Discussing catch reconstructions in Senegal

Senegalese prime minister opening the Forum

The Prime Minister of Senegal opening the Forum of the Regional Marine and Coastal Conservation Programme for West Africa (©PRCM)

By Dyhia Belhabib 

If I had to summarize my previous journeys in Senegal in one word, I would certainly use ‘denial’ for the first trip, ‘hope’ for the second, but many words for my last visit to Dakar last November when Dr. Daniel Pauly and I represented the Sea Around Us Project at the Forum of the Regional Marine and Coastal Conservation Programme for West Africa (Programme Régional de Conservation de la zone côtière et Marine; PRCM). The description of the Forum that can be found on the PRCM website underlines the importance of this event (www.forumprcm.org).

The theme of the Forum was ‘Investing in coastal and marine conservation for the wellbeing of populations’, and as suggested, its goal was to put forward ideas about the use of nature with a view to improve the wellbeing of people relying on it. Many different stakeholders were present (e.g., NGOs, professional fishers, scientists, decision-makers) and were eager to discuss sustainability and conservation.

I was delighted to meet again our collaborators and colleagues from Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Morocco, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, as well as from the Fishery Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea (FCWC) countries, notably Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. On a lighter note, a young man from Tanzania presented his journey as he biked from Chile to Tanzania, raising awareness about the environment and funds for Tanzanian students along the way. He also reminded me that I am not the only person in this world who needs a visa to go to conferences and talk about issues and potential solutions for a sustainable use of the ocean. After all, if fish needed a visa, the issue of illegal fishing would not be that bad. Illegal fishing was actually one of the topics of the Forum, and our colleague Duncan Copeland talked about how to implement efficient, non-expensive solutions to tackle illegal fishing. While some Mauritanian representatives claimed that illegal fishing was no longer as significant as it was in the past, a representative from Guinea-Bissau stated that the coastal waters of “Bissau looked like Hong Kong at night”, referring to the lights of the industrial fishing boats illegally venturing into artisanal fishing grounds at night. Afterwards, I was not able to make up my mind between ‘content’ — as ‘admitting’ is the first step towards ‘healing’ — or ‘sadness’ — as the issue of illegal fishing is now so important, that being politically correct is no longer an option.

The presence of journalists made for a great opportunity for the Sea Around Us Project to share our knowledge of West African fisheries with the public, and to emphasize the implications of our catch reconstruction work. For example, I had the opportunity to clarify some points such as “women’s catches are not substantial, therefore, it is not an important activity”. Indeed, one can argue that if this activity allows women to be financially independent and provide their households with food, then, it is of paramount importance, regardless of the volume of the catch (especially if vulnerable species are targeted).

At the end of the day, the Forum was a very productive experience for the Sea Around Us Project, as NGOs, research institutes, and regional organizations were eager to use and work with the catch reconstruction results. Indeed, they all agreed that looking at the impact of local small-scale fisheries, filling data gaps, and contributing to capacity building in the region is an important process. For example, we discussed catch reconstructions with representatives from Morocco (who were keen to work with us) and from the FCWC region (with whom we recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding), as well as with traditional community representatives such as the Imraguen, who constantly remind us of the reasons why we are fighting to save our oceans.

After the Forum, Daniel and I had the honour of having an informal lunch with his Excellency the Minister of Fisheries of Senegal, Haïdar El Ali, who informed us of his decision to invite the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to act in Senegal. It was pleasant to have a conversation with him as he seemed to be a person who is deeply driven by conservation. As we came back from Dakar, we also learned that Senegal had just arrested illegal Russian fishers despite diplomatic pressure from Russia. This action was backed by numbers the Sea Around Us Project estimated with colleagues from USAID and many other Senegalese organizations.

Ensuring better fisheries management in West Africa

This week, the Sea Around Us Project’s Principal Investigator, Daniel Pauly, and one of our PhD students, Dyhia Belhabib, attended the Regional Marine and Coastal Forum held in Dakar, Senegal, where representatives from eight West African countries gathered to discuss the status of fisheries in the region and their future. Their goal was to engage the countries in tackling unreported fishing.

By working with researchers at the Sea Around Us Project to assess their fisheries from 1950 to 2010, these countries have identified the extent of unreported fishing in their waters – which is often as much as double what is officially reported.

“Fishing operations in West Africa have been catching much more than anyone previously realised and reported,” says Dyhia Belhabib. “The research we are conducting in partnership with West African countries gives them the first complete historical picture of their fisheries.”

