SCRFA faciliates and fosters aggregation conservation and management for the long-term within the wider goal of sustainable fishery management. We strive to provide the right information in a way that is useful for communities, authorities, NGOs, etc. to make the best possible decisions under prevailing social and economic contexts. Such decisions need a strong biological and fishery understanding.
Three pillars form the foundation for SCRFA's work:
1. Education and Information
When SCRFA was formed in 2000, few people, apart from those fishing aggregations, a handful of biologists and some countries where aggregations had long been fished, knew much about them. Even then, the understanding of their vulnerability to fishing and the importance of aggregating species to coastal fisheries of the tropics and sub-tropics was little appreciated.
An important aspect of our work has been to significantly increase awareness of what aggregations are, why they are important for both fish reproduction and as a basis for fisheries, why there are concerns over their future, and to highlight a range of solutions to ensure their long-term persistence. To this end, we have produced a range of materials, including scientific publications, a comprehensive website, and generic and country-specific materials in several languages. We also conduct workshops on the identification and management of aggregations, and provide feedback on proposals, management plans, and so forth.
We believe that one of the biggest obstacles to better use of fisheries resources, including aggregating species, in many countries is a fundamental lack of understanding of how they work. As just one example, it is still believed in many places that if catches decline locally the fish are still around but have moved elsewhere. Such misconceptions can make the difficult steps towards management all but impossible.
2. Research and Conservation Science
The SCRFA Board has a particularly strong scientific and management profile. We believe that conservation and management cannot be successful in the long-term without a sound scientific basis.
We aim to substantially improve general understanding of the biology and ecology of aggregating species, how fisheries interact with them, and what are the possible approaches for achieving healthy fisheries. This includes developing methods of biological study and means of monitoring the species and their fisheries, a highly challenging field.
To address this unique challenge, we have developed tools that provide guidelines or protocols for monitoring the numbers of fish in aggregations. This is not as easy as it sounds; imagine trying to count thousands of moving fish in a single day, the numbers changing every day of the aggregation which itself only lasts a few days in the month and may occur in deep waters where there is a lot of current, often in remote locations. The usual underwater visual counting methods often cannot be easily applied so new methods have to be developed and tested. Logistically aggregatations can be difficult and expensive be monitored. These methods continue to undergo refinement.
We have been working extensively in Fiji and Palau to test some of the methods developed and use them to establish a profile of aggregations in existing marine protected areas. The information not only provides a baseline to see how effective the management is, but also provides important information on the number of fish present, the species, the timing of the aggregation, etc., all information of value to the fishery and local conservation efforts and which helps communities understand the overall value of aggregations to their local fishery.
3. Effecting Change
To improve awareness and management of fish aggregations not only requires ongoing educational work, but also needs a major shift in perspective in fishing communities, by managers and among the general public.
Historically, many aggregations have been the focus of seasonal or ‘jackpot' fisheries, an eagerly anticipated time when large numbers of fish become, albeit briefly, readily available. In the past, these bonanzas were often the target of communal and low intensity subsistence activities. While it is now evident that commercial exploitation can rapidly deplete these events, what is not clear is whether aggregations can be adequately managed using conventional management tools (quotas, effort control, gear regulation, size limits), or whether the aggregations themselves need to be specifically managed, possibly to using conventional tools. Aggregations management would be applicable if there are impacts on reproductive output, such as disruption of spawning or the mating system, that need to be directly addressed by aggregation protection, or if it is easier and cheaper to focus management on aggregations than at other non-aggregating times.
Our Newsletters have a ‘Perspectives' column to stimulate discussion and we review research and fisheries data to develop recommendations for conservation and management. This work also involves consultation, presentations at conferences and in communities, support of the development of various statements of concern, and raising the issue in international forums such as International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), IUCN, GCFI, and others.