How the Pacific Islands are Balancing COVID-19 Survival Demands on Coastal Fisheries with Sustainable Management

Coastal fisheries provide vital food security and household incomes throughout the Pacific Islands. The fish market, Auki, Malaita Province, Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Coastal fisheries provide vital food security and household
incomes throughout the Pacific Islands. The fish market, Auki,
Malaita Province, Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Oct 13 2020 (IPS)

Coastal fisheries in the Pacific Islands have become a food and
livelihood lifeline to many people who have lost jobs, especially
in urban centres and tourism, following COVID-19 lockdowns and
border closures. Now governments and development organisations are
trying to meet the crisis-driven survival needs of here and now,
while also considering the long-term consequences on near shore
marine resources and habitats.

“In Vanuatu, we don’t have any cases of COVID-19. But around
us the world is in lockdown and the incomes indigenous people
usually get from tourism have all gone, they have completely come
to a halt,” Leias Cullwick, Executive Director of the Vanuatu
National Council of Women in Port Vila, told IPS.� Tourism accounts
for an estimated 40 percent of Vanuatu’s Gross Domestic Product
(GDP).

“But we still have our own land to plant crops and we can get
fish from the sea,†she continued.

Subsistence and small-scale commercial fisheries in coastal
areas are a crucial source of nutrition and incomes to communities
throughout the Pacific Islands. Fifty percent of coastal households
in the region gain a primary or secondary income from fishing,
while 89 percent of households generally consume seafood on a
weekly basis, according to the regional development organisation,
the Pacific Community (SPC).

The COVID-19 induced economic downturn has only increased the
importance of traditional livelihoods and sources of food. At a
meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency in August,
the Director General, Dr. Manu Tupou-Roosen emphasised that “it
is crucial for fisheries to continue operating at this time,
providing much needed income to support the economic recovery, as
well as to enhance contribution to the food security of our
peopleâ€.

However, the increased movement of urban residents back to rural
villages and to their extended family networks has, in some areas,
had consequences. Dr Andrew Smith, Deputy Director (Coastal
Fisheries) at the SPC in Noumea, New Caledonia, told IPS of some of
the impacts, .

“What we have been seeing are cases where people who are not
familiar with the areas, or not familiar with fishing methods, are
either harvesting protected species or under-sized species or the
wrong species. There have been reports of fishers going into marine
managed areas or into other people’s traditional fishing
zones,†he said, adding that: “There is also, in some cases,
increased conflicts occurring because people are fishing in the
wrong places and catching the wrong fish, both from a national
fisheries perspective and the laws, but also from traditional
cultural perspectives.â€


In surveys
conducted in 43 rural villages in the Solomon
Islands and Vanuatu prior to July by WorldFish, national fisheries
agencies in the Pacific Islands and the Australian National Centre
for Ocean Resources and Security, 46 percent and 55 percent of
people respectively claimed that there was a shortage of food in
communities.

Neither Pacific Island country has recorded any COVID-19 cases
to date. However, restrictions on large gatherings and border
closures across the region, to prevent any spread of the virus,
have diminished shipping and trade. Vanuatu, for example, is under
an extended State of Emergency until the 31 December and the
government promotes social distancing and enhanced hygiene
practices. 

“When COVID-19 first emerged, our country went into stopping
main markets, they were stopped for a couple of months. It has now
been lifted. People can go out fishing, but it is very difficult
for people to sell fish because people are on lower incomes,â€
Cullwick said.

Coastal fishing, in the zone between the shore and outer reefs,
includes species, such as finfish, trochus, lobsters and crabs. The
vast majority of
the coastal catch is for subsistence
. In Vanuatu and the
Solomon Islands, subsistence fishing makes up 71 percent and 75
percent respectively of the total coastal catch each year. And
there is
evidence this year that greater hardship has led to increased
fishing for food
.

This is an additional pressure on coastal resources in the
Pacific, which are already being affected by climate change,
greater exploitation due to growing populations and the
environmental degradation of marine habitats by factors, including
pollution, urbanisation and natural disasters.

“The region is a little bit more used to dealing with tropical
cyclones, that are always devastating, but are disasters that
happen relatively frequently, but they are usually more localised,
and the initial impact shorter. Whereas COVID-19 has had an
immediate impact, but will have a very long term effect across the
region, more of a slow burn disaster, and then you’ve got climate
change, which is impacting now, but it is an even slower burn. So
you’ve got these multiple stressors on both the resources and the
habitats,†Smith told IPS.

According to the development organisation, which is consulting
extensively with national governments throughout the region on
responding to the present crisis, but a major challenge is
achieving a balance between meeting short-term survival needs and
managing the long-term repercussions.

One strategy to address immediate food security is encouraging
more households to take up aquaculture and establish fish farms. 
The
Vanuatu Government is supporting this initiative
by providing
free tilapia fingerlings and feed to families who have taken the
first step in building a fish pond.  This is a way of both boosting
nutrition and alleviating further over-fishing near to shore. The
Pacific Community is also assisting countries to set up near shore
fish aggregating devices, which are easily accessible by local
fishers.

One positive outcome is that the COVID-19 crisis has driven more

discussion at the national and regional levels
about the key
role of community-based fisheries management. Smith says that there
is “clear recognition by the heads of fisheries, as well as at
the ministerial level, of how important having effectively managed
community-based fisheries are.â€

The cornerstone of this approach is increasing the capacity of
coastal communities to manage their fishing practices and take the
lead on ensuring the future of their marine resources, supported by
governments and development organisations. It’s an important
element of the
2015 Noumea Strategy
, also known as ‘A New Song for Coastal
Fisheries,’ a regional vision of sustainably managing fisheries
for the future.

The post
How the Pacific Islands are Balancing COVID-19 Survival Demands on
Coastal Fisheries with Sustainable Management
appeared first on
Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
How the Pacific Islands are Balancing COVID-19 Survival
Demands on Coastal Fisheries with Sustainable Management