In response, some countries in the region have started to take steps to address the gaps and improve fisheries management. In Senegal, the government has developed a fisheries commission and signed an agreement to improve the current reporting and management of its fisheries.

“This joint research is shedding new light on the true extent of past fishing in West Africa,” says Daniel Pauly. “Our hope is that these countries will now adopt the results and use them to contribute to better fisheries management in the future.”

You can read the complete press release in English and French here.

EU fishing companies reap profits in developing countries, while taxpayers foot the bill

Infographic from The Pew Charitable Trusts, who also funded the research.

Infographic from The Pew Charitable Trusts, who also funded the research.

The European Union (EU) covers 75% of the access fees that allow its vessels to fish in developing countries’ waters while the fishing companies pocket the profits, according to new research from the Sea Around Us Project.

In a study published today in the online journal PLOS ONE, the authors analyzed access agreements that allow EU-based fishing fleets to operate in Africa and the South Pacific. They found that EU governments pay 75% of the annual access fees while the fishing industry pays the remaining 25% — but that represents only about 2% of the revenue it generates from selling the catch.

“The EU’s fishing companies are benefitting from these agreements far more than the developing countries where they go to fish,” says Frédéric Le Manach, a PhD student at with the Sea Around Us Project and the study’s lead author.

You can find out more about the study here:
Press release from the University of British Columbia,
Journal article published in PLOS ONE.

Le Manach F, Chaboud C, Copeland D, Cury P, Gascuel D, Kleisner KM, Standing A, Sumaila UR, Zeller D and Pauly D (2013) European Union’s public fishing access agreements in developing countries. PLOS ONE. http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0079899

ELEFAN in (Daka)R


During June, Deng Palomares and Daniel Pauly spent a week teaching a newly updated version of the ELEFAN software at the Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture of the University Cheick Anta Diop of Dakar, Senegal. (Photo: Najih Lazar)

by M.L. ‘Deng’ Palomares and Daniel Pauly

The ELEFAN software and approach for the estimation of von Bertalanffy growth parameters from length-frequency data was developed at the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management (ICLARM), in Manila, Philippines, in the early 1980s by Daniel Pauly and two programmers (Noel David and Felimon Gayanilo). It was disseminated in various versions throughout the world, especially in tropical countries, through a series of training courses during the 1980s and 1990s. It also formed the core of a comprehensive software package called FAO-ICLARM Stock Assessment Tools (FiSAT; [1], [2]), still available from the FAO.

Overall, about 5,500 papers based on the ELEFAN approach, as incorporated in FiSAT and its predecessors have been published in the past 30+ years (as identified by Google Scholar records with “ELEFAN” in the title or the body of the text). However, since its release, FiSAT has been updated only once (FiSAT II; [3]), and it has become outdated in content and form. Thus, the offer was accepted to collaborate with USAID’s COMFISH Project in Senegal to produce an updated version of ELEFAN and to test it in a training course in Dakar before releasing it for wider use as open-source software.

The bulk of the R coding was completed by Aaron Greenberg (with Mathieu Colléter also contributing a routine) just in time for a team consisting of Ted Hart (of UBC’s Biodiversity Research Centre), Danielle Knip and Deng Palomares (of the Sea Around Us Project) to create a stand-alone package copied on 25 USB sticks at the end of May.

Daniel Pauly and Deng Palomares then spent a week in an ELEFAN training course, held at the Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture of the University Cheick Anta Diop of Dakar, teaching the routines behind and the functioning of the ELEFAN package. The group of 25 Senegalese participants consisted of about one-half fisheries scientists and graduate students, and the other half of fisheries inspectors.

While the fisheries inspectors struggled somewhat with the relevance of growth and mortality estimations and clearly preferred Daniel’s lectures on fisheries and climate change issues, the students and scientists benefitted greatly from this training workshop and generated – with Deng’s help – results for sardinella (Sardinella aurita, S. maderensi), white grouper or thiof (Epinephelus aeneus), bonga (Ethmalosa fimbriata) and other species. The results – to our relief – were comparable to those obtained by a group of colleagues (also working for the COMFISH Project) through tedious reading of annual rings on bony structures. Indeed, in the case of octopus (where the cubic root of the weight was used instead of length), results were obtained which could not have been obtained though ageing of bony structures – octopi
have no bones…

Thus, overall, the personnel who had arranged the workshop, notably COMFISH Project Leader Chris Mathews and Najih Lazar, Technical Advisor, both of The University of Rhode Island, were as pleased as we were about both the knowledge that was passed on during the workshop and the performance of the trial version of ELEFAN in R. Obviously, a number of items were noted which require improvement, as well as a swarm of bugs, both of which are due to be fixed in the next two to three months. The high hopes that we have for this new release of ELEFAN in R appear justified.

