Fisheries throughout the world are in crisis. The protection of fish spawning aggregations is a global conservation issue. Many of the world’s most productive fisheries are operating in less than optimal conditions. Certain stocks have already collapsed. Why?
One major cause is that some fishing operations specifically target spawning aggregations, where fish are readily located in large numbers and easy to catch while distracted by spawning. This makes some species more susceptible to overexploitation. In extreme cases, it leads to the disappearance or effective reproductive failure of aggregating populations. It is thus imperative that good local fisheries management protocols are put in place to ensure the sustainability of global fisheries.
Fishing in the Outer Islands of Seychelles is often described as amazing, with large specimens of grouper, snapper and emperor being common in the catch. Many of these fishes are slow growing and late maturing, and their population can be quickly decimated by increasing fishing effort. With key species in the demersal fishery on the Mahé Plateau considered as already over-exploited, many local fishing vessels are venturing further afield into the Outer Islands.
Increased pressure by local fishing fleets and foreign-flagged vessels engaged in illegal fishing in the Outer Islands, a lack of harvest control rules and an effective monitoring, control and surveillance programme can easily lead to a situation of overfishing and a loss of Seychelles’ key species.
Sustainable environmental management is a main focus in the operation of Islands Development Company (IDC). IDC partner with Island Conservation Society (ICS) to lead their conservation efforts. One of the tasks of ICS is to monitor the subsistence fishery that takes place in the Outer Islands. However, to date monitoring methods have varied among islands. A new Subsistence Fisheries Monitoring Protocol has been developed which will standardise subsistence fisheries monitoring across the Outer Islands and ensure that data is collected in a uniform way. This standardisation will allow for more detailed analysis and pave the way for greater and more meaningful research and sustainable management decisions to be enacted.
A 3-day training session was held in September 2017 to build capacity in monitoring subsistence fisheries on the Outer Islands and document spawning aggregations. The training was led by local marine expert, Dr Jude Bijoux, who was assisted by Ms Aurelie Duhec and Mr Richard Jeanne from ICS. The ICS Team has spent the past six years working at Alphonse and Farquhar with the IDC fishermen, and helped to design the subsistence fisheries monitoring protocol with their assistance. Dr Bijoux was also assisted by Ameer Ebrahim, a Seychellois PhD Candidate with the University of Queensland in Australia and in affiliation with the Seychelles Fishing Authority. Mr Ebrahim’s research is specifically focused on the role of herbivorous fish species such as rabbitfish and parrotfish and the influence they have on the resilience of coral reefs in Seychelles.
The 15 participants from ICS, Green Islands Foundation and the Seychelles National Parks Authority undertook theoretical sessions to master the protocols and statistical data analysis, as well as practical sessions at the SFA laboratory and diving practicals at Baie Ternay with Underwater Centre.
Participant Licia Calabrese (ICS) shared her views on the training:
“This was a great and very effective training opportunity. The procedures were clear and well explained. Working on islands, there are lots of logistical difficulties – I found it very clever how the protocol is designed so you can collect meaningful data very quickly and simply. Then if you have enough resources, you can collect more details later to achieve a deeper level of complexity. Building on our theoretical training with the practical sessions really helped our learning. The diving was fun of course, and we could actually experience and practice our skills, like estimating fish size and transect lengths - first on land and then in the water. Finally, the data analysis training using R gave everyone the chance to manipulate what we had collected, and we are now able to confidently do it ourselves. It’s a really useful approach – all protocols should be designed like this!”
The production of the subsistence fishery monitoring protocol and a protocol for the monitoring of spawning aggregations in the Outer Islands is an activity under the Government of Seychelles (GoS), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded “Expansion and Strengthening of the Protected Area Subsystem of the Outer Islands of Seychelles and its Integration into broader Land and Seascape” project.