries legal systems are ultimately British in origin. The word came back that, sorry, but the UK hadn't actually got any coastal fishery plans up and running yet. I can foresee a time, in the not too distant future, when the Pacific Islands will be providing development assistance to the UK :-) Unfortunately the UK has withdrawn from membership of SPC to concentrate on needier parts of the world. Apparently we're doing pretty well here by comparison, not only in fisheries.

But this blog is not about international one-upmanship. It's about oneFish.

I'm not going to describe oneFish to you because it describes itself well enough on the website (http://www.onefish.org/), just draw it to your attention, because oneFish is coming to a crossroads in its career. This multi-user web-portal aims to become THE global repository for, or reference to, all research relating to fisheries, and it is making a fair fist of the job, despite a few hiccups in the early stages. But a donor funding cycle has come to an end and FAO now has to decide if it can afford to provide basic financial support to continue it.

You might think of oneFish as being a bit like Wikipedia - it depends mainly on the people who use it for its content - as well as having some dedicated staff feeding it and weeding it. And like any wiki project (I've been involved in one or two) it requires a certain "critical mass" of contributions to become sustainable.

I reckon it's there now though, and personally I consider it has become an invaluable resource. It is patchy, like any user-supported knowledge-base - some users are more dedicated than others. But it is worth it even if only for the areas that it does cover well, like IIFET, and archives of various email discussion groups. And the other areas will fill out as its popularity increases. For fisheries organisations and projects that don't already have their own websites, oneFish provides a "virtual office" facility. For others, like SPC, there will be no point in duplicating existing websites by trying to port everything to oneFish, and we simply provide links to our own websites. But, if we needed to publicise our work a bit more widely we could register each document, event & project individually.

I have one or two complaints about the interface - it always takes me a while to figure out exactly where the area that I'm supposed to be responsible for is located. Is it under "virtual offices" or under "stakeholder organisations"? And the URLs for individual topics are not exactly intuitive. The SPC page, for example, is located at http://www.onefish.org/servlet/CDSServlet?status=ND0yODEyNyY2PWVuJjMzPWRvY3VtZW50cyYzNz1rb3M. And everything entered has to be approved by a topic editor before it appears, even within your own "virtual office". But then I have complaints about every unfamiliar interface.

So please take a look at the oneFish portal. It needs all the support it can get right now, and I reckon it is well worth supporting because it is useful resource - and getting more and more useful every day.
P.S. No pretty pictures today because I can't get blogger's graphics to work.