Daniel used the opportunity of being in Senegal to visit the Département des Pêches Maritimes, where he briefed its Director, Mr. J.-P. Manel, and members of his senior staff on the results of the reconstruction of Senegalese marine catches led by Dyhia Belhabib, with support from the MAVA Foundation and co-authors from the COMFISH project (Ms. Vivianne Koutob), the DPM (Mr. Lamine Mbaye) and WWF-Senegal (Mr. Nassirou Gueye). It was very gratifying that our Senegalese partners acknowledged that they have catch-reporting problems, both with regards to substantial illegal fishing in Senegalese waters and unregulated fishing by Senegalese fishers in the waters of neighbouring countries. This acceptance of reality signifies a level of political maturity that is lacking in many other countries where officialdom prefers to stick its head in the sand.

Daniel also used the opportunity, shortly before leaving Dakar, to hold a press conference with a dozen Senegalese journalists to inform them of a recent study authored by Drs William Cheung, Reg Watson and himself, on global warming and fisheries, which implies a dire future for tropical fisheries. One of the workshop participants suggested to Daniel that the public should be “alerted, but not alarmed” by the trend that this paper describes and the implication for Senegalese fisheries. This point to alert people and not alarm them is an excellent formulation of our job as scientists, and luckily, the Senegalese journalists followed up on it. For those who speak French, you can verify that the Senegalese journalists got the point by reading this article published in Le Soleil Online (www.lesoleil.sn), as an example.

Daniel can also attest that Deng was a big success with the national dress that she was given by the participants (see picture, right)!

[1] Gayanilo FC, Sparre P and Pauly D (1996) FAO-ICLARM stock assessment tools (FiSAT). User’s guide. FAO Computerized Information Series No. 8. FAO, Rome. 126 p.
[2] Gayanilo FC and Pauly D (1997) FAO-ICLARM stock assessment tools: reference manual. FAO Computerized Information Series No. 8. FAO, Rome. x+262 p.
[3] Gayanilo FC, Sparre P and Pauly D (2005) FAO-ICLARM stock assessment tools II (FiSAT II). Revised version. User’s guide. FAO Computerized Information Series No. 8. FAO, Rome. vii+168 p.


Correction: This is an updated version of the original article, correcting erroneous affiliations.

Climate change has impacted global fisheries for decades

CheungGraphic_web_editedA new paper from the Sea Around Us Project published in the journal Nature reveals that warmer ocean temperatures are driving marine species towards cooler, deeper waters, and this in turn, has affected global fisheries catches.

William Cheung, Reg Watson and Daniel Pauly used temperature preferences of fish and other marine species as a sort of “thermometer” to assess effects of climate change on the world’s oceans between 1970 and 2006. They found that global fisheries catches were increasingly dominated by warm-water species.

Click on the image to see how the catch composition of global fisheries has changed in different parts of the world.

To find out more about the research you can access the following resources:
Comment piece in Nature News & Views
Press release
Article published in Nature

Chinese foreign fisheries catch 12 times more than reported

China DWF mapChinese fishing boats catch about US$11.5 billion worth of fish from beyond their country’s own waters each year – and most of it goes unreported – this is according to a new paper led by the Sea Around Us Project, published in the journal Fish and Fisheries.

The study estimates that China’s catch in foreign waters is about 12 times greater than what the country reports to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, an international agency that keeps track of global fisheries catches.

Much of the fishing occurs off the coast of West Africa.

You can read more about the findings at Nature, “Detective work uncovers under-reported overfishing.”

See the scientific article, published in Fish and Fisheries, here (open access).

And get the press release and associated materials, including a map illustrating where and how much Chinese vessels currently fish beyond their own waters.

EU Common Fisheries Policy reform, from the inside

by Frédéric Le Manach

In 2009, the European Commission initiated the third reform of its Common Fisheries Policy. Although the basic principles of this new framework – which will stay in place for the next 10 years – were adopted in early February by the Parliament, the Commission is still regularly hearing experts on various topics. This process aims to propose specific amendments to this basic framework, before the final decision around June, once the Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Ministers reach a consensus (yes, this is a rather complex system). One of these hearings was held in Brussels on 19 February, and it focused on deep-sea fishing. Claire Nouvian invited me to attend, and although I was expecting a vivid debate, I was not expecting such vividness.

