Sustainable fisheries, island style | WWF
Sustainable fisheries, island style

Posted on 10 February 2017

Adaptive management, as applied via a simplified fish stock assessment method, puts fishing communities in the Western Province of Solomon Islands on the road to more sustainable resource management. Here’s how they’re doing it.
Sustainable fishing could very well be the key to survival for many fishing communities in the nations of the Coral Triangle. Through WWF’s Community-Based Fisheries Management (CBFM) Programme, WWF-Solomon Islands (SI) has been able to work closely with communities around the Western Province on sustainable fishing.

WWF-SI met with two of these communities, Nusatuva and Saeraghi, to review their management plans and refocus them on fisheries management, with the aim of improving fishing and ocean-harvesting practices, instituting size limits on one or two commonly used fish species, assessing threats to resources, and evaluating permanent and seasonal closures of fishing grounds.

Recently, Australian fisheries biologist Dr Jeremy Prince facilitated workshops for various communities on the Spawning Potential Survey (SPS) method for assessing sustainable fisheries. He taught fishers about fish spawning potential and has been coordinating the collection of data on fish stocks over the past few years in the Western Province.

SPS is a new, simplified method developed by Dr Prince and adopted by fishers in Ghizo, Solomon Islands, which uses length to assess the spawning potential of fish stocks, a technique specifically for application in situations with little existing scientific data and expertise, like those commonly found in developing countries.The implementation may be basic, but has proven to be effective in identifying size limits to help fishers ensure that the juveniles of important food species remain untouched.

SPS provides information that feeds into the adaptive management approach to sustainable fisheries. Because fisheries assessments are expensive and technically difficult to carry out, data collection in Solomon Islands has been a challenge. “Adaptive management is an important management approach for the CBFM Programme, specifically because working and engaging with communities, as well as provincial government officers, often involves managing uncertainty,” says WWF-SI CBFM Partnerships Development Officer Zelda Hilly. “This often requires flexible decision-making to adapt to the unexpected challenges that arise, while simultaneously ensuring the programme’s objectives are still being met. In the case of community-based fisheries co-management, adaptive management can be described as the process where the community develops and implements a management plan, monitors changes as a result of management, reviews the management experience, and then makes any required changes to the management plan or implementation.”

"An important aspect of our CBFM Programme is building on the traditional knowledge of local people. Solomon Islanders have had a long-standing relationship with their own environment and there is a wealth of traditional fisheries knowledge in communities. The work of CBFM not only highlights traditional knowledge, but uses scientific methods to substantiate and confirm what communities may have already known or seen from experience, thus building and strengthening on their practices,” adds Hilly.

Too ambitious

Hilly recounts how WWF recently facilitated the review of MPA management plans for two communities, and concluded that some elements were too ambitious or complex for the people to carry out. “Reviewing and adapting management plans regularly is necessary in order to ensure that communities continue to move forward. This will also ensure that CBFM goals and objectives can be met despite challenges. In some instances, government decisions, private sector drivers, and community expectations can differ considerably, so as a key facilitator, WWF, through adaptive management, needs to support and provide advice where needed to ensure successful management impacts.”

Such a mindset ensures that both the community’s CBFM plans and implementation, and WWF’s own CBFM Programme and work plans are assessed and adjusted as required.

WWF-SI’s CBFM work looks into community- and rights-based approaches to fisheries management for the sustainable, fair, and legal use of natural resources, to improve livelihoods and food security for the people in these coastal fishing communities. “To achieve this, we are using innovative approaches to sustainable fisheries and fisheries management, as well as enhancing government capacity to support rights-based fisheries co-management,” says Hilly. “Recently, the key focus for the programme has been to help fishers understand the status of their fish stocks, and then work with them to agree on practical management options.”

The SPS is a method that uses the length of the animal as a determinant of its spawning potential and as a stock status indicator. The technique, Hilly explains, involves comparing the size reached by surviving fish in any location, to the size at which they start to reproduce. Assessments can be made by just measuring a few hundred fish, reducing the cost and time required for study, and yielding findings that are easily translated into simple management actions.

Collecting data requires minimal training, allowing the fishers to do it themselves. “Experience with the technique in developing countries shows that not only do fishers readily understand the technique, but involving communities in the data collection prepares them to implement the management prescribed by the assessment’s results,” Hilly says.

The SPS method supports a number of different components of the CBFM Programme, including community engagement and awareness, fisheries management, and monitoring and measure of reef fish populations. “With basic training, fishing communities can conduct their own assessments,” says Hilly. “It involves community members, particularly women, in data collection, and assessment helps them understand problems of overfishing, prepares them to implement appropriate management strategies, and allows them to monitor and obtain direct feedback on management actions.”

Stealing the fish

Setting size limits allows the people themselves, for example, to make changes to fishing gear and techniques, set permanent or seasonal reef closures, and act on the lack of community awareness regarding the importance of setting such limits to ensure the sustainability of marine resources.  “A key concern often brought up by communities is the fear that nearby communities will steal the fish they are trying to protect, especially because rules and regulations are difficult to enforce,” Hilly notes, “so community awareness for all nearby communities is still an issue that needs to be addressed.”

A challenge with CBFM is how to make new practices sustainable over time, even after the duration of the project. Thus, local ownership and project continuity are goals for the long term. “The reality is that we are talking about generational change, and that obviously takes time,” says Hilly. “This is why, in addition to working with community fishers and leaders, we are also working closely with the provincial fisheries officers to ensure they have the understanding, skills, and resources to be more directly involved with the CBFM Programme, with the idea that they will eventually become the leaders in facilitating community-based fisheries co-management. In the past, these officers have been included in some of the workshops carried out by various organisations, including WWF, but they have not had the resources to support or implement CBFM themselves.”

The Western Province Provincial Fisheries Division is in the process of expanding their fisheries staff, some of whom will be focused on CBFM, Hilly notes. WWF-SI is also set to sign Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with both the national Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, and the Western Province Provincial Government, allowing the NGO to formally assist provincial fisheries and help build capacity around CBFM, thus maximising the chances of long-term CBFM support to communities. WWF-SI plays a key facilitation role, made possible by donors WWF-Netherlands, WWF-Australia, Australian Government Aid, John West Australia, and a grant from the Pacific Regional Environmental Office of the US State Department.

As WWF-SI so aptly noted in a social media post on their work “We wait for fruits to become ripe before we pick them. In the same way, we should wait for fish to reach maturity and breed before we fish them!”
Zelda (WWF staff) is initiating discussions with members on the Nusatuva management committee about the concerns they have regarding their management plan.
© Nicoline Poulsen
A key component of meeting with management committees is encouraging members to develop goals/objectives and initiate discussions about what they need in their community. This photograph shows presentations carried out by members in the Saeraghi management committee.
© Nicoline Poulsen
Dr. Jeremy Prince was consulted by WWF to carry out training workshops on SPS for local communities around Gizo. Here the fishers of Saeraghi are learning how to measure fish length using measuring boards, determine gender and maturity by looking at fish gonads, and identify fish species using the species guide books provided.
© Nicoline Poulsen