Looking to the future of small-scale coastal fisheries

by Peter Griffin and OFMP News | 20 September 2023 | News

All over the Pacific Islands region, island nations are increasingly looking to target inshore pelagic fish such as tuna and other species to provide vital sustenance and income to local communities.

Catching inshore pelagic fish could be boosted by the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs). These are anchored or drifting floating structures, that suspend material such as palm fronds to create an environment that attracts fish.  

Why this is the case remains the subject of conjecture, but theories range from FADs aggregating small fish which establish a localised food chain for larger fish to feed, to them acting as places to congregate as part of the fishes’ migratory habits in the search for food and appropriate climes.

Whatever the case, we know that all pelagic fish have always been drawn to floating logs or debris. Hugh Walton, a former project manager at the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), notes that “across the Pacific FADs have made fishing efforts more efficient for both oceanic and coastal fisheries since the 1970s”.

“When I worked for the then South Pacific Commission (now the Pacific Community – SPC) in the early nineties, there was already an active community-based FAD programme deploying them in suitable coastal spots off seamounts for local fisheries,” says Walton.

Check out TunaPacific’s previous coverage of fish aggregating devices (FADs).

FADs – an important coastal fishing tool 

With increasing fishing pressure on reefs and lagoons, coastal and nearshore FADS have played an increasingly important role in offering food security for communities across the Pacific Islands region. 

Ongoing efforts from international and regional organisations, NGOs and National Fisheries Administrations, have assisted communities to realise greater livelihood benefits and food security from the use of FADs, by learning to construct, deploy and fish them.

“In most island nations, there have been national FAD programmes running for some years, often driven by specific project support. It has been challenging to sustain these beyond the life of these projects as there hasn’t been the resources within national administrations to keep them going,” Walton says.

FAD maintenance – replacing coconut palm fronds

The FFA, SPC, FAO Nouméa workshop

“The question is how do we make them sustainable on an ongoing basis?”

That will be the focus of an upcoming workshop to be hosted by SPC in Nouméa from the 7th to the 10th of November.

The workshop is funded by the Global Environment Facility and FFA-implemented third Oceanic Fisheries Management Project (OFMP3) and the World Bank’s Pacific Islands Regional Oceanscape Program – Second Phase for Economic Resilience (PROPER) initiative.

“The idea is to bring together representatives from national FAD program managers and fishing communities, regional agency technical advisers, project managers and FAD experts,” Walton says.

The work builds on the ongoing FAD support program of the Pacific Community (SPC) and projects implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) which have paired experienced master fishers with community groups to share knowledge on how best to strengthen and sustain FAD programmes. 

The workshop will look to build on experiences to date and focus on building sustainable national FAD programs as a means to enhance livelihood benefits and food security. This will include technical, operational and policy perspectives including training and data needs, budgeting and procurement, site assessment, deployment, and maintenance requirements. 

There will also be sessions around safety, fishing practices, and post-harvest handling. 

An additional focus will look at the small-scale trade of inshore pelagic fish at local community markets, particularly where there is access to tuna by-catch from in-port transhipment where there can be bartering opportunities to “generate income and provide affordable access to quality protein,” Walton says. 

Find out more about the rules relating to FAD use on the high seas in the OFMP Catch and Harvest resource hub.

Fish are attracted to debris in the water and palm fronds form good natural materials for FADs.

Fish are attracted to debris in the water and palm fronds form good natural materials for FADs.

Supporting women in the community fish trade

Efforts to support the important role women play in processing and marketing fish caught in FAD fisheries and fish that are obtained from tuna transhipment will also be explored. 

“It’s all part of consolidating strategies to broaden the focus in oceanic fisheries to support coastal fisheries targeting inshore pelagic fish, so communities have other options and opportunities to adapt and to meet the challenges of climate change and growing pressure on reef and lagoon fisheries,” adds Walton.

The FAO estimates that by 2030, 16 of the 22 Pacific Island countries and territories will no longer be able to meet their current per capita fish consumption requirements.

“We need to have new strategies in place to respond to environmental and socio-economic changes,” says Walton.

“The overall scope of the joint FFA/SPC/FAO workshop is to consolidate national strategies to build sustainable coastal and nearshore FAD programmes. The workshop is a great opportunity to look at how we make the best use of our resources to assist communities that rely on these coastal fisheries targeting inshore pelagic fish.”