“Managing fisheries is hard: it’s like managing a forest, in which the trees are invisible and keep moving around.” So said Professor John Shepherd at a Princeton University lecture in 1978.
Fast forward to today and fisheries management is still a challenge. But managing fisheries effectively is critical. The industry provides livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people, and seafood is a critical protein source for nearly three billion people. Australia's total wild-catch fisheries have a gross value of production of $1.6 billion alone.
Decision support for sustainable fishing
Australia has some of the best managed fisheries in the world. But many domestic and international fisheries are data- or capacity-limited, making formal management challenging. This is where an online tool called FishPath is helping.
“FishPath is an online decision support tool providing harvest strategy options that are tailored to a fishery’s unique circumstances,” said Natalie Dowling, Senior Research Scientist from CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere.
“It was developed as a partnership between CSIRO, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and NOAA. It elicits the relevant information about a fishery and provides a vehicle for expert and local knowledge to formulate viable harvest strategies. These can be used to implement sustainable fishing practices.”
Harvesting effective strategies with FishPath
Harvest strategies comprise the data collection, assessment and decision rules to inform fisheries management. FishPath provides a comprehensive, transparent and defensible platform to help fisheries identify viable harvest strategy options via an interactive questionnaire. It is also a vehicle for bottom-up stakeholder engagement as it operationalises expert and local knowledge to formulate harvest strategies.
“There is a temptation in data-limited fisheries to seek a ‘silver bullet’; in other words, a generic solution to their assessment and management,” said Dowling.
“However, each fishery is unique in its combination of available data, species life history, operational characteristics, and its social-economic and governance contexts. A ‘one size fits all’ approach is not applicable. A successful harvest strategy approach for one fishery might not be suitable for another, even if it targets the same species.”
FishPath considers each fishery’s unique circumstances. It provides an efficient, transparent means to navigate the universe of available options, providing customised advice that explicitly acknowledges issues confronting data-limited fisheries.
Options for data collection, assessment and management measures are extensive within FishPath. Options are evaluated according to whether their minimum criteria are met. There is a colour-coded system to alert users to key issues as well as positive attributes associated with each option.
Fisheries tool for global impact
During a 2018 visit under a Memorandum of Understanding with CSIRO to scope possible research areas of relevance to fisheries in the Seychelles, FishPath was identified as being of high priority interest to the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA).
The Republic of Seychelles has one of the highest per capita rates of fish consumption in the world. The fishing sector employs approximately 17 per cent of total formal employment in the country. Around 95 per cent of fish and fish products are exported. This provides significant economic benefits.
However, the Seychelles marine ecosystem is under increasing human pressures, including overfishing. Several fisheries have collapsed. This prompted the government to take stronger actions to ensure the country’s fisheries remain sustainable.
“Fisheries ideally need formal management via harvest strategies to ensure their sustainability. However, in data- and capacity-limited contexts, it is often difficult to navigate the many possible harvest strategy options,” said Dowling.
The international FishPath team is now working with SFA under an International Climate Initiative-funded project that includes the application of the FishPath tool to the Lobster and Spanner Crab fisheries.
“The Seychelles Lobster fishery has been plagued by illegal fishing, driven by high black-market demand outside of the limited fishing season. Spanner Crab, on the other hand, is a relatively newer fishery that is expanding in the absence of formal management controls. It has limited data with which to undertake an assessment,” explains Dowling.
The SFA will be working with CSIRO, TNC and NOAA to implement FishPath to develop harvest strategies for both fisheries. This includes capacity building and training of fisheries staff in the region.
Fisheries data at home
FishPath is making a difference for Australian fisheries management too.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has recently implemented a formal Harvest Strategy Policy. However, many of its fisheries are small-scale, multi-sector fisheries with a range of data issues. This collectively poses management challenges.
NSW DPI is using FishPath as a standardised and scientifically robust platform to identify currently viable, as well as longer-term aspirational, harvest strategy options.
“We have applied the FishPath tool to eight species - Pipi, Beachworms, Silver Trevally, Spanner Crab, Yellowtail Kingfish, Abalone, Eastern Rock Lobster, and Trawl Whiting,” said Dr Rowan Chick, NSW DPI Senior Research Scientist.
“Fully articulated draft harvest strategies have been completed for three so far, with viable harvest strategy options identified for the remainder.
“Using FishPath has enabled us to elicit information to ascertain the best harvest strategy options for each species. It provides an efficient, comprehensive approach which is transparent and defensible to inform strategic planning and harvest strategy development in NSW – with all of this information available to formal harvest strategy working groups and management groups to inform their development and implementation.”
FishPath can be applied to fisheries worldwide. Find out more.