Written by Nereus Fellow Brooke Campbell,
Fisheries are central to the South Pacific way of life. In addition to supporting Pacific island cultures and economies, fish provide between 50-90% of the animal-sourced protein consumed by rural populations. Coastal fisheries provide the main source of income for up to 50% of regional households. However, as the demand for fish grows along with the human population, the ability of the region’s oceans to meet this demand is declining. This means that Pacific leaders must make some important policy decisions to further protect coastal resources for future generations of Pacific Islanders. Pacific leaders recognise the critical importance of coastal fisheries to Pacific island country and territory peoples. However, support for these fisheries often remains understated when it comes to resourcing development and management action “on the ground”, particularly when compared to the region’s more lucrative offshore tuna fisheries. While high-level policy commitments to coastal fisheries have been made in the past through international instruments like the Vava’u Declaration and the Apia Policy, a clear way forward and action on the ground has been lacking until recently.
In 2015, the Pacific Community, the principal scientific and technical inter-governmental organisation for the region, hosted a regional workshop where fisheries representatives from 22 Pacific islands and territories, inter- and non-government institutions, academics, and consultants participated. Funded by the Australian government, this workshop provided a forum for participants to share their experience and insights about possible strategies and actions that national governments and other stakeholders could commit to in order to improve region-wide policy and management support for coastal fisheries.
The strategic document that came out of this workshop, A New Song for Coastal Fisheries – pathways to change: The Noumea Strategy, brings together previous regional policy efforts. Among other outcomes, it provides a unified vision for coastal fisheries in the region and proposed pathways to change for countries to increase their support for community-level ecosystem approaches to coastal fisheries management.
It also commits the Pacific Community to develop a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework that tracks regional and national progress towards the document’s identified key outcomes.
A key component of the M&E framework reporting is an annual Coastal Fisheries Report Card, which reports on the progress of 22 Pacific island countries and territories across 3 key goals (empowerment, resilience, livelihoods and food security) and a number of objectives and related indicators. However, the first annual Coastal Fisheries Report Card in 2016 clearly identified significant gaps in the information required to adequately monitor progress. While some progress has been made since then, significant limitations and gaps in the availability, accessibility, and use of coastal fisheries data still remains in the most recent Report Card in 2018. Far more than just a nuisance to reporting efforts by the Pacific Community to Pacific Island leaders, this lack of key information continues to impact the ability of Pacific island governments to plan and prepare for, as well as to anticipate, changes to a resource whose sustainable management is critical to the food security of so many people.
Regional efforts to keep the momentum of The New Song commitments going and to improve the adequacy and timely sharing of coastal fisheries data are evident in the existence of initiatives like the Coastal Fisheries Working Group and the Regional Technical Meeting of Coastal Fisheries (RTMCF). Data collection, standardisation, storage, analysis, and sharing issues were a significant feature of discussions in the second RTMCF held at Pacific Community headquarters in Nouméa, New Caledonia in November 2018, and are front and centre again in the schedule of the upcoming annual Heads of Fisheries meeting in Nouméa in March 2019. Heads of Fisheries provides oversight for the Pacific Community programme of work in fisheries as well as an opportunity to discuss topics of special interest among interested fisheries stakeholders in the region. I am fortunate to be attending this upcoming meeting as an official Observer for the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security, at the University of Wollongong because of my interest in Pacific fisheries management and policy and my graduate studies focus on technology and information flows in fisheries management in this region.