FRFSP: Funafuti Reef Fisheries Stewardship Plan to be launched in December

FRFSP Front Cover L 141117The Funafuti Reef Fisheries Stewardship Plan (FRFSP) has been under development most of this year. The plan was formulated through extensive consultations with communities, leaders, the Funafuti Island Council and interest groups and is now ready to be launched on 14th December at Tausoa Lima in Funafuti. The plan is a culmination of several years work: 2015-2016 establishing creel, ciguatera, boat and other surveys to inform the design; 2017 during which the bulk of the consultations occurred and implementation will begin in 2018. It is expected the FRFSP will reverse the current decline in Reef Fisheries, recover stressed stocks and habitats and lead to better prosperity for fishers and the community as a whole.

The FRFSP is not simply a fisheries management plan focused on ensuring sustainable use of fished resources, but embodies a whole-atoll approach which recognises the role of people and healthy ecosystems in fisheries and adaptively responds to change. Focusing on smart use of the already established Funafuti Conservation Area (FCA), avoiding the introduction of too many complex rules and seeking to preserve and enhance livelihoods and food and nutrition security for Tuvaluans living in Funafuti, the FRFSP has been designed to ensure reef fisheries recover to more productive levels. The most difficult aspect of the plan to understand is that a reduction in fishing pressure will within a short time (a few years) lead to greater productivity with less future fishing effort.

As part of its work, the Coastal Fisheries Section of the Tuvalu Fisheries Department has been carrying out resource assessments and monitoring to provide the information needed for management. Creel surveys (of fisher’s landed catches) provide information on the fishers, the resources being caught and the effort required in a way that can be used to assess the health of the fishery. As part of the creel survey, data on fish lengths were compared with known values of size at maturity for 22 species to provide an indicator to assess whether the resources were overfished. Fishes were considered overfished if 50% or more of the animals landed were smaller than the size at maturity. The results of the first Creel Report in September 2016 showed that coastal fisheries in Funafuti are overfished. Of the species that were assessed 60% of species had 50% or more of the catch below the size at maturity. This means that the fishes are being caught and removed from the population before they could reproduce. The main fishes showing strong signs of overfishing in Funafuti included acanthurids (pone), carangids (ulua, kamai), serranids (gatala), lethrinids (noto) and lutjanids (taea).

Without management of the fisheries and the ecosystems that support them, Funafuti will become increasingly barren and fish stocks will decline further, driving people to more imported foods, loss of food sovereignty (control of the food supply) and greater problems with non-communicable diseases. A plan for better stewardship could put a stop to this decline and set a path to healthier and more productive fisheries. In response to this clear need to address overfishing in Funafuti’s reef fisheries, the Fisheries Department began consulting with fishers, leaders and the community to develop a management plan capable of reversing the declines and restoring the fisheries to a more productive state.

lutjanus-gibbus-1This stewardship plan arose out of those consultations and provides the structure to enable people to understand and monitor threats to the resources and identify solutions. This sets up a framework to enable all groups to work together to ensure that Funafuti’s reef fisheries become healthy and productive, that the human population can thrive, and the atoll is a beautiful and safe place to live.

The Funafuti Reef Fisheries Stewardship Plan (FRFSP) aims to reverse these problems and increase the supply of fished resources through protecting breeding populations of fishes and reversing at least some of the ecosystem damage. It also seeks to involve all stakeholders in a meaningful way and will work on adaptive management principles allowing for adjustments to the plan based on evidence from careful monitoring of the state of the resources as actions are put in place. The main strategies are:

  1. Strengthening the Funafuti Conservations Area so that its potential benefits become a reality protecting spawning adults, allowing juveniles to grow and promoting spill over of fishes into other parts of the lagoon, increasing resilience of the fisheries;
  2. Limiting the size of fishes that can be taken by fishing to ensure that every fish can breed at least once in all other parts of the atoll;
  3. Targeting pelagic and offshore fisheries more to reduce some of the pressure on reef fishes; and
  4. Improving information, involvement by the community and state of the ecosystems on which the fisheries depend.

The FRFSP will primarily involve the Tuvalu Fisheries Department, the Funafuti Kaupule and the Fishermen of Funafuti (including those from outer islands living here). Implementation of the plan will use funds from government and a range of other source. It is envisaged that similar though more simplified plans will be developed for the outer islands in the future.