Pacific Islanders will need alternative sources of protein within two decades if current overfishing continues

06 August 2014 | Article

Overfishing, population growth, rapid urbanization, habitat degradation and climate change are all leading to a ‘perfect storm’ for coastal fisheries in the Pacific Islands region, which means that many Pacific Island countries and territories will need to find alternative sources of protein for their population within the next two decades.

This sombre reality was presented to the Pacific Bêche-de-mer and the Future of Coastal Fisheries Meeting in Nadi, Fiji, this morning by Mr Moses Amos, Director of the Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems (FAME) division at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

Finfish and invertebrates from coastal areas are relied upon by the people of the Pacific Islands region as a key component of their dietary intake, as it is often the major source of protein.

However, finfish and invertebrate numbers are in rapid decline in the Pacific. Coastal fisheries are being over-exploited, particularly in proximity to concentrated population areas. This over-exploitation is expected to intensify as the population continues to grow, with the region’s annual demand for fish predicted to increase by 115,000 tonnes by the year 2030.

The increasing migration of people from rural to urban areas also puts increasing demand on coastal fisheries to supply protein, as urban populations lack the connection to productive land that could otherwise provide much of their daily nutrition. In addition, the reduction in traditional knowledge for producing food, weaker family support systems and poverty through unemployment also increase the pressure on coastal fisheries.

While population growth and urbanization will drive up demand, supply will decrease as unsustainable fish catches – both for commercial and subsistence purposes – continue to diminish the amount of fish available in the ocean. In addition, habitat degradation will reduce the number of fish this habitat can support.

Compounding this will be the effects of climate change. The increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events (such as tropical cyclones), rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification and changes in rainfall or sea level are likely to change where fish species occur and their migration patterns. This will make coastal fisheries more unpredictable and unreliable.

However, it is not too late for intervention to try and prevent this situation becoming a reality. In his presentation, Mr Amos outlined a number of steps that can be taken to reduce the threat posed by overfishing. These include improving the capacity of national fisheries administrations, raising awareness about sustainable management, researching how to reduce fishing effort, increasing community-based management, promoting integrated coastal zone management, developing alternatives such as aquaculture, and banning the commercial export of live fish.

“We must build on our current strengths, regionally and nationally, to empower communities to take responsibility in managing these resources. This is to avoid the situations where the resources are so depleted that communities are sacrificing tomorrow’s food security to feed themselves today. SPC continues to provide science-based information to assist countries and organisations to sustainably manage their coastal fisheries” said Mr Amos.

Seeking a regional approach between countries of the Pacific Islands to overcome these challenges, in order to help achieve food security for future generations, is one of the main purposes of the Pacific Bêche-de-mer and the Future of Coastal Fisheries Meeting. Mr John Kasu, Managing Director of the PNG National Fisheries Authority, spoke about this objective.

“PNG recognises the importance of this meeting and notes the challenges faced in developing and managing these multi-species fisheries… We recognize the various threats and challenges and the need for collective intervention by all Pacific Island countries to mitigate this. We hope the meeting will come up with a framework which would serve as a guide for Pacific Island countries to use to manage and develop their coastal fisheries” said Mr Kasu.

The meeting is being co-hosted by the Governments of Fiji, the Marshall Islands and Tonga, and finishes on Friday 8 August. The meeting is facilitated by a partnership between the Government of New Zealand, SPC, University of the South Pacific (USP), Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), IUCN Oceania, and the Marine and Coastal Biodiversity Management in Pacific Island Countries (MACBIO) project (which is funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) under its International Climate Initiative).