REACTION: Resource Enhancement Programmes: A Ticking Time Bomb?
I was invited by the SEAFDEC Aquaculture Department to deliver a paper on the International Conference on Resource Enhancement a few weeks ago -- specifically on how current and emerging technologies can support resource enhancement and sustainable aquaculture activities.
As this is a topic I have recently broached with fisheries researchers, I thought preparations for this would be minimal as I only need to tweak the topic to the aquaculture sector audience. I forgot about this only to be reminded a week before the event that the abstract deadline was way passed. In panic, I quickly scanned the website for the submitted abstracts and I realized that I could contribute better to the event by presenting an entirely different topic. I ended doing a presentation with the title: "Responsible Resource Enhancement: Are we Ready?
The topic I chose highlights the results of my readings, observations and ensuing discussions with colleagues during the conference which I summarize below.
- The term resource enhancement (RE), while used predominantly in connection with aquaculture, should be a generic term that may be used also to describe stock enhancement efforts in the capture fisheries, for instance improving management of fishing grounds for the recovery of depleted stocks.
- Aquaculture-based enhancement terminologies such as sea ranching, stock enhancement, restocking, reintroduction, supplementation are used loosely in papers, despite being distinct from each other, and are used to define specific goals of the resource enhancement activity, a situation that reflects the inadequate understanding of RE programmes.
- With sustainable aquaculture becoming mainstream, the aspect of responsible RE appears to have been left behind. When a paper on responsible RE was published in 1995 by Blankenship and Leber, these were never translated into a policy that could have helped ensure proper conduct of such programmes associated with very high environmental risk.
- Many programmes, including government sponsored ones, have failed. While challenges to undertake RE were greater in the past due to technological reasons (mainly to separate introduced from the wild population), it is the lack of national governing policies to promote responsible RE that are the cause of many of these failures. In the past, it was not deemed important to undertake risk assessment of such programmes, nor was it required for current programmes to develop and implement monitoring and mitigation plans.
- Responsible RE programmes call for a detailed planning and decision making process that sets the goal of the enhancement activities, provides monitoring using smart metrics and an evaluation plan that includes risk mitigation. More importantly, the decision to proceed should be based on a thorough risk-benefit analysis (modeling) considering the enormous environmental risks associated with the activity. Some of these risks include impact of hatchery bred/ reared seedlings mixing and reproducing with the wild population, potential disease infestation, domestication and genetic drift (defined as the decline of the genetic integrity).
- Research and modeling that support RE activities need to be enhanced. Current practices that pose high risk to the wild population include release of fingerlings or seeds in Marine Protected Areas. This violates the very core essence of one of the goals of MPAs, which is for biodiversity conservation that includes gene pool conservation.
- The current practices bring up the need to inform donors of such programmes on the potential environmental risk associated with RE efforts.
- A highly interesting paper was presented on how current aquaculture practices which include government-sponsored seed dispersal programmes promoting livelihood are actually contributing to the genetic drift. Genetic drift lowers the genetic makeup of the fish that is suspected to be causing poor growth performance and disease susceptibility. There is convincing evidence that without proper hatchery management, use and propagation of inbred broodstocks causes this genetic drift.
- Promotion of small scale aquaculture to promote livelihoods should consider the importance of sourcing seeds from well regulated hatcheries that maintain the genetic integrity of broodstocks.