Home WORK AREAS Ecosystem Monitoring Improving the management of deepwater snapper resources in Pacific Island Countries and Territories
Improving the management of deepwater snapper resources in Pacific Island Countries and Territories
Thursday, 10 October 2013 11:47


{phocagallery view=category|categoryid=22|imageid=76|detail=6|displayname=0|displaydetail=0|displaydownload=0|displaybuttons=0|displaydescription=0|float=left|pluginlink=0|type=0}Deepwater snapper are an important fisheries resource for many SPC member countries, where they support important domestic and export markets. Caught on the outer reef slope and around seamounts, they are out of the range of many small-scale inshore fishers and have largely escaped the overfishing that characterises many inshore resources. Deepwater snapper are excellent eating fish, and because of their deepwater habitat they are free from ciguatera poisoning which makes many shallow water reef fish a risky choice for many in the Pacific. In countries with tourist industries, deepwater snapper are sought after by hotels and restaurants, and can command relatively high prices. They also support export fisheries, notably in Tonga, supplying a market in Hawaii.

Despite the importance of deepwater snapper resources, there is a lack of management plans in most SPC member countries except the US territories and Tonga, and a lack of information on the status of stocks which could be used to develop or further refine management plans. The current approach to management, where it exists, is more reactive than proactive, which likely increases the chances of overexploitation and reduces stakeholder certainty in the fishery. Observations of localised depletions in some deepwater snapper fisheries have raised concerns about the sustainability of current fishing rates. There are also concerns that the fishing grounds are moving further away from ports, and fishers need to travel further to maintain acceptable and economically sustainable catch rates. Fisheries managers have limited guidance on how they can manage the fisheries because there are currently no reliable estimates of what levels of catch and effort are economically or biologically sustainable. There is a need to establish and implement methods for monitoring and assessment that would allow a more adaptive approach to management.

{phocagallery view=category|categoryid=22|imageid=81|detail=6|displayname=0|displaydetail=0|displaydownload=0|displaybuttons=0|displaydescription=0|float=left|pluginlink=0|type=0} Conducting a traditional stock assessment for deepwater snapper stocks is a challenging and expensive exercise. It requires intensive monitoring and the collection of detailed catch and effort data over time to estimate an ‘index of abundance’, and ultimately an estimate of stock size. However, the characteristics of deepwater snapper fisheries make intensive monitoring and data reporting very difficult because i) most fishing operations consist of a single operator, and it is difficult to ensure all fishers keep and report accurate and complete fishing records, ii) operators are typically spread across multiple islands and multiple landing sites, making port-based monitoring difficult, and iii) vessels are usually too small to accommodate observers for collecting data. Furthermore, the relatively low economic value of deepwater snapper fisheries is not commensurate with the cost of conducting traditional stock assessments. The development of alternative, low-cost approaches to monitoring and assessment would clearly be advantageous for deepwater snapper fisheries.

{phocagallery view=category|categoryid=22|imageid=83|detail=6|displayname=0|displaydetail=0|displaydownload=0|displaybuttons=0|displaydescription=0|float=left|pluginlink=0|type=0}We have been working on several fronts to provide support to our member countries for improved management of deepwater snapper resources. In 2012/13, we completed scientific cruises in Fiji, Wallis & Futuna, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu, during which we collected biological samples such as otoliths (ear bones), gonads and genetic tissue samples. We have also established ongoing biological sampling programs in Tonga, Vanuatu and New Caledonia to examine the temporal patterns in biology. Biological samples will be used to estimate vital population parameters such as longevity, maturity schedules, spawning patterns, population structure, and mortality and growth rates. Knowledge of these parameters is important for gaining a better understanding of the biology of deepwater snapper species in the Pacific, and for developing population models that underpin assessments of stock status.

We are also developing rigorous and objective monitoring and assessment methods to ensure deepwater snapper fisheries in the region are managed at biologically and economically sustainable levels. A range of potential ‘simple to monitor’ indicators will be selected (e.g. fish size and catch rates could be potential biological and economical sustainability indicators, respectively) and the performance of these indicators will be assessed using biological information and simulation modelling. Those indicators found to be reliable across a range of circumstances can then be used by managers to ‘trigger’ a management response (e.g. reduce catch or effort, or close certain areas to fishing), if certain predetermined thresholds are reached.

{phocagallery view=category|categoryid=22|imageid=84|detail=6|displayname=0|displaydetail=0|displaydownload=0|displaybuttons=0|displaydescription=0|float=left|pluginlink=0|type=0} The successful implementation of such an adaptive management approach will require a high level of in-country expertise and understanding of monitoring and assessment methods. To provide this enhanced in-country expertise, SPC members have invested in four of their brightest fisheries scientists to lead the way forward. The Australian Government Overseas Aid Program (AusAID) has provided funding for these scientists to complete postgraduate studies, with a major focus on deepwater snapper. And we are providing guidance to all four students via direct project supervision. Mr Hau Halafihi from Tonga is completing a Doctor of Philosophy degree at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch New Zealand. Hau’s research examines the variation in populations of two species of deepwater snapper (Etelis coruscans and Pristipomoides filamentosus) between seamounts in Tongan waters. Mr Ueta Fa’asili from Samoa is taking a policy and planning approach in his Masters in Maritime Studies at the University of Wollongong, Australia. Ueta will be addressing issues with fisheries data collection in the Samoan deepwater snapper fishery to ensure reliable statistics and trends can be established over time. Mr Jeremie Kaltavara from Vanuatu and Mr Tupu Poulasi from Tuvalu are completing their Masters of Applied Science at the Australian Maritime College in Launceston, Australia. Both students are focussing on improving the biological understanding of key deepwater snapper species from their home countries. The transfer back to their home countries of the skills and expertise gained during their studies abroad will provide the foundation for improved management of deepwater snapper fisheries in the Pacific.

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