Harvest strategies, also called management procedures, represent the latest generation of science-based approaches to effective fisheries management.
Last week’s workshop provided stakeholders and the Ministry a closer look into the components of these new strategies for fisheries management.
Head of ministry, Pamela Maru, says harvest strategies will focus on more than taking into account biologically sustainable limits on tuna stocks.
“We’re also looking at other elements that might contribute to how we want to manage our fisheries, for example, thinking about some of the economic objectives we might have, and the social and environmental objectives that we might want to consider when we are developing these harvest strategies.”
Harvest strategies are emerging as the next innovation in fisheries management and incorporate existing tools such as monitoring programmes and reference points, providing an improved ‘lens’ through which stakeholders and managers can determine the best path forward for the fish and the fishery.
In recent years, managers of tuna fisheries around the world have begun to shift to using harvest strategies because they offer a more predictable and stable approach than the traditional use of stock assessments followed by often contentious quota negotiations.
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) embraced the concept of a harvest strategy approach to fisheries management in 2014. The Cook Islands is one of around 40 countries involved in this regional tuna fisheries management organisation, and one of the 17 member nations of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), all of whom are members of WCPFC.
Pacific Island Forum nations have also agreed, through the Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Fisheries (endorsed in 2015), to develop a harvest strategy approach.
The workshop was led by Dr Stephen Brouwer, of the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Oceanic Fisheries Programme, along with SPC fisheries scientists Dr Finlay Scott and Dr Nan Yao, FFA fisheries management advisor Dr Wetjens Dimmlich, and International Seafood Sustainability Foundation’s (ISSF) lead scientist Dr Victor Restrepo.
Dr Brouwer said the harvest strategy approach should improve management of the region’s tuna stocks.
“At the moment the management system is variable, and using a harvest strategy approach is going to focus where you want to be and it’s going to help get you there in the future.”
He says these strategies are stakeholder-led, improve transparency, and can be changed if conditions in the fishery change.
“It means everybody knows what you are trying to achieve – all the different groups that are fishing or managing the resource, the non-government organisations (NGOs), a fishing company or a government – you all know where you are trying to get to.”
Dr Brouwer says currently stock assessments provide ‘best assessment’ to determine the stock status. Traditional fisheries management is a two-step process: First, scientists conduct stock assessments, and then fishery managers negotiate measures to make sure that the resource is being used optimally and sustainably.
“Stock assessment models use data on how fast the fish are growing, where they are living, where they are distributed and what rate they are getting taken out of the water. There is always some variability within the stock assessment process, which can mean results change from one assessment to another.”
He said this often results in management action being quite slow and decisions hard to negotiate at the Tuna Commission level (WCPFC).
“The objectives within this sort of framework tend to be reactive and short-term focused. So you do a stock assessment and you say, “well, the stock status is this” and we will try and negotiate some management framework to react to that stock status. So the next year if you do another stock assessment, the whole argument might happen over again.”
Dr Brouwer says the time is right to introduce the harvest strategy approach because the Pacific’s main tuna stocks are in a healthy condition.
“It’s easier to get these rules in place before the stock declines.
Dr Brouwer says harvest strategies are a way for stakeholders to define what they want for the fishery.
“In the context of the Tuna Commission, stakeholders are the governments, the fishing companies, and NGOs. All of these different groups are going to have to get together and define what they actually want out of the fishery.”
Harvest strategies define the overall action to be taken to achieve the management objectives in the fishery.
“You need reference points and levels of risk –target limits that tell you where you want to be, and limits tell you what to avoid. And you need to know how much risk you have, or how certain you are.”
Harvest control rules are the operational component of a harvest strategy, essentially pre-agreed guidelines that determine how much fishing can take place, based on indicators of the targeted stock’s status.
Dr Restrepo says the current ‘best assessment’ approach used by WCPFC and most other tuna commissions is not working for long-term management.
“If the objectives are not clear and fixed over time, the management system is not stable.
And the need to decide by consensus (at the Commission) creates a type of uncertainty for industry and policy makers.”
He says the stock assessment process always includes some level of uncertainty.
“Harvest strategies are a way to meet the management objectives while treating that uncertainty in a precautionary way.”
- MMR Release