Claire Nouvian – a Pew Fellow, journalist, director/producer, director of BLOOM (www.bloomassociation.org), but principally woman of action – was one of eight experts heard by European Union (EU) members of parliament (MPs) during a special session on deep-sea fisheries. Other names in this group of experts included Tom Blasdale, chair of the ICES Working Group on the Biology and Assessment of Deep-Sea Fisheries Resources (WGDEEP); Phil Weaver from the UK’s National Oceanography Centre; Pascal Lorance from the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer); and Matthew Gianni, co-founder of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. I will not go into much detail about these seven talks. To put it in a clamshell, everybody sort of agreed that deep-sea trawling is harmful to many long-lived species (such as fish, sponges and corals) and fragile ecosystems, and that we know very little about them (there are analytical assessments for only three species, and footage is very rarely available).

Claire introduced the French deep-sea fishery, and the bottom-line of her talk was that despite rather important subsidies, the three companies involved in French deep-sea fishing are all in deficit! The example of Scapêche, which takes between 60 and 86% of the total French deep-sea catch, is staggering: between 2002 and 2011 it received €9.34 million from the state, plus an additional €16.9 million cash-injection from Intermarché, the supermarket chain to which it belongs [1]. (If you are looking for a definition of vertically integrated systems, here you go.) Yet during this 2002-2011 exercise, it had €0.1 million of cumulated net losses after tax. A French MP, co-chair of the fisheries committee, then said something along these lines: “Are you saying that such companies are philanthropic? That they give away money to something that is not worth it? I don’t buy it!”

That was it. At this point the extremely politically correct way of telling white lies or saying nothing too controversial was abandoned for a much spicier and polarized argument. A couple of MPs started to shout, accusing each other of being blind or deaf. Others tried to be more constructive, as one British MP and another French MP said that we should start inquiring upon the use of EU citizens’ money, and further refuted the co-chair’s argument that because some fishers were relying on this fishery, we should maintain it despite a high risk of collapse for most stocks.

Then, we ran out of time. Big surprise. My personal feeling is that this hearing was designed to restrict the debate. Controversial topics were kept for the end, whereas they should have been at the forefront. As a result, I am actually quite confused about the outcome of this meeting. Of course, its aim was not to make decisions, but rather to propose amendments to the Common Fisheries Policy proposal that is currently being reformed. However, I cannot guess what these amendments will be. Some MPs are definitely pro deep-sea fishing, others are firmly against it, but a number of them remain undecided and they will likely base their vote on who shouts the loudest. (Please remember that empty vessels make the most noise.)

Isabella Lövin, Swedish MP and author of the must-read book Silent Seas, managed to get the deadline for these amendments postponed to mid-March. I will follow-up with a report on the progress.

You can listen to the entire meeting at:

[1] http://www.bloomassociation.org/download/Accounts_Scapeche_Eng.pdf

On using catches to predict abundance

Factions among the fisheries community disagree on whether catch data – the amount of fish drawn from the sea – can be used to assess the health of fish stocks. In a comment piece published in Nature today, the Sea Around Us Project’s Principal Investigator Daniel Pauly shares his views, emphasizing that catch data are often the only type of data we have to tell anything about the status of fisheries.

While developed countries such as the US, Australia and those in Europe are able to use a variety of data, such as size, growth and migration information, as well as survey data, to conduct expert stock assessments, Pauly points out that these come at a cost: anywhere from US$50,000 to millions of dollars per stock. Such costs are not feasible for the majority of developing countries. Furthermore, for 80% of maritime countries, catch is the only data available.

In a second comment piece, Ray Hilborn and Trevor Branch from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, argue that there are other factors beyond the health of a fish stock that can account for changes in catch. Used on their own, catch data can create confusion and alarm about the abundance of fish stocks, they say.

Pauly agrees that catch data should be used with caution, but adds there is danger in undermining the value of this information. In most countries, the amount of fish caught is the only information available to assess stock health. “If resource-starved governments in developing countries come to think that catch data are of limited use, the world will not see more stock assessments; catch data will just stop being collected,” says Pauly.

The Sea Around Us Project, under the guidance of Pauly, is currently conducting a global evaluation of catch data, from 1950 to present, collated by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Results so far reveal that many countries have underreported their catches. The extent of the underreporting is larger in developing countries (about 100-500%; Zeller et al. 2007) than in developed ones (30-50%; Zeller et al. 2011).

To see the full article, please go online to Nature.com: Pauly D (2013) Comment: Does catch reflect abundance? Yes, it is a crucial signal. Nature 494: 303-305.

Zeller D, Booth S, Davis G and Pauly D (2007) Re-estimation of small-scale fisheries catches for U.S. flag island areas in the Western Pacific: The last 50 years. Fishery Bulletin 105: 266-277.

Zeller D, Rossing P, Harper S, Persson L, Booth S and Pauly D (2011) The Baltic Sea: estimates of total fisheries removals 1950-2007. Fisheries Research 108: 356-363.

The Sea Around Us Project returns to West Africa

by Duncan Copeland and Dyhia Belhabib

Healthy and well-managed marine environments are essential for ensuring food security, reducing poverty and promoting marine conservation in West Africa. Yet the region faces enormous challenges in achieving these goals, not least of which are poor or even non-existent data relating to fisheries, biodiversity and the impact of human activities.

The Sea Around Us Project is increasingly focusing on data-deficient regions of the oceans, particularly in the developing world. West Africa has been highlighted as a priority region, and in the past few months, the “Sea Around Us Project and PRCM: Marine Conservation Research, Collaboration and Support in West Africa” has been launched. Funded by the MAVA Foundation, the project will address the serious deficiency of adequate data in areas such as capture fisheries and biodiversity at the local, national and Large Marine Ecosystem levels in West Africa.

The Regional Marine and Coastal Conservation Programme for West Africa (PRCM) brings together an important coalition of non-governmental organizations to work with local and regional stakeholders and coordinate efforts to preserve the littoral zone of coastal countries in the region, which includes Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Crucially, the PRCM has promoted cooperation with public sector and civil society organisations to achieve marine conservation, fisheries and integrated management support goals.

However, the challenges facing the success of these initiatives are significant. Limited government capacity and poor regulation; illegal, destructive and over-fishing by industrial fleets; high local dependence on marine resources for livelihoods and food security; and the limited number of marine protected areas in the region all contribute to a difficult environment for achieving effective fisheries and marine conservation. Yet perhaps the greatest impediment to sustainable fisheries management and marine conservation in West Africa is the current deficiency, accessibility and usage of adequate data.

The region has seen limited national and international resources put towards adequate assessments of marine capture fisheries and biodiversity. As a result, decision-making in fisheries management at the local, national and regional levels, as well as in a variety of conservation projects, is often based on limited science. The imperative is to improve the data upon which fisheries management and conservation depends, and ensure that PRCM stakeholders receive support in the utilisation of data within specific marine conservation and fisheries management initiatives.

The Sea Around Us West Africa programme aims to accomplish three complementary objectives, all directly contributing to regional marine conservation, fisheries management and integrated management support objectives. These are to:

• Increase the quality of available data relating to existing and new initiatives promoting marine conservation and fisheries management in West Africa through the development of catch and effort reconstructions.

• Develop strong collaborative relationships between the Sea Around Us Project and proposed project partners; engagement of a wider number of government, research and non-governmental partners will be achieved.

• Raise broader international awareness and support for marine conservation in the region via the publication of peer-reviewed articles and engagement of media.

To achieve these aims, the project is supporting targeted research on catch, effort and catch values, biodiversity, marine protected areas, and other related issues. Crucially, this information will be developed within a partner support framework, ensuring that PRCM member and partner initiatives benefit not only from the generated data, but also have improved organisational expertise to integrate the data into existing and future initiatives. These partners include the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC), local research institutions and the members of the PRCM (WWF, IUCN, Wetlands International and International Foundation for the Banc d’Arguin). Data analysis and visualisation models will be used to achieve these goals in collaboration with PRCM members and other relevant stakeholders.

Through these partnerships, the Sea Around Us Project and PRCM project provides an innovative and supportive approach that will directly contribute to strengthened national, regional and international cooperation in the short and longer term. The programme is specifically designed to offer potential extension beyond the initial proposed two-year period and a model for replication in other regions of the developing world with data-deficient fisheries. In addition, the project will work as much as possible with individuals that are nationals of the target countries, improving expertise in the region.

Marine habitats in West Africa are considered among the most data-deficient globally. With an increased focus on the developing world and growing experience working in the West African region, the Sea Around Us Project is uniquely placed to collaborate with project partners to generate strategic data and support that will directly benefit conservation, fisheries and management goals.