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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.

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