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Pacific communities take charge of fisheries management
Vulnerable island communities are building resilience in the face of overfishing and climate change.
The sea is a vital source of food and income for many of the 100,000-plus people living in the atolls that make up the Republic of Kiribati, Micronesia. Yet overharvesting, loss of marine habitats and a lack of government capacity are threatening to undermine the Kiribati people’s way of life.
I-Kiribati people rely on fish to make up almost 80 per cent of their annual protein consumption and have few other alternatives due to the limited availability of arable land.
Sea-level rises in conjunction with population growth are already impacting the amount of arable land available and fears are being raised for the nation’s future food-production capacity and food security.
Since May 2014, the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS) in partnership with the Government of Kiribati’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource Development (MFMRD) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), is working closely with Kiribati communities to support the management of Kiribati’s coastal fisheries through the development of Community Based Fisheries Management plans.
Fisheries governance research fellow Dr Aurélie Delisle said five pilot communities have embraced and strongly supported the initiative, which puts them in control of their marine environment and helps them sustainably manage their fisheries.
“Clearly, marine resources are invaluable to inhabitants of the archipelago, as a provider of food, income and culture, so it’s paramount to ensure their sustainable management,” Dr Delisle said.
“The plans are driven by the communities themselves because this is the best way to strike a balance between improving coastal fisheries - to protect food supply while recognising the role they play as an economic and cultural resource for locals.”
I-Kiribati people rely on fish to make up almost 80 per cent of their annual protein consumption and have few other alternatives due to the limited availability of arable land. Photo: Quentin Hanich.
The initial phase of the project involved gaining an in-depth understanding of the context of the pilot communities and the characteristics of the fisheries at various sites, including fish stocks, observed changes to the fishery in the past 15 years, management practices and governance structure.
“These communities have intimate knowledge of their fisheries and they commonly reported noticeable changes in factors such as the length of time required to gather their catch, the size of the catch, changes to marine habitats and fishing methods,” Dr Delisle said.
“In many cases, changes have resulted in a decline or even observed local extinction of marine species.”
Based on that information, the project team with two local project officers, Mrs Tarateiti Uriam and Mr Ben Namakin, facilitated discussion among leaders, elders, men, women and youth to generate a list of priority actions to help contribute to the sustainable management of their coastal fisheries.
Some of these actions included the selection of areas to protect, the ban of destructive fishing practices such as herding fish into large gill nets, the rehabilitation of marine habitats especially through mangrove planting and waste management.
Other actions recognised the prerequisite to inform and work with neighbouring villages while also acknowledging the need to get support and collaborate with different Ministries in charge of the management of fisheries, the environment and local affairs.
“These communities have enormous passion and knowledge of their waters that is invaluable when they are given the opportunity to actively participate in the management of their marine resources.”