A new song for Pacific coastal fisheries, representing a pathway to change, was the centrepiece of recommendations to emerge from a fisheries forum which ended today at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) headquarters in Noumea.
Marine scientists, government officials, natural resource managers, researchers, community fishers and non-governmental organisations from 24 countries and territories shared their knowledge and experience this week to help shape the pathway that will be considered at the 9th biennial Pacific Heads of Fisheries meeting next week.
The workshop was clear that a new, innovative approach to dealing with declines in coastal fisheries resources and related ecosystems is needed, based on a return to community-based ecosystem approaches to fisheries management, and complementing the Melanesian Spearhead Group Roadmap.
“Simply put, more of the same won’t do and a new song for change is needed,” the pathway states.
Community fisheries management is all about encouraging local fishing communities to be responsible for the management of their coastal fisheries and the marine environment.
The pathway recognises that combining traditional knowledge with scientific recommendations can produce resource management plans for well-defined community areas.
What then needs to follow is a process to validate a management plan at the community level, then the provincial level, with all the administrative and legal steps to formalize a national plan.
“If you look across the Pacific, there are probably 600 to 800 pilot sites where people are trying different methodologies for better management of natural resources at the community level,” the Deputy Director of Coastal Fisheries at SPC, Lindsay Chapman, explained.
“This workshop has gathered these professionals to confirm that yes, we believe that the community fisheries management is the way forward. What we can now aim for is to move these small individual, scattered pilot sites towards a national or sub-regional approach,” Mr Chapman said.
Traditionally, fishing communities have a thorough knowledge of biological cycles of marine species, on which the customary rules of exploitation fish sticks are based. The workshop heard how when these rules are maintained, the fish stocks are mostly being sustainably managed.
In areas where the pressure on fisheries has increased, such as around urban areas, or where traditional knowledge has been lost, many species have declined or are over-fished.
Among the participants at the Australian Government-funded workshop was a volunteer with a community conservation NGO, Woun Kepin Somwei, Epikinio Eperiam, who travelled from Pohnpei, in the Federated States of Micronesia, to participate.
“Each country is unique, but we have similar challenges. This workshop was an opportunity to show what we do and it is a recognition of our efforts in the fight for the conservation of our marine resources,” Mr Eperiam said.
This is also the symbolism of an artwork that is being created on site at SPC headquarters during the workshop and next week’s Heads of Fisheries meeting by Jacques Wanhapo, a sculptor from Lifou, New Caledonia.
The results of this regional workshop are expected to influence policy decisions at the national and regional level among Pacific countries, as well as drawing attention to the Pacific perspective internationally.
The Heads of Fisheries meeting formerly opened on Monday 9 March and will run until Thursday 12 March.