Fisheries in the Asia-Pacific region are turning ‘blue’ | WWF
Fisheries in the Asia-Pacific region are turning ‘blue’

Posted on 10 April 2016

Back from the 6th Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission Regional Consultative Forum Meeting, WWF's Dr Jose Ingles reports on the issue of blue growth, and how the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management is fundamental to achieve it.
The work of WWF in sustainable fisheries in the Asia-Pacific region figured significantly in the recommendations of the Sixth Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission (APFIC) Regional Consultative Forum Meeting (RCFM), “Promoting blue growth in fisheries and aquaculture in the Asia-Pacific,” held in Colombo, Sri Lanka last February 8-10, 2016.

The meeting was attended by 54 participants from 15 countries and various regional organisations, including Dr Jose Ingles, WWF’s Coral Triangle Programme (CTP) Coordinator for Fishery Improvement Projects and Policy.

RCFM’s recommendations and conclusions touched on WWF’s work in aquaculture, the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM), small-scale fisheries, and increased awareness on sustainable seafood.

It was acknowledged that the “blue growth” approach was already being employed by countries and organisations in the Asia-Pacific. Often used interchangeably with a “blue economy,” blue growth is a long-term strategy emphasising conservation and management, through the sustainable use of all marine and maritime resources. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), such growth aims to build resilience in coastal communities and restore the productivity of fisheries and aquaculture for food security, poverty alleviation, and improved aquatic resource management.

The forum stated that further promotion of the approach in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors will certainly benefit food security, human well-being, and environmental integrity—but first, the concept of blue growth must be clearly defined.

To this end, the forum recommended the drafting of a document by the FAO, clarifying blue growth-related concepts, how they should be implemented, and the global frameworks being used to implement them, such as FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF), International Plans of Action (IPOAs) to deter Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, and EAFM, among others.

Seafood driven

Blue growth is likewise a relevant concept in the Coral Triangle, notes Dr Ingles, because “the Coral Triangle region depends on natural assets, and is primarily seafood driven.”

The RCFM noted opportunities for blue growth in the Asia-Pacific’s marine fisheries, as seen in the success of small-scale fisheries that have adapted the use of information technology for efficient management, are using selective gear, and are getting better prices for their catch. Meanwhile, the recovery of overfished or overexploited capture fisheries should also be supported, it was recommended, to ensure that they can make “an optimal contribution to blue growth.”

The forum qualified, however, that growth in capture fisheries cannot be equated with increased production, and may actually mean decreased fishing and even lower employment for fishers. “That is the paradox,” says Dr Ingles. “We must reduce the fishing effort to allow the population to rise. If it remains business as usual, fisheries will certainly decline. We have to settle the issue of renewability of resource.”

Mitigation and compensation must also be considered, says Dr Ingles. “In fisheries, scientists refer to biological limits for certain species. If we go past those limits, the fisheries are in danger of collapse. Governments and other stakeholders must decide what level to maintain. It will truly entail some social and economic pain to address the issue.”

The forum further recommended developing strategies for blue growth using EAFM. This will include, among other steps, conducting fisheries assessments to set realistic catch targets, identifying critical habitats and rehabilitating degraded ones, identifying locally managed marine areas, combating IUU fishing, promoting fuel efficiency in operations, and more.

‘EAFM emphasizes interconnectedness’

“EAFM is still the answer, because it looks at the ecosystem, not just one species,” says Dr Ingles. “For example, you may have very good and low-impact tuna handline fisheries, but if the bait is overexploited, the tuna will still disappear. You may be very careful with the tuna, but if other fisheries suffer, the tuna will have nothing to eat. EAFM emphasises the interconnectedness of everything.”

Fisheries improvement projects (FIPs), meanwhile, provide a framework by which to approach EAFM, adds Dr Ingles. “Sometimes, people may not understand the concept of EAFM. FIPs help to contextualise it and implement it on the water.”

RCFM, which was hosted by the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development, Government of Sri Lanka, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the APFIC, also recommended developing a regional cooperation programme to push blue growth, and to ensure that such initiatives are genuinely “blue.” In marine fisheries, this can be carried out through capacity building and management planning, regional EAFM and vessel monitoring system training courses, collaboration on port state measures, and cooperation in dealing with transboundary fisheries.

Dr Ingles also notes the importance of regional platforms to help disseminate information. “The Coral Triangle Fishers Forum and the Coral Triangle Initiative Regional Business Forum, both established by the WWF Coral Triangle Programme, are mentioned in the recommendations as examples of platforms for sharing knowledge,” he says. “Such platforms allow different interactions, like fisheries with business, and business with government, allowing all the sectors to bring forward their aspirations, with business and environment as key issues.”

With blue growth becoming more well-known, and more countries wanting to jump on the bandwagon without truly understanding the implications, RCFM pointed out the required safeguards to ensure human and environmental well-being. Clean technology, shared access and rights, sustained environmental services, economic viability, and lower environmental impact are some of the essential characteristics of blue growth initiatives. With careful planning and no “unplanned rush,” as RCFM noted, the fisheries of the Asia-Pacific and other regions may be turning a healthy shade of blue in the near future.
Tun Mustapha Park, Kudat, Sabah
© WWF-Malaysia / Mazidi Abd Ghani