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Improving community-based fisheries management in Pacific island countries

 

Inshore fisheries are central to the rural economies and food supply of Pacific Island Countries (PICs), supplying food and serving as one of the few sources of cash for rural people. These fisheries are crucial elements in filling the shortfall in fish supply predicted to confront many PICs in the coming decades. No other production sector can fill the shortfall in supply in the medium term so securing a sustainable supply of fish from coastal fisheries is crucial.

Project FIS/2012/074 implemented a broad programme of research in development that sought to develop and nurture the structures, processes and capacity to implement and sustain national programmes of CBFM in Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Work in communities was augmented by national and regional engagement and published analyses of issues around inshore fisheries.

In 2015, the project contributed to, and re-aligned itself to serve the SPC-led regional CBFM initiative known as the New Song for Coastal Fisheries – Pathways for Change. The New Song has catalysed a significant increase in political momentum for improved coastal fisheries, largely through the vehicle of CBFM.

The project highlighted the need for critical perspectives to examine, not only the potential, but also shortcomings of CBFM. The Pacific region is rapidly changing through population growth, the impacts of climate change, urbanisation and increased market integration; change that is often operating beyond the local scale, but nonetheless presents challenges to local governability of small-scale fisheries. In these regards, individual PICs are on different trajectories and can not be considered similar. Sustaining local advances in fisheries governance in the absence of external input and scaling up the footprint of CBFM in the region remain significant challenges. 
In order for CBFM to realize its potential in contributing to increased food security, it must be placed in the broader context of rural lives and their social institutions, income generating activities and markets. A systematic review of the literature indicates there is limited evidence that livelihood diversification necessarily leads to positive outcomes and CBFM is not the most appropriate fisheries governance arrangement in many instances. An example of such a case and developing solution is the OKRONOS initiative in Langalanga lagoon.

There have been substantial advances in nearshore FAD programs in the Pacific region in recent years, particularly in design and deployment. Advances in technology have enabled safer and easier deployments in remote locations, even when using small vessels. The project contributed to a growing regional alignment on FAD development and implementation. FAD monitoring and evaluation efforts are still limited in the region, which limits the ability to provide generalized advice on the impact of FADs on fish production to communities and their impacts on communities and reef-based fish stocks.
Beche-de-mer fisheries remain an enduring challenge to fisheries agencies.  Analysis of national trade statistics indicate fisheries in the region peaked more than 20 years ago and continue to decline. PICs must tailor management based on the intrinsic productivity of shallow inshore habitats—harvests from atoll nations will need to be smaller per unit area than from the high islands. Countries with low productivity fisheries must consider the crucial economic ‘safety nets’ that export small-scale fisheries represent for dispersed island populations and incorporate them into broader development and island resilience strategies.

The project was the first concerted CBFM initiative in Kiribati. Five communities from the Gilbert group of islands, comprising a total of 630 households engaged the novel process of establishing community visions, goals and action plans, codified in management plans. The significant interest in CBFM generated in Kiribati outside the communities the project with will be built upon in FIS/2016/300. Building national capacity for CBFM, through sustained engagement with Unimwane Associations, Island Councils and national MFMRD staff and policies proved to be an important dimension of the project.

In Solomon Islands, which has a long history of engagement with CBFM, substantial progress has been made over the lifetime of the project at the provincial level in Malaita and Western Province. Engagements with communities to establish new sites of CBFM are intense, time-consuming and require substantial investments of resources. While this investment is important for in-depth and, in some cases, long-time-series research, it is simultaneously critical to recognise the limits and costs of such an approach. Investments made by CRP AAS in building partnerships and coalitions allowed project activities and fisheries objectives to be addressed in more integrated ways, accounting better for local context and validated by local experts. Much speculation and evidence-based models for the potential of spread have been provided by Pacific and Solomon Islands experts over the years. This project has been the first (through the efforts of an early career researcher) to test, in a very applied and critical way, the costs and value of an approach designed to promote spread through a ‘lite-touch’ approach. Capacity limitations in coastal fisheries or CBFM-focused management in provincial and national agencies are substantial constraints.

In Vanuatu, the project implemented CBFM in partnership with eight communities in Santo, Maskelyne and Aniwa Islands. Project implementation was disrupted by Tropical Cyclone Pam in March 2015; activities and resources were re-allocated to VFD-led recovery activities for 2015-2016. While national capacity for CBFM was stronger in Vanuatu, integration with other national and NGO-led CBFM activities emerged as a greater issue than in Kiribati or Solomon Islands. National integration under a common coastal fisheries strategy will be a priority for FIS/2016/300.

As elsewhere, the role of women in fisheries, fish value chains and coastal livelihoods more broadly is poorly understood and accounted for in the Pacific region. The project completed policy analyses to determine structural barriers and opportunities for gender equity in fisheries and developed practitioner guidelines. We also implemented grounded research-in-development with communities. Ongoing efforts to build capacity of researchers, partners and all practitioners were critical and an important area for real impact.

There was evidence of a double burden of malnutrition in rural Solomon Islands communities, with a prevalence of overweight or obese women and stunted children. Malnutrition was evident in children under the age of five in all study communities. The most prevalent form of child malnutrition was stunting, with 24.3% of children between 6 months and 5 years of age measured having stunted growth. The project implemented interventions within the first 1,000 days of life; (ii) interventions to improve the productions of household gardens; and (iii) education to improve communities’ knowledge of nutritional issues.

Fish play an integral role in nutritional security, but need to be better integrated into a broader food systems approach with feedback loops between trade, supply and demand, and the choices people make about their diets. Across the region fish is differently acquired and consumed. The project provided the first estimates of acquisition (gifting, purchase or subsistence), apparent consumption, and calorific contribution of fish in eight PICs.

Significant resources were invested in building capacities of project staff, partner organisations and communities. Training workshops, mentoring and on-the-job-training enhanced capacity in community facilitation, project evaluation, gender and PAR. Building the capacity of community leaders, provincial government staff, partner organisations and national staff is arguably the best way to foster social change and sustainable development, although results are often indirect and difficult to measure.