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Fisheries: Seeing is believing


Boy, the Americans really know how to bake a good bran muffin.  This was one of the small discoveries I made while attending a conference recently in San Diego, California.

The conference in question was the 8th International Fisheries Observer and Monitoring Conference (IFOMC) and is the only conference series of its kind which looks at the many issues surrounding fisheries monitoring programmes.  A bit niche you might say, and you’d probably be right, yet monitoring fisheries is an essential element of sustainable fisheries management, but one which is all too often overlooked.

There were close to 250 representatives at the meeting from 30 countries, ranging from the observers themselves and the administrators who run monitoring programmes, to the folk who develop electronic monitoring technology and the scientists who work with the data collected from trips. I was one of four WWF representatives presenting at the conference alongside colleagues from WWF New Zealand, Indonesia and the US.

My reason for attending was to present a talk on our advocacy here in Europe around the report that WWF produced last year,  ‘Remote Electronic Monitoring in Fisheries Management’  on electronic monitoring using cameras and how it represents the most cost effective solution to large scale monitoring.  I also wrote about this  in my last blog back in February.

Team WWF - Mike Osmond, WWF-US; Wahyu Teguh Prawira, WWF-ID; Bubba Cook, WWF-NZ, Helen McLachlan, WWF-UK © Helen McLachlanTeam WWF – Mike Osmond, WWF-US; Wahyu Teguh Prawira, WWF-ID; Bubba Cook, WWF-NZ, Helen McLachlan, WWF-UK © Helen McLachlan

As you can imagine, I was keen to pick the brains of others who had introduced electronic monitoring, to explore some of the barriers and how these were overcome in a practical way.  Given that the attendees at this conference were some of the most experienced in the business there was no better place to do it.

Fish are a public resource, governments have an obligation to manage them effectively

The conference kicked off with two keynote speakers from the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administrations’ (NOAA) both of whom set the scene by pointing out the importance of monitoring for effective fisheries management.  Fish are a publicly owned natural resource and a key element of future food security, representing 17% of global protein. This makes it paramount that we monitor them effectively and essential that we are able to collect accurate data on removals of fish in order to inform sustainable management.

Which is why so many delegates were utterly shocked to hear that in Europe we’re introducing a discard ban, yet there are very few vessels carrying either observers or cameras,  meaning we have very little data on what is going on at sea.  As one delegate put it, it’s really just a paper ban then isn’t it?

It’s so important this is not the case.  Not only will fisheries and fish stocks fail to reap the intended benefits of the landing obligation – reduced levels of unwanted fish being removed from the sea and more fish biomass as a result, leading to healthier, more resilient fisheries – it could also mean we lose access to what little observer data is already being collected.  This could weaken stock assessments and could potentially undermine the management system as a result.  All this at a time when, in the northeast Atlantic at least, we’re seeing positive trends in fishing mortality (decreasing)  and fish biomass (increasing).  It also represents a huge reputational risk for the industry and its supply chain if there’s a suspicion of illicit discarding still occurring.

That’s why WWF in Europe is keen to make sure that effective monitoring and control is highlighted and implemented hand in hand with the new measures.

Red Gurnard © Naturepl.com/Toby Roxburgh/WWFRed Gurnard © Naturepl.com/Toby Roxburgh/WWF

Europe can learn lessons from other countries

We certainly have much to learn from other countries like Canada and the US where some fisheries have 100% monitoring and in some cases 100% electronic monitoring.  Fisheries in British Columbia have highlighted some of the key benefits that they have experienced since having cameras onboard.  For example they have managed to use camera data to improve stock assessments which have resulted in higher quotas.  They have also been able to demonstrate their best practice credentials and show others how sustainable the fishery really is. Initial concerns over the intrusiveness of cameras onboard were soon overcome and they now report to not noticing them being there.

There was also a great session on how we observe and monitor artisanal or smaller fisheries, which showcased some of the innovative work going on in places like Indonesia, Peru and Equador where low cost options are being developed and trialled to good effect.  These fisheries have also demonstrated that even the smallest single man operated vessels can take a camera to monitor activities onboard.

Fishing boat with camera onboard © Grant CourseFishing boat with camera onboard © Grant Course

Taking the good with the bad, we should also learn from some of the mistakes of others such as in Chile when they introduced a discards ban. They failed to monitor and enforce effectively and it is thought that this contributed to the collapse of some of their fisheries.  The Chilean authorities are now considering 100% monitoring with either observers or electronic monitoring.

Technology is developing all the time as was demonstrated at the conference by the various developers of electronic monitoring kit.  What a missed opportunity though as there weren’t any European administrators present to take advantage of such a wealth of knowledge and experience at a time when they so need it.  However it was great to hear that the next conference will be held in 2018 in Vigo, Spain so there will no excuse then.

We will be doing all we can to encourage European decision makers and industry to attend and hopefully learn a few things from the IFOMC stalwarts.  And of course we’ll look forward to discovering what pastry delights Spain has to offer